A year passing

March 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

When a body lies on the floor of, say, an apartment for several hours before it’s discovered, blood pools. “You might want a scarf,” the mortician says, but my mother hasn’t worn a scarf since 1979, since she flew in an air race with Kaye Combs Moore Bohannon. Kaye is a woman who wears a scarf well. She’s a dental hygienist, for God’s sake. Her hair has been in a perfect blonde bouffant since I can remember. It was even that way at my mom’s funeral. My mom, and I, for that matter, look like stewardesses in scarves. Who wants to look like a stewardess when you’re a pilot? Still, blood pools.

I go to T. J. Maxx., of course. That’s where my mom would have gone. It’s where I bought the shirt we buried my dad in. You don’t suddenly start shopping at Nordstrom’s when somebody dies. You don’t think you’ll have to shop. But she needed a scarf. There’s only so much you can do with makeup.

I picked a coral one and a turquoise one, her two colors. The turquoise had a little sparkle, and was longer, so it covered more when wrapped around her neck. We chose it for those merits. I never actually saw how it went with the black suit. I refused to look at the open casket up close. I do not think it would have, as some suggested, given me closure. I stayed at the entrance to the church, where I could tell it must be her, and I sent Jeff to make sure. He confirmed it.

This is where my parents’ funerals merge. They were in the same church, ten weeks apart, after all. I remember Jan, the priest, and a few specific details from each, but as my mom confused the memories of our five baby girl births, unable to distinguish one fateful day from another, I cannot truly separate my parents’ funerals in my head. Jan was there. Thank God. She was the one who convinced us that my mother would want the pall. “All Episcopalians want the pall,” she said. This is the cross laden cloth that covers the casket and matches the priests’ robes and the altar cloth. “You don’t need a spray,” she said. Jan could be practical at this time and not seem crass. She said the right thing on every single occasion. There were so many ways she could have screwed up, but she never did. That must be what grace is.

Another person I remember with great affection is Bob Sayre, the man who suggested the scarf. When we were making arrangements for my dad’s funeral, my mom wanted to set my sister up with Bob. Too bad he’s married. He was anticipatory. He thought of everything before we knew we wanted it. In the bitter December ice storm of my Dad’s funeral, he brought blankets to cover us in the car. Like, that thoughtful. He deals with the mute, moaning, and emotionally impaired on a daily basis. I get the feeling he must be good with animals too. I love him for all of that, and we’ve only met twice.

I think of the scarf sometimes, and the military cut pantsuit my mother favored, with the gold buttons up the front and the mandarin collar.  I think of the fact that the dead don’t wear shoes. This is probably driving my dad crazy, but not my mom. She tolerated shoes, hated socks, and really preferred to be barefoot.

I think of all this, and “Amazing Grace,” and my childhood come back to life, but aged, in the faces in the pews. And I think of ritual, the up and down of Episcopalians that has always confounded Jeff, the liturgy, the Our Fathers, and the fact that through all of it, you don’t have to think, but you feel in the end that something important has been done. I think of this all tonight, when a year, and almost nothing else, has passed.


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