This past week, without a state occasion or major event, was the first time in as long as I can remember that my three children were at the same table at once. Stepping back, it's an interesting study. Have the dynamics changed among the three? In some ways, yes. The two men have become the best of friends in a way that is intrinsically male: This was something I never thought would happen, although there were glimmers of it when the younger was a senior in high school. Then, however, the older one postured himself more as protector. Now, they take care of one another. In terms of their sister, I used to call her "the rose between the thorns" -- in many ways she still is: her status as a middle child and only female is inescapable. The difference is that now there is tolerance, humor, acceptance and understanding -- but the teasing remains. She will possibly never escape that. I remember not caring when I was pregnant with the third child (having already had a boy and a girl) as to the child's gender -- although secretly, I hoped for a boy, giving my daughter an "only" definition that might override the "middle" definition. She is, I'm afraid, both: only female as well as in the middle. What can I say? I always wanted three -- my circle that I could draw beginning from the top, curving to the left, stopping at the bottom and bringing it round again to the top. That was the picture in my head.
On Wednesday, before my daughter went back home to Massachusetts (how strange that is to say and embrace -- she came home here for a few days, went back home there), we stopped to see her older brother's apartment. She hadn't been there since his wonderful live-in girlfriend decorated. My daughter brought wine and a bouquet of flowers, and there I sat in the living room while my son showed her around...as she admired the touches that were clearly Kristin's, the sports souvenirs that once were in David's room in our old Victorian house. Ellie laughed as she loved how Kristin managed to blend David's plastic encased autographed baseballs next to her hand-blown vases, her artfully framed photographs and tapestries hanging with his Phish poster in the living room.
I was sitting on the sofa as David and Ellie chatted, not quite knowing what to do with myself, not wanting to join in their conversation, wanting them, really, to have time alone, busying myself by erasing old messages on my cell phone.
"We just had lunch with Papa," Ellie said, telling David about our lunch with my father.
"When was the last time you saw him?" David asked his sister.
"At the funeral," she said, matter-of-factly.
"Ri-ight," he said.
I'm not certain if a look came over my face at that exchange, if my breath caught just a touch. The Funeral. Of course, it was my mother's funeral -- the last time my three were together for an "event."
It has always been my feeling that funerals serve three purposes: to celebrate the life of the person who has died, to comfort the living who mourn, and to give everyone a dose of reality that the person is truly dead. It is the following word I despise because I don't believe in it -- some form of "closure." The problem with closure (for me) is that regardless of what we absorb, forgive, forget, or accept, memory steps in: With memory, there is the comfort of a spiritual eternity under certain circumstances like the death of my mother...and then that haunting feeling because the memories are there, but the person is gone. Is there really, therefore, closure?
I hate the euphemisms: She passed, she left, she's gone, she's in a better place. My mother would have hated them, too. She would have been the first one to say "I'm dead."
Back to "The Funeral" -- it was so odd to hear it in quite that way. Truly, it took me aback. As though Ellie might have said, "at the gallery opening" or some other place that was defined as some, well, event.
I was 24 when my mother's mother died. The same age that my daughter is now. I was extremely close to my grandmother -- far closer than my mother and daughter were to each other. My grandmother became ill shortly after I moved back north from Florida and left my first marriage. I recall telling her that I wasn't coming back as I took the plane to New York. I went to her apartment and confided that in her.
She didn't try to talk me out of it. She took my face in her hands and said she would miss me, but that we would still see each other although not every Sunday as we did when I lived there. She gave me her blessing, if you will, atheist though she was. I've often wondered if I'd stayed, would I have seen the signs of her illness? Caught it early enough to buy her more time? At her funeral, I don't remember crying. I remember not wanting to deal with her death, not wanting to deal with my mother's grief, wanting to have my life, my youth, the good times that might lie ahead although I was getting divorced while my friends were planning weddings.
It is three months tomorrow that my mother died...and on a Friday just like tomorrow.
Just the other day, I was walking with my husband, crossing one of the narrow one-way streets downtown here where the bicyclists delivering food at break-neck speed always travel against the traffic. An old woman was crossing with a walker, looking for the cars when I took her arm and stopped her as the bicyclist flew by.
She looked at me through glasses with lenses so thick her eyes looked three times their size.
"Thank you, sweetheart," she said.
And in that moment I thought of my mother and my grandmother, and to tell you the truth, I look for old women on the street these days -- ones whom I might save, or perhaps savor, just for a moment.
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