REVIEW AMERICANA

 

Fall 2015

Volume 10, Issue 2

http://www.americanpopularculture.com/review_americana/fall_2015/mowrer.htm




SUE NEWCOMB MOWRER

 

Burying Marie


My mother died on October 12, 2007, exactly five years, seven months, and five days after my father, and like him, she too abandoned her body somewhere between midnight and seven. Unlike him, she left no gaping chasm in her wake, left no one behind to wonder how they could carry on without her. No one was left to mourn the absence of her strength, for she had never been anyone's rock. When she left, nothing lingered, not her scent, not her voice. When she left, everything she had been, thought, or believed went with her.

Her Alzheimer's had brewed while Pop lived, like tea steeping, darkening, exactly how long is impossible to say because my father had long hidden her increasingly irrational behavior and failing memory from the world. He had hidden it so well, in fact, that even my mother didn't know how sick she really was. After he was gone and her illness became painfully and suddenly obvious to everyone else, she still refused to believe it. 
           
He told me once that he owed it to her, keeping her condition private, guarding her dignity. She had earned his loyalty, he said, she having stood by him through his own many illnesses. I couldn't count the times he said, I'd walk on my hands through hell for the old hide. The Old Hide, that's what he called her. Pop maintained her curtain of dignity until he himself required end-of-life care. He killed himself over her, draining himself of the strength required to keep his own soul tucked tight between his bones. Sacrifice and respect were the rule of his generation; it was a rule never to be violated. Not even their own children were allowed behind the curtain to share in the secret.

Once Pop was gone, we were all down the rabbit hole. The doctors declared she needed round-the-clock supervision. She wouldn't hear of it. She had taken care of herself for seventy years, by God, and she'd see to herself now. She didn't understand that someone else had been caring for her for ten years already. It didn't strike her as odd that, in his absence, she ran down the road in the middle of the night trying to hide from a child who lived 500 miles away. It never occurred to her that it might be unwise to threaten to shoot the home healthcare nurse that came every day to look after her. She didn't think it at all strange when she declared a crew of black men had left several pink recliners on her front porch and stolen all her light bulbs. No, that was the very model of sanity. Just ask her. She'd be happy enough to explain it to you. She never made the connection that explaining it to the state psychiatrist was exactly what had landed her in hot water to begin with.
           
She became a truculent child. We gave her two options: stay in her own home with some help or go to live in a place the doctors had deemed fit for a women in her condition. I'm staying here by myself and that's the end of it. She was wrong, of course. Frankly, I was rooting for her own home with some help – the less disruptive and more dignified choice by far. But when she ran away late one night, looking for a way to throw herself in front of an eighteen-wheeler, there were no more choices to be made. She had made the choice for herself, whether she understood that or not.
           
At some point, we all have to consider our mortal condition, our mortality. A friend is wasting away from cancer and we pray, Please God, not me. We pray for a quick death, a painless death, a death that will find us prepared in ourselves and in our souls. No one says, Please Lord, let me linger mindless with people I don't know in a life I cannot control for years on end. That is no one's prayer. No one prays for Alzheimer's, a horrific death, a slow, vicious death, a death by inches, a death by a thousand cuts. But that may not be the worst of it. The truth is that when a loved one arrives on that vacant shore, survivors don't want to see. They don't want to watch this hollow, empty thing with a face they knew long ago in the immense once-upon-a-time far, far away. It's easier to shut the lost away, away from the memories that haunt, away from a life they no longer own. For the survivors, all that remains is the guilt.
           
During her life, my mother had built her walls, her towers against trespass. She had always enforced her own rules with vigor: never venture out, never let anyone in. Her tower, her walls were massive, high and wide; she built herself a mighty fortress of emotional solitude, a magnificent structure that could never be breached.
           
I've known too many women of my mother's generation who suffered that same sense of detachment, that same sense of otherness, that same sense of exclusion from a world that did not belong to them. They were never invited to the Grand Banquet. Some of these women turned bitter, raging against the world that had stacked the odds against them. Others resigned themselves to their fate and trudged on stoically, always carrying a defeated sigh handy in their pocket. One put a gun to her head and welcomed the rupture. I've known all those women. All their children did time in the trenches. None of us made it out unscathed. It's amazing any of us got out alive. The scars of those battles are everywhere. I carry my own to this day.
           
For women like my mother, love was an unknowable haze of impenetrable meaning on a far distant shore always beyond her sails. It was the Forever Secret. Love did not lay easily on her back, a familiar flannel, a shield to protect herself from a sometimes vicious world. And being unable or unwilling to wrap herself in that warmth, she had next to nothing to offer the others in her life. There was nothing left to share. 
           
Maybe love had abandoned my mother somewhere along the line. Maybe she had seen love, but held herself too dear to venture into those uncharted waters, waters in which she could be disappointed and drown. I wouldn't know. She never said. It was just another of the many things about which my mother did not speak. And there are only so many things about which children can ask before they understand that the real lesson to be learned is silence followed closely by forbearance. That was the lesson that was modeled for me. That was the lesson I was meant to carry through this life – distance and detachment carried in unbroken silence and borne without complaint. 
           
It was six in the morning when my daughter called, Grandma's dead. She tried to be delicate, my Annie, the gentlest soul on God's green earth. Still, even sweet, gentle Annie couldn't relieve my anxiety. She had caught me mid-preparation for a wedding feast for her sister, my youngest daughter, before the sun had even risen. How on earth was I going to manage this, an Orthodox wedding feast and funeral preparations all on the same day? When a daughter is getting married in an elaborate Orthodox ceremony high on a hill in California, there's no time for funerals in Kansas; the living must be served. I did the only thing I could do and, if I hadn't needed my teeth, I would have preferred to pull them out all at once rather than do what I did next. I called my sister. Let the dead bury their own. That was the Scripture that played in my head as I dialed.
           
Have the funeral home pick up the body
. They'll have to hold her til I can get there. If you want, let them print the funeral handout and write the obituary for the newspaper. Do not set the funeral for one minute sooner than Thursday morning. The last guest leaves Monday afternoon; I can fly Tuesday. That's it. Thanks.
           
My sister does not protest; she wants to be in charge. She hates that my parents left me as their executrix – me, the younger sister. She feigns ignorance about the why of their choice and why I don't want to hear her voice any more than they did. Why did they leave you in charge? she demands not long after Pop dies.There are so many reasons. She should've known why they'd done it. It was no state secret. My parents hadn't hidden their intentions away like they were troop movements on D-Day. These weren't people who left mysterious trails in mud. If you knew them, you could read it on their faces over breakfast like the headline on the morning newspaper, bold, black, four inches high, Parents Deeply Disappointed, Sanctions Levied. She knew. She had to know. Did she expect me to lie? Was I supposed to make her feel better? You should have talked to Pop about that before he died. That wasn't good enough though; she wouldn't let it go. Well, he's dead now and you can't shove this off on him. I'm asking you. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't tell her the truth. You should have asked Pop. Apparently I had learned at least one lesson from my mother. God help me.
           
I remember that conversation as I go back to my daughter's wedding preparations. There's so much to do when the food is Greek – dolmades, keftedes, spanakopita, fasolakia, souvlakia, melomakarona, baklava. It all takes so much time. But now, between every cut, every sift, every chop, I remember. I remember it all and I'm angry. There's nothing I can do about it, really. Death forces its way in, dredging up all those old wounds. When Death arrives, it doesn't matter if you're surrounded by white weddings or fresh pink babies wrapped in Christmas lights. Death glides in under the door, so much insidious smoke, bringing all those boxes you never wanted to open, all the hurt, all the rejection, all the years of brilliant gloss over rotten wood. No matter what you do, there it is, staring up at you from chopping boards covered in onions and bitterness. 
           
Guests arrive for the feast and it's awkward. There should be some outward symbol of loss, something that would declare a death in this household. There should be some sign that this family is bereaved. The door should be wearing a mourning sash. Mirrors should be turned to the wall. I should be wearing black. I should be so many things that I am not. I am painfully aware of my many shortcomings, my many failings, as guests begin to filter in; their faces reflect their confusion, my absence of sorrow. My truth is I am no good at theater. Pop said you could read the world on my face; he said I should never play poker. It's his voice I hear as I navigate the rooms that night, These people don't know you. Let it lay. It'll all come right in the end. The realness of him holding my heart catches me up. Just get me through this, I beg him.Just help me get to Tuesday. It shouldn't be this hard.
           
I wear shameless red to Amanda's wedding that Sunday.  She is radiant, coming down the aisle on her brother's arm, he in his tuxedo jacket and family tartan kilt. His lunatic pride is palpable. My son: born in America, raised in Greece, his father's family mostly Scot. We're a schizophrenic convert family – Scots and English celebrating in Greek while the uninitiated Americans look on. Father Andy sings the ancient hymns, hymns that haven't changed in hundreds of years. Hymns remind us who we are, a confession of faith. He crowns the couple in a betrothal service and leads them around the table carrying the Gospel high before him. Dance Isaiah in English, Isaia Horeve in Greek, he sings and he beams. The bride and groom share the Cup. The saints and angels attend from the frescoes, halos shimmering in gold leaf. Christ Himself watches from the dome, His redemptive smile, His hand held in eternal blessing.  In the church, there is nothing but now. In the church, there is nothing but joy.
           
It's early evening when I arrive at the funeral home in Kansas just two days later.  One issue has arisen between Death and this day, just one: should my mother be seen one last time on this earth or should she remain hidden from the world, hidden this time under the burnished lid of a coffin? I am here to be the arbiter and final word in the discourse. I am escorted by the funeral director to the small room where she lays and I'm struck by the quiet. There is nothing here to break the silence once our feet find their home on the maroon carpet, the maroon of sacramental wine, the maroon of old barns abandoned in fields bereft of cattle. It strikes me that there's no difference between the silence here and the silence I grew up in. If you can't keep to the surface then keep to your silence. How many times had I heard it? 
           
Never speak of matters that expose who you really are. Do not confess your secret thoughts. Never reveal your heart and no one will break it. Never. Never. Never. So many nevers. No exceptions. Make silence so natural, make it such a habit, make it such a part of your very being that not even lunacy will pry your lips apart. Never. Never. Never. Not in your own home. Not to your own children. Not to your husband. If they cannot find your heart, they cannot break it. Never. Never. Never.
           
What do you think,
he asks me, open or closed? I lean over the box, uneasy, like a child peeking at something it isn't quite right to see. But it's just her laying there, just as I expect to find her, a small thin woman with tidy white hair, hands folded neatly at the top of her rib cage, no smile. Exactly what I expected. What is the nature of my sister's concern? The director's eyes drop, he shifts his shoes, She seems to think your mother looks very...old. 
Oh, Christ on a crutch, low under my breath. Again with the age, the sister is obsessed with the age. My mother, on this day, is almost exactly eighty-six years old, she is old, for Christ's sake. Is that the only objection? My words are scrupulously measured and clipped tight but I realize they still carry far more story than I intend. To my understanding, yes. Well then, I ask, what's your professional opinion? He clears his throat lightly,  In my experience, it's better to leave a casket open whenever possible. Otherwise, the mourners fill in the blanks and it can be...very uncomfortable. OK, then, leave it open. The funeral is set for nine o'clock, Thursday morning.  The director adds one last thought and I'm not sure if it's meant for me or for himself. He muses, I think she's lovely.
           
Lovely? I don't know as I'd go as far as all that. She's very thin now, not the plump little woman with a fondness for anything that came on a plate, especially desserts. We used to joke that if she had her way, she'd set up a table down at the See's Candy store every day for lunch. I wish I could say she had some guilty pleasure, something that gave her life some secret joy. I wish I could say I'd found her late one afternoon, sucking down margaritas in the company of an exotic stranger discussing art and leftist politics. I wish I could say she'd make weekend runs to Las Vegas to play the nickle slots. I wish I could say she locked herself in the bathroom to read romance novels while she painted her toes cherry bomb red. But those would all be lies. The truth is, if there was any pleasure, any love in my mother's life at all, it was for food. Meals were the one place her affection showed. It's a shame my father and I weren't meals. How sick is it that I grew up jealous of a moon pie?
           
I've often wondered why Pop chose her to spend his life with. It was something I could never bring myself to ask while he lived; how could a daughter ask a question like that of the father she loves? An old friend offered me a glimpse of the truth, someone who had the goods on both of them and, now that they were both gone, he was willing to spill the beans. Your dad was dating your aunt. He was supposed to pick her up to go see a movie but, when he got to the house, she didn't want to go. So he jerked his head at your mom and said, You wanna go? She jumped up offa that chair like it was lit on fire and shouted, You bet! After that, your aunt wouldn't have him back and your mother wouldn't turn him loose. It was shocking. Had the beginning of their lifetime together really been based on a random come-uppance hurled at my aunt? It didn't answer my original question, but it explained so much of what would follow.
           
In all my years in that home, in all the years of my growing up, these are the words that live in my memory:
           
Fletcher!”
           
“Damn it, Marie, shut the hell up!”

           
I cringed every time I heard it. I lived in constant fear that one day I would find suitcases stacked in the hall. Other days, I thought it might be better, not occupying a foxhole in this continuing barrage, words lobbed overhead to explode the landscape. Worse, they took no notice if I had friends over when the latest battle was engaged.  I learned to go out, not invite in. No one ever questioned why. No one ever suspected. If they did, they kept to their silence. Never. Never. Never.
           
I have tried to see her in my life independent of him since she died. I can't find her. I don't know this woman, this cellophane woman who now lays before me, who cast a shadow only in the presence of my father's light. I confess I may never have known her at all.  Where my father had saturated every moment of my life, my mother had only stained it.  Every lesson my father taught, every fine thing I ever learned, my mother reduced to some pitiful cliche to be mocked. Her lessons were broken light through a shattered prism. The truth is I could not hear Pop's voice when I was faced with her body. Her wake was Dresden after the bombing, and it was impossible to find one whole thing of value in the ruins.
           
I pulled out an old VHS tape of my parents camping with their friends and there's Pop, holding court, bonfire blazing, everyone laughing as he tells a tale, flailing a cane he used to crack a bear, a mighty thwack, laying the bear out cold. My mother is not in the ring, but I can see her in the door of their RV in the background, watching. She's always on the periphery watching. Women smile at her weakly; men ignore her. She exists only when she joins the group, only when the light of the campfire passes through Pop and deposits itself in her chair. If she were not married to him, she would not have existed at all. I wonder, does she know it? Can she feel how thin her life is without him? Does it make her want to scream?
           
I look into the coffin again and, for the first time, I notice how heavily the makeup has been applied, absolutely slathered on. In life, she never wore makeup other than lipstick. The color of that lipstick changed only with the decade and then not by much. She wore blush once that I remember, big splots of color, bright geraniums blooming on bare ground.  What really catches my attention, though, is my mother's dress and matching coat. The dress is raw silk, the yellow of rich butter freshly churned, and a coat to match with one massive, rhinestone-covered dome of a button at the neck. My mother made this outfit herself and wore it only once, excluding today. Where on earth had my sister found this suit? I would have to ask about that later. She's fine, I say.  Would you like to take some time with her by yourself? No, I'm good.
           
Actually, I'm not good at all. 
           
I'm thinking about the only day my mother wore that dress and coat. It was my sister's wedding thirty-seven years before.  There was a candlelight service in an old Methodist church followed by a dinner at a restaurant I couldn't name now if my life depended on it.  There's a band playing muzak, nondescript standards that were the typical fare of the day. My parents aren't dancing. My mother can't dance. I'm dancing a reduced box step with the groom's brother, and my mother is surprised that I know how. You look so nice dancing with that young man, she smiles at me. Where did you learn? She never leaves her chair. She doesn't work the room. Is she still angry about my sister's choice of a groom? I couldn't know then that she'd carry that grudge like it was a good idea for the next thirty-seven years. You have to admire that force of conviction, the ability to carry on a feud, unrelenting, through the remainder of an entire lifetime.  
           
There was no conversation at home on the subject of my sister's marriage. No, that's a lie. We yelled about it. The truth was vulgar. She objected to the groom's religion. This from a woman that, during her entire life, only entered a church for the baptisms, weddings or funerals of others. And that begged the question: if religion in general is folly, isn't it all equal folly? What made some religions more objectionable than others? None of it made any sense. But we couldn't talk about it because then we'd know each others' heart. No. Please, not that. Anything but that.
           
When I went to marry in the church,  I had to produce a baptismal certificate. My mother said it had to be in a particular Methodist church on such-and-such street because she remembered carrying me and that meant I couldn't yet walk. It was the only Methodist church in town back then. So I called the church. I spoke with the Pastor.  He didn't find my name in the records. He checked from my birth date through the time I would have been five. I had never been baptized. When I went home to tell my mother, my father said, Damn it, Marie, I told you it was her sister we baptized!  Now, what can you do with that except cry?
           
The next morning is damp, and I can smell rain. There are three of us now, my husband and my son are with me, and we have one free day before the funeral, but there's no one left to visit; everyone is gone or dead and gone.  We decide to take a ride out to see Pop's spot, the place where my mother will join him tomorrow, the place where I left him five years, seven months, ten days before. It's not much of a cemetery by most accounts. There is only a small fence around the perimeter that is neither pretty nor efficient. For years, there was no fence at all, and there probably wouldn't be yet if it weren't for the cattle and cars that go astray from time to time.
           
It doesn't take long to find Pop's spot. The monument is exactly as I expect to find it, exactly as it had been represented in the pictures at the monument shop when she selected it five years ago – huge, sentimental, more than a little absurd and, if you could ask Pop what he thought about it, he would say it was ridiculous. But he would also say to let her have what she wanted because it was what she wanted and he wouldn't have cared enough to fight about it. So I don't snicker at the great loopy marble slab with the sappy heart in the center that sits here at the head of the funeral bed. I just look down and say, “Hi, Pop.” We talk with him for a long time, my son, my husband and I. We talk about what he's missed in the last five years, the babies, the weddings. We tell him Mom will be here in the morning, in case he didn't already know. I don't have to tell him how much I miss him; he knows that already.  My husband, Tony, and I wander off to visit other family members who are waiting for us nearby, my kin, leaving Tommy to visit with his Grandpa on his own. He's brought his silver hip flask full of Jack; he's sprinkling some on the grass for his Grandpa and taking a pull for himself.  He's left a penny on the headstone.
           
Tony and I haven't been paying attention to anything but the names on the stones when we're pelted with massive drops.  In the time it has taken us to visit four or five relatives, the sky's gone green. It's not just slate green, oh, hell no, this is Oh-My-Dear-Lord-Emerald-City-Dorothy-We're-Smack-Ass-in-the-Middle-of-Kansas-Green. I call to Tommy, still standing at Pop's feet, Get to the car! Tony and I run over the rough grass to the sedan, hopping over the puddles that are forming quickly.  Tommy is still standing at the tombstone when we shout, Come on!  I honk the horn. Get in the damn car, boy, now!  Tommy finally starts moving, soaked to the skin, What's the big deal, he gripes from the back seat. Big deal? Boy, don't you know what a green sky means? The sky opens up entirely now, dumping great heaping buckets of water over the car, the windshield wipers are wham-banging as fast as they can go, but they can't keep up. I hit the gas and gravel goes flying; gravel and mud fill the air. I'm driving blind, and I don't care.
           
I've driven blind my entire life where she is concerned it seems, caught in the war between her and Pop in the silence. He'd stay out in the barn unless there was a meal on the table. She'd stay in the house unless she was gone to town. I would drift between the camps, a runner through the wasteland. After he's gone, after she's too sick to stay in her own house, she'll scream as she rolls down the hall, strapped to a gurney after threatening to throw herself into traffic. Fletcher! Save me! They're going to kill me!  How can we get that lost? How do we get so far from shore? 
             
That evening is the viewing. Her last cousin is crying. Beulah is old. She was old when I was a child, and she's ancient now. You wouldn't think anyone that ancient would still be willing to attend a funeral, tempting fate like that. She looks at my mother lying in her coffin, takes my hand and says softly, I wouldn't have known her if I hadn't seen her name in the paper. She never wore makeup like that in all her life and she's so thin. I soothe her, I know, Beulah, but that's her. She's just been sick such a long time. Well, then, Beulah concludes in flawless prairie logic, it's a blessing for her to be gone. She missed Fletcher too much. It's good for her to be with him again.
           
I think about a ride in the car not long after Pop died, her talking about dying. She was always talking about dying. You won't forget, will you? You'll take me home and put me next to Fletcher? Yes, Mom. I've already seen to it. But she won't stop, her perseveration kicks into high gear. I can't take it, her obsession with her dead body arrangements. I interrupt her with a question. I admit I should have known better. Are you looking forward to seeing Pop again? What are you talking about, she says, glaring at me like I am an empty-headed ninny child. Seeing Pop, I say, are you looking forward to seeing him again? I won't be seeing him, she informs me flatly. He's dead. Aren't you going to see him in heaven? There is no heaven. Then what is there? There's nothing. You're just dead. Then what's the big deal about where you get buried? I want my bones to be next to Fletcher's bones, that's why. That's where I want to be. You can't back out on it now, she dictates, you promised. 

I should have expected this reaction. Every conversation we have ever had over an entire lifetime has ended here, right exactly here. This conversation, though, pulled an admission from me that until that very moment I had been unwilling to make. When she died, I would not miss my mother. So long as I fulfilled my duties, so long as I met my obligations, there was nothing else I needed to give. And that confession forced another admission that was far more painful. When Pop died, my heart had been sundered so completely that I still cannot find the edges of the poor shattered thing to stitch it back together. However, I would find it no hardship at all to cut my mother loose on her voyage to Nowhere. I would set her adrift without a second glance back. I am ashamed it would be so easy. I am ashamed I could be so cold.
           
But am I so cold, really? I'm only here to bury her. I remember how she left her own mother to die. Grandma came out to California after Grandpa died. Grandma wasn't happy about it, but her two surviving children were both in California and she was alone in Kansas. Later everyone said it was a good move, especially once she needed dialysis three times a week. It didn't take long before my mother was complaining. It was an hour drive each way and two hours for treatment; it got old fast. That day, that last day, my aunt brought Grandma over for the drive into town. My mother wasn't ready. Grandma was tired, so she laid down to wait. My aunt said, I think something's wrong. My mother said, Let her be. She confessed later that she knew Grandma was going to die, right then and there. She could have called an ambulance; she could have hauled her to the local hospital. But she shushed my aunt and sat down with a glass of tea in the kitchen and let her mother pass, by herself, lying on the guest bed, no one even to hold her hand as she slipped away. No tears. No comment. Nothing but the silence. Am I cold? Not compared to that I'm not. Compared to that I'm Mother Teresa.
           
Beulah is staring at me sadly. I don't say a word. I don't dare tell her what I'm dreaming of now, me kicking my mother's ship out to sea, a wooden gravy boat, her wound in linen bands of red and white like a giant peppermint stick, surrounded by stacks of cakes, piles of pies, mounds of confections, glistening goblets of frothy chocolate malts, bonbons stacked halfway up the mast, thick ropes of licorice vines lifting the sails of fondant sheets, all the things upon which she had lavished every last drop of her affection. A Cracker Jack Band plays On the Good Ship Lollipop from shore as she drifts away. I loose a golden arrow from my bow, flaming marshmallow on the tip, arching it high through a clear October sky, to land in a giant puddle of hot fudge on the deck, flames bursting up, her drifting flambe'd over the horizon to her own Vanilla Valhalla. No, I can't tell Beulah about that. That's when I catch sight of that damned yellow dress and coat again. I see my sister across the room and I have to ask, Where did you find that outfit? I've been saving it. Saving it? Since your wedding? Yes. Why? To bury her? Yes.  Cold silence. Clearly, she has been taking notes from my mother. The grudge held against a groom for thirty-seven years has come full circle and the parting shot does not belong to my mother. I have nothing left to say to her. I will practice the silence I learned at home. I pray I don't go running from the room now, screaming about lunatics and obligation.
           
The viewing doesn't take long.  There aren't many people here tonight, her own brother has not made the trip. It would have been sad if it hadn't been so completely expected. The next morning, the only other people at the graveside are chapter sisters from Eastern Star, here to bury her with their funeral service. The ladies form a group near the coffin and recite from their ritual, words that are unfamiliar to me, words I can barely make out as the wind carries them away across the prairie. If there is a message here, it's lost in the wind. Certainly, it's lost on me.
           
There's no loitering after the final word is said, not once everyone knows there's a meal laid out back at the chapel house. We chat with some of the ladies from Star about the town, what businesses are failing, the fire on Main Street that closed down half a dozen shops. There won't be a town in ten more years at this rate they say. No one knows what will happen. No one mentions my mother.
           
I cannot tell you how I felt that Saturday when we finally flew out of Kansas City, released back to California, my sentence complete, no time off for time served. I suppose there must have been some relief knowing I had fulfilled my obligations. There must have been a sadness somewhere too, now that I was officially an orphan. To this day, I have not cried over her death. It could be that, in truth, Alzheimer's had taken her years before, and the death we observed here was only an acknowledgment of her physical passing. We should have had her real funeral long ago. I confess I prayed the entire last year of her physical life for God to take her, to release her from her shadow of a shadow of a life.
           
The question that haunts me now is this and the question is entirely my own: Was my mother right about being just so many bones left to rot in a small box in Kansas or did she gain an eternal home, a home she had so clearly and repeatedly denied? I don't know, none of us can be sure. I have to fall back on what I've come to believe with absolute certainty: we're all fatally flawed. Mercy is our only hope; it's what we're all going to need in the end. It's all faith and mercy. That's it. That's all I've got.



 

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