Monday, October 15, 2007

The Uncomfortable Silence

The people never arrived empty handed. They always brought food. From behind the living room curtain I could see their heavily laden arms carrying bags and buckets and boxes full of food to the front door.

“We’re so sorry for your loss,” they would say as I opened the door. “We’ve brought chicken.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. The one most bothered by the silence piped up. “Let’s eat chicken!”

And so, we ate chicken. And still, there was an uncomfortable silence.

The people gathered in the kitchen. They had to say "excuse me" to move around each other. They insisted on doing the dishes to ease their own inner tension. They spilled out onto the concrete floor of the garage and mingled among the overflowing recycle bin, the litter box that needed cleaning, and the tool bench stacked with golf balls. The living room was full. The people sat on the cold stone hearth. The blue folding chairs were brought in. She would have washed them first.

He sat in the corner trying not to cry, trying to make polite conversation. The children, some oblivious to the circumstances, played football in the front yard. There were a few mourners, overwhelmed by the numbers of people, who holed themselves up in the bedroom near the computer. The headline on Yahoo was, “Cancer Deaths Declining in the US”. They turned the computer off. It made them feel cheated. The newspaper was spread across the bed; the headline of the day searing through them, “I Survived Cancer-Now What ?” They turned the paper over. It made them angry.

The people tried so hard. They were so kind. Their words of comfort spilled forth. “She’s with our Lord.” “She’s no longer suffering.” “She’s in another dimension.” “You did so much for her, now you should focus on you.” “She’s looking down upon us now with a smile.” “She’s finished with her work here on earth.” “Her spirit is with us right now.” “Do you think granny will become a ghost?” “You do know that God had already prepared a place for her?”

Then there was an uncomfortable silence. The one most bothered by the silence piped up, “We have soup! Who wants soup?”

And so, we ate soup. And still, there was an uncomfortable silence.

The people whispered in the background. “Have you seen her cry yet? I haven’t seen her cry yet. She’s not dealing with this well, is she? She needs to cry.”

“No I haven’t seen her cry yet,” another whisperer answered. “But he sure is taking it hard. He hasn’t stopped crying. He’s not dealing with this well is he? He needs to get it under control a bit.”

And then, there was an uncomfortable silence. The one most bothered by the silence piped up, “Who wants pie? We have pumpkin pie!”

And so, we ate pumpkin pie. And still, there was an uncomfortable silence.

“Do you remember how she always had a kitchen towel slung over her shoulder?” “Do you remember how she always put others before herself?” “Do you remember how she always wanted everything to be fair?” “Wasn’t it wonderful how giving and kind and selfless she was?” “She would have been worried about the kids’ football going into the street.” “She would have washed those chairs.” “It was too soon, wasn’t it?” “At least she got to have grandkids.”

And then, there was an uncomfortable silence. The one most bothered by the silence piped up, “Who wants lasagna? We have lasagna!”

And so, we ate lasagna. And still, there was an uncomfortable silence.

“Do you want to be there when she is lowered into the ground?” “Do you want to place items in her casket?” “Do you want an open casket and a viewing period?” “Would you rather have a dove or a flower scene on the funeral programs?” “Do you want those flowers surrounding a gate or trailing over a trellis?” “We have a wonderful package that includes programs, the guest book, and the thank you notes for a very nice price.” “Do you want an $8,000 casket or our minimal $1,700 casket?” “And of course, you don’t want to skimp on the vault.” “I’m afraid the small graveside service for 20 has turned into a full chapel service for 160.” “Oh yes, we do understand your concerns. “

We left the funeral home in silence. The one most bothered by the silence piped up, “There’s sub sandwiches at home. We could eat those.”

And so, we ate sub sandwiches. And still, there was an uncomfortable silence.

We met with the pastor. “Tell me your memories,” she said. We couldn’t stop talking. The pastor couldn’t take down notes fast enough. We laughed. We cried. We bonded. We remembered. We expected her to walk in at any moment and correct us. But she never did. We were left on our own.

Instead, there was an uncomfortable silence. The one most uncomfortable with the silence piped up. “Someone dropped off stroganoff back at the house. We could eat that.”

And so, we ate stroganoff. And still, there was an uncomfortable silence.

“Do you remember the story when she was a kid and she bought that candy from the store that rivaled her dad’s store and she got in so much trouble?” “Do you remember when she threw those pancakes?” “What is this picture with her with the blond hair? “When did she have blond hair?” “Oh, look at her in that video…that’s just like her sitting in the back so the kids could have the good seats.” “Look how happy she was when he was born.” “What do you mean she did "the wave" at the bowling alley when she was younger?” “Why didn’t I appreciate these things more when she was alive? Why didn’t I know about some of these things?” “More people should be like her.” “Oh, she wouldn’t like that picture. We shouldn’t use it for the slide show or the photo board.” “I’m going to write something for the pastor to read.” “Are you going to speak at your mother’s funeral?”

And then, there was an uncomfortable silence. The one most uncomfortable with the silence piped up. “I think there are mashed potatoes and gravy in the fridge.”

And so, we ate mashed potatoes and gravy. And still, there was an uncomfortable silence.

Over the next few days we ate those mashed potatoes and gravy. And the fried chicken. And the ham. In fact, we ate all of the lasagna, the stroganoff, the coleslaw, the pumpkin pie, the chocolate cake, the doughnuts, the biscuits, the candy, the sub sandwiches, the croissant sandwiches, the fruit bowls, the stroganoff, the many, many salads, the butter tarts, the homemade cinnamon rolls and drank more soda and coffee than a person should have in a lifetime.

And still, there was an uncomfortable silence. Finally, the one most uncomfortable with the silence piped up. “I guess we should leave for the funeral now, shouldn’t we?”

In loving memory of MAMA.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not sure how but you made me cry. I'll be thinking of you all. Death sucks.

Karen said...

As always you captured the moments in your own inimitable style. I laughed, I sniffled, I chuckled, I sighed. You are a great daughter and a terrific niece! Keep up on the writing!

tammy said...

I can relate to what you wrote. I am the oldest granddaughter and the one everyone leans on,even grandma. I lost both my grandparents this last year. It was not expected for grandma,but grandpa left 5 months later. I did it all. My let down was when everyone left. I was very close to them more than my own parents. We had a very special bond.

I related to the food and the tensions,the awkward moments,the old pics. Even,yesterday while looking through pictures with our international student,I felt like crying. I miss them and our conversations.

In my now life, I should appreciate my own mother but its not always easy. But you know mothers always threaten to haunt us. Atleast, mine does!!
I hope that you remember the stories people told of your mother and write them down for your children.
Take care and hug your children and husband. Thinking of you all. Love Tammy