Sunday, October 10, 2010

Long Live the Queen

Nearly a month has passed since my mother’s ashes have been laid to rest. Almost a year ago, my scaffold collapsed. This crisp day, so clear, bright and full of color seems loaded with more portents of things past than vital with future dreams.

Uncharacteristically, my pen has lain still, silent as the breath no longer flowing. Even as I stand poised over an insurance career, play music and cherish times with a friend, my heart lags as if a few steps behind.

Alzheimer’s insidious hold had been strong on my mother such that not only were we not surprised by her death, but in the past year had been wishing for its arrival. My last sight of her was of a wasted spirit in a fragile body, too weary to raise a hand and eyes long unfocused. Recognition was brief, erratic and rare. Resignation was evident, the fight long over.

Reaching for a morsel or some glitter that had caught her eye and no one else could see, she reached forward and fell out of her chair, breaking a leg. My sister Lane imagines she jumped. However it happened, the event triggered the inevitable. My four sisters were at her side to keep vigil with my father, singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” in a four part harmony at the moment of her actual passing.

Strangely content not to rush to her bedside with the others, I stayed in Vermont to fulfill a show commitment, singing softly to her throughout the days the songs I remembered as her favorites. The only son, we had a bond of our own which was honored by a vigil of my own from a distance.

Once there, I absorbed the reality of her death by witnessing her cremation. Lane and I drove across the county, catching up after more than a year of separation by a country. My mother’s body lay in a simple box, little better than cardboard. I had no need to see her, but stood with my hand on it, staring into the flame, controlled and intense, waiting to consume her. I pushed her in with little effort and Lane pressed the button that closed the door and released the fury.

Outside, we sat on the curb, sometimes talking, sometimes silent. The late summer morning, crisp and clear, was a Mom kind of day. We could hear the roar muffled by the walls and meditated on what was happening inside, profound and simple, an ageless process of life.

The task of the urn somehow fell to me, by action, probably the least artistic of the bunch. I liked the idea of copper and held a vague concept in my mind of a cylinder, but once back home, did nothing about it until it was nearly time to head south again.

On my piece of the marble table that had been the center of her home for fifty years, where pumpkins had been carved, egg nog served and millions of words exchanged, often with laughter, I cut and shaped the pieces of her urn. Soldering them proved difficult and frustrating until I utilized a pair of horseshoes that had been lying around since I had grabbed them with the marble after selling our home.

It looked dented and burnished to me, unworthy, until I remembered her loving energy and could almost hear her voice reassuring and encouraging. That patina of scars from the soldering flame that had tarnished the purity of the copper, she would have said, was the most beautiful part and I was the little boy again, glowing, so pleased she loved it. I twisted and soldered one last piece of scrap as a flourish on the lid and rested comfortably with the idea that my first real effort of art would be hers forever.

On another Mom kind of day, we took her to St Peter’s, an exquisite oasis in the middle of the suburbs, timeless with pre-Revolutionary graves and sheep keeping the grass low. Most memories of my grandfather include visits to tend the family plot and his reminder that my mom would one day be there too. This day had come and her little boy shoveled the dirt carefully around her.

Each of us in some form has acknowledged that in the past ten years, the frail, demented and failing woman grown more helplessly childlike every week had distracted us from our memories of the strong Mother who had gifted us so much. Now with the death of the physical, her vital spirit embraces each of us, my father especially.

Her energy has been revitalized. The woman who saw beauty in everything, found joy everywhere and inspired the best in everyone around her has returned.

Please share with your friends


Lisis said...

This is beautiful, Kip, and I can relate on so many levels... having been there for my mom's cremation, watching my dad wither away until death relieved him of his suffering, seeing my grandmothers (both) spend their last too many years in institutions, with no awareness of reality.

It's amazing, but sometimes the process of dying really is like the phoenix rising from the ashes, because the spirit that is renewed is that of our loved ones during their very best days... and that's really how we wish to remember them.

Anyway, thank you for sharing. :)

Laurie said...

I'm sorry Kip. I know, it's so difficult to lose your mom.