Friday was a lovely October day, and what would have been my mother’s 88th birthday. I spent the morning with my dad, visiting the cemetery where my mother’s ashes reside. When we were almost there, he remarked, “What a beautiful time of year she was born. Today is a perfect day.”
“Yes, but in Wisconsin, it would have been cold by now,” I said.
“But it is so beautiful,” he said, “and the colors would have been spectacular there at that time of year.”
I was driving, so I couldn’t sink too far into remembrance and sadness, but I had already thought about the brilliant day and the fact that my mother wasn’t here to share it.
Maybe he was channeling her. One of the things that I always loved about my mother, and one that means so much to me, is her love of autumn. I inherited that from her, I suppose, because this is my favorite time of year. I know she loved the dark gray clouds, overcast sky, and the brown and tan of the spent, harvested cornfields. She loved the sound of migrating ducks flying in “v” formation overhead. All these things make me miss her intensely. For example, last weekend when I was in Alpine, AZ, the big field across from where we stay is almost always filled with Canada geese. They were especially active last week, and their honking is so distinctive that it makes me think of Wisconsin, and of my mother.
Soon Dad and I arrived at the cemetery and saw a cluster of cars and other vehicles on the east end, near where we were going. It was a big funeral. I mean fallen police officer or firefighter big. We were mainly focused on what we were doing there, which was remembering my mom, but the funeral was at the periphery of our attention.
It seems we always do the same things when we “visit” my mom. I stand quietly thinking of her, and then run my fingers over the marble face of the vault inscribed with her name. My dad stands quietly, too, thinking his private thoughts. I can barely imagine what it would be like to live with someone for almost 60 years and then lose her. For me, it is still hard enough to accept that she is gone. We sat down on the bench in the little courtyard, and soon the skirl of bagpipes wafted from the funeral over to where we were sitting. That mournful layered sound dredges emotions from deep within, and I could feel it in the depths of my heart.
As if enchanted by the swirling power of the music, I stood up and was drawn inexorably toward it. I hadn’t walked far toward the sound when I saw the player. I stood as if transfixed, the river of music drawing me along and I watched, unable to look away as the pall-bearers, in full dress uniforms complete with white gloves, bore the casket to the graveside. They placed the casket gently, then drew away. Motion ceased, and everything was silent. In that second’s pause, a lifetime stood still.
I walked back to where my dad was, and soon after, I heard “Taps” being played, and then the 21-gun salute followed. I wondered how any family member of the deceased could stand the emotions of hearing that. It’s no wonder people faint at funerals, they are so heavy with the emotions that tear a person apart.
“There’s not a thing anyone can do,” my dad said, finally. He meant about the fact that my mother is gone. He is right. It’s a feeling of utter helplessness, and hopelessness, a void that can never be filled, for him, or for me.
For me, though, I feel less of a sense of complete loss. I feel my mother with me every day. I feel her thoughts. I even feel that she helps me along with some of my ideas and decisions. The way things are now is not an ideal situation, but I am trying to make the best of it, and trying to keep my mind open to communicate with her, if that is possible.
Dad and I got back in the car. We started talking about eating lunch, and then he chose a restaurant near home. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the sun was even more brilliant. Life went on for us, and I felt Mother was seeing the beautiful day through my eyes.
At least that is what I hoped.