My mother died on August 12. It wasn't unexpected. She was 97, and she'd been diagnosed with metastatic cancer in May. For most of my lifetime, our relationship had been cordial, but troubled. When I was a child, she was physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive. When she finally shed that skin, or became afraid of discovery, she improved by being merely dishonest, controlling, and manipulative. To anyone who wasn't her progeny, she was a sweet, Christian lady.
It was perhaps in the last year that I came to think of "Mother" as twofold: the Office of Motherhood, a position that is sacred, similar to President of the United States or the Dalai Lama—and the person who inhabits that office, who may or may not live up to the the holiness of the appointment. That helped me understand why some things were precious to me because they were gifts from my Mother, even as that person was someone for whom I had little respect.
There's also the twist that in the psychology of child mind, our parents are God—or so I've read—because they have been present throughout our personal eternity. I'm certain that mine is not the most complex set of feelings anyone has had to deal with upon the death of a parent; but I was nevertheless grateful that in traveling to my mother's funeral, I had my dog Emma and two thousand miles of driving for therapy.
I hadn't visited my hometown, Guymon America, since The Shave. I felt a bit awkward with my very un-Guymonish appearance, but not to the extent I had expected. When my sister Jo and I were at the Sonic drive-in, a lady rolled down her window to tell me I looked beautiful.
Mother's funeral was well suited to her. It highlighted good and interesting parts of her and her life without suggesting sainthood. As my sisters and I stood in front of the congregation, singing Amazing Grace, I briefly wondered about looking weird as the "bald daughter". My next thought was, "Who cares? This is so not about me and hair."
The best part of the service was the police escort from the church to the cemetery. With one squad car in the lead and one in the rear, both with lights flashing and a couple of policemen along the road directing traffic, our procession was carefully ushered the three miles to the burial site. Without exception, every car along the way pulled off to the side of the road, and some people even got out of their cars, took off hats, bowed their heads—not necessarily because they knew my mother, but because they have respect. I know that would have been Mother's favorite part of a send-off that was good throughout.
So now... the grieving. I was doing a writing exercise a couple evenings ago, and this was the result.
This is akin to admitting I still like someone I had a crush on in high school who had bad teeth, acne, misogyny in his heart, and no good on his mind. Except it's not about some bad boy from my past. It's about my mother.
There was a time—a relatively brief time—I really enjoyed her company. She was so proud of her job as an Avon lady and having her own money. My classes finished for the day, we would regularly go to the Pancake House and eat pie and drink coffee and visit. I liked her then—the mother who had abused me as a child and who would become such a disappointment in my adulthood. I treasure that sweet spot in our history. I liked her. And I miss her.