I’m also very OK and very at peace, but I wish everyone would just let me be OK and at peace.
Last week, I was having dinner with a friend when dad called. I didn’t answer because I usually don’t answer the phone when I’m out to dinner. A) That’s Rude. B) My hands are usually really nasty because I don’t know how to eat all classy and gentleman-like. But my sister called right after and I thought “Why am I being double-teamed right now?”
I stepped out of the restaurant and took the call on the sidewalk. My dad had taken my mom to the local hospital, and as soon as she got there, she was helicoptered to a better hospital in the city. My sister and her husband were already in the car making the 9 hour drive up to my parents’ house and I wasn’t sure if I should do the same. To say my mom and I had a strained relationship would be the understatement of the season. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other since December 12th and my last attempt at reconciliation was met with absolutely no response. Besides, nothing in me thought she would die and I’d never see her again, so I took a Wait-and-See approach. I wanted to wait for my sister to get back home and to call me and give me an honest assessment of the situation. I went to a rooftop party to keep my mind off the situation, went back home, and crawled into bed.
Around 5:00AM, my brother-in-law called and said my mom had slipped away. I couldn’t process that, so I stammered a few broken sentences, hung up the phone, and went back to sleep. When I woke up again, I let the reality sink in…and I didn’t feel much.
Mourning over a dead loved one comes in three parts: Sadness over the loss of the relationship, sadness over the ending of a person’s life and the things they didn’t get to do and the loose ends they never got to tie, and sadness over the people they touched who’ve lost a loved one. The first one is the hardest, and I have been mourning the loss of the relationship with my mother for 13 years now.
I have been depressed and upset and crying and angry and distraught off and on for more than a decade over this relationship. We haven’t spoken in 9 months. Our relationship ended for good over a month ago. I spent the week after my birthday going through every stage of grief. I cried out everything I had left in me. My relationship with my mother already ended and I’ve already done that. I didn’t have any hope left that we could reconcile because that hope was what had kept me hanging on since I came out in the first place, hoping that she would come around and realize that it’s not her fault, it’s not my choice, and there is nothing wrong with me and my gay life.
That is the part that made me sad. When it sunk in that she is really dead, those were the only tears I cried, because my mom touched so many people. She was such a rock and a confidant to everyone around her. She would give her last nickel to make sure you had 4 cents. She accepted you as you were and still helped you when you stumbled, but she just couldn’t get over having a gay son. Those are the tears I cried. I just wanted her to feel whole and at peace and I know she didn’t. I know she died feeling like she failed. She told me so many times growing up that I was the reason for everything she did, and in her eyes, she never got the reap the fruits of her labor. In her eyes, she messed up somewhere and was never able to bring me back to the path of righteousness. She never got to a place where she realized that I’m not a bad person just because I’m gay. The golden child she started out with turned into an evil gay atheist and nothing could make her see past that.
My mom and I were like peas and carrots growing up. I was her little shadow and I followed her around everywhere. I thought she was the funnest/funniest person ever and she spoiled me rotten. She treated me like an adult and let me speak around her friends (which is a big deal down here in the “Children should be seen and not heard” South). I hated seeing my mother sad for any reason. When I realized I was gay, I wanted to be straight for her. I tried so hard and prayed so long and wished so intensely all for her. I had my own personal problems with being gay and being bullied and all that, but I just hated seeing my mom sad. Nobody likes seeing their mom sad, and if you’re the reason why she’s sad, you want to do everything you can to change it.
Of course I couldn’t, but I still did my best to minimize the damage. I never talked about it, never brought it up around family members, never confirmed the rumors with extended family, all out of respect for her because I knew how ashamed she was that I was gay. I didn’t want to cause her any extra stress. I knew I couldn’t make her happy, but I didn’t want to make her any more sad than she had to be.
My tears were because I never had another chance to try to make her happy.
If my mom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer or some other incurable illness, I would have faked it until the end. It’s a stupid idea—I recognize that—but I loved that woman so hard for so long and I just wanted to make her smile again, at me. I’ll never have another chance to make her smile and to give her peace. She has now run out of time to make peace with her baby boy and there’s nothing I can do about it. Those are the tears I cried and I cried them all before I got on the plane down here.
I’m out of grief. I’m all grieved out. I had cycled through all of the stages before she died and you know what I have left? Happy memories. Memories from before my English teacher told my mom I was gay and changed our relationship forever. How she always laughed so loud and so hard it made her cough and cry. How her fingernail on her index finger was always longer than the rest of them, like a talon, and she would point and wave her finger all weird for no reason. How the bottoms of her feet were so ticklish and she would kick you in the mouth if you touched them. How she always bit her lips whenever she stirred cornbread batter. How I’d say something really inappropriate that she didn’t want to laugh at, so she’d just say ‘BOY!’ loudly to camouflage her giggles. How she had the ugliest hat in the world that she’d wear cutting grass, but she swore up and down that it was cute (I’m taking that hat). How she was always trying to lose ten pounds but also always baking cakes. How every time she picked me up from the airport, we would go to Waffle House on the way home, and Captain’s Galley for hushpuppies and baby flounder the next day. And then she would make cheese grits the morning after that to eat with the leftover fish. How she only wanted the best for me but just couldn’t let go of the notion that Her Best was not the Only Best available.
Now it’s all over.
The funeral was today and I’m tired of everybody waiting for me to break. First of all, why does grief has to be a spectacle? Why are we expected to do it so publicly?
Let me explain to you how Every Black Funeral in my memory has gone. It’s a two-day thing, which is crazy, but it’s two days.
The first day is the wake or the viewing. I’m not sure if that’s the same thing, and if it isn’t, I’m not sure what a wake is. Basically, the body is in a casket at the funeral parlor and people come look at it (MORBID!!!) and cry and sit around and cry and shake hands with the family and cry and look at the body again and cry and go home. Sometimes there’s a dinner after.
The second day is the actual funeral. The body is up near the pulpit and everybody comes in before the funeral and sits down. I use the term “before” loosely, because black people are forever late. After everyone is seated, a choir starts singing and the family processes in, usually in a big clumps separated by which branch of the deceased’s family and how close in relation. They file in and then walk by the body again to look at it (STILL MORBID) and then sit in the front. This is the part in all those black people comedies where some lady is bawling and trying to climb in the casket and screaming “take me with you! oh lawd take me too!” That’s not a parody. That is a real thing that happens.
The choir sings some more. At least half an hour. Then a preacher says some things. Another half hour. Then members of the family make remarks. Depending on how old the deceased is, this can last anywhere from 15 minutes to another two hours. Then the preacher says something else. This is the part where the funeral turns into Sunday Church and he starts hollering and the keyboardist does that weird ‘BAAAHMM’ thing after every sentence. Then the choir sings some more, which could be short, except on the last refrain, somebody from the audience always starts it up again. Then the pallbearers close the casket and carry the body out. The family and everybody else follow and they drive to the cemetery.
At the cemetery there are more remarks, more words from the preacher, sometimes more casket-crying-hysterics, and then—FINALLY—it is all over.
Unless there’s a dinner at the church after and you drive back to have fried chicken and styrofoam cups filled with iced-diabetes.
Black funerals are exhausting and weirdly hilarious. My mom used to talk so much shit about them and I hate them too. But most importantly, my dad HATES big funerals.
This is the part where I had planned to talk about how my mom’s funeral went, but I’m really sleepy and it will be really long. So lemme just end this in a Daytime Soap Opera cliffhanger type way and you can tune in later for the continuing story of
All MyChildren Dianne’s Funeral.