Yesterday I received a letter addressed to my mother from someone named Gary at the “Neptune Society—America’s Cremation Specialists.” The letter, adorned with pastel letterhead, informed my mother that “more and more people are choosing cremation.” A stamp emblazoned at an angle says, “WIN A PRE PAID CREMATION!”
If my mother completed the enclosed information, it said, she’d be eligible for a drawing. “LAST MONTH’S WINNER: THOMAS A. MALONE.”
I’d forward this offer to my mother, but there’s a small problem. She died last month. Not only that, she beat Gary to the punch: Her ashes are stowed safely next to my piano.
I wish Gary had seen my sister Rosemary and me, though, a few weeks ago. We picked up the small box of Mom’s remains from the funeral home in Seattle, then headed straight to a four-star restaurant with a spectacular view of Lake Washington and the glittery Olympic Mountains. We were seated at a table by the window and ordered lemon-drop martinis.
Rosemary glanced at the menu, and then at the box in the Eileen Fischer shopping bag on the chair next to me. “What would you like for lunch, Mom?”
Our mother deserved the fancy venue— especially after 10 years of Alzheimer’s and a week of dying. Enough to warrant at least a double martini.
During the vigil at her deathbed, Rosemary, my brother Paul, and I spent the days (and nights) singing. Spirituals. Episcopal hymns. As well as English madrigals—all in three-part harmony. Many of the songs we’d learned as kids with our hands on top of our mother’s as they glided over the piano keys.
A reader of literature and a lover of music, our mother eventually lost those words she treasured, but in her last years—even without language – she managed to cultivate friends and admirers. Caregivers gathered ‘round her bed to say goodbye to the woman who, they said, “smiled and laughed so much!” If this isn’t a testament to the power of the spirit, I don’t know what is.
I am lucky. Our mother’s passing was not punctuated by pain or trauma. And thanks to Hospice, she was comfortable. My experience with death has been many things, but fear is not among them. In fact, to participate in such an event has made me less anxious in general – about mortgage payments, work deadlines or presidential candidates.
As I sat at that restaurant table regarding the women I have loved longest – one fully embodied in the flesh, the other transformed –- both washed in sunlight –- I was struck that in addition to what she gave us in life, I believe my mother has also given us the courage to embrace death.
Gently lifting the elegant shopping bag over the empty plates and setting it down on the opposite chair, I say to my sister, “I think Mom wants the view from the other side now.”
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