An Attempt to Explain the Inexplicable

This is not about the school board.  After the month I’ve been through, I’m reclaiming the rather eclectic nature of this blog and writing about what has been more pressing in my life these last few weeks: My mom’s death.

What I want to do is further develop a short Facebook post that caused some unexpected reactions, which ended up making me feel almost fraudulent, so I wanted to explain.  Here’s the post, for those of you not on my friends list:

I’m having a tough time wrapping my mind around the fact that my mom is gone. The phone rings, and I’m pretty sure it’s her most of the time, because it usually was before she died. I went to her house to empty her fridge, and the place still smells like her and looks like she lives there. It’s just not really computing, you know?

Well, she donated her body to the Colorado Anatomical Society to be used for research and/or education. It’s brilliant, actually, if you’re not too attached to bodies once people are finished with them. It helps people and it saves a bundle on what we euphemistically refer to as “final expenses.” So the phone rings, and I think it’s her, but it’s a lady from the Anatomical Society finalizing Mom’s death certificate, and she needs me to clarify some things that were hard to read on the paperwork Mom filled out years ago. (We both have difficult handwriting–very similar.)

A) I think it’s Mom. B) It kind of is. C) Suddenly I must think about the fact that her body is not gone. I don’t know where her body is or when it will be gone. I only know that they have promised that, when they are finished with it, they will respectfully cremate it.

It’s weird. I feel weird. I thought I’d make you all feel weird, too. You’re welcome.

I thought the tone made it clear that this was not a moment of deep bereavement. There have been those moments, to be sure.  I’m not saying there haven’t.  This just wasn’t one of them.  See, my mom has pretty much been the main person who calls me.  (I’m not really a phone-talker.)  When she called, it was generally a 50-50 shot the timing was convenient, and she was not an easy woman to get off the phone with. (She was a champion phone-talker.)  I’d just stuffed a bunch of potato chips into my mouth when that phone call came, and thinking it was her, I rolled my eyes in exasperation.  Chewing chips is a very inconvenient time for talking on the phone.  Then I realized that the only person it couldn’t be was her, and the phone kept ringing, which didn’t really allow me to process whether or not to feel guilty about having been exasperated.  That was my condition when I answered.

The nice lady needed to verify Mom’s last address and my grandmother’s maiden name, which I did (pronouncing the “w” like a “v” because it’s German and that’s how my mom always pronounced it—adding to the general confusion), and I hung up.

And then I realized that Mom’s body is still out there somewhere.

Her parents were put into a mausoleum, Bradenton’s water table being what it is, and my dad’s parents are side by side in the churchyard.  I know exactly where they are, not that I ever go there because I’m never in Florida these days.  My father was cremated, and his ashes are in the memorial garden at church, with the exception of some that his widow kept to scatter at various other special places.  My husband’s mother and aunt were also cremated, and we scattered them, along with two lifetimes’ worth of pets’ ashes, down at land the family owns in South Park.  Mostly I am accustomed to bodies becoming ash within days of death or at least staying put somewhere.

Sitting at my kitchen table, phone still in hand, it occurred to me that the body that had created me was somewhere else; I didn’t know where and would never know.  My mother now has some sort of existence (as opposed to life) outside of the context of me or our family.  I put down the phone trying to reconcile this.  I mean, you can talk about how that body is not my mom, and I agree with that—I don’t think the mother I loved is still in there in any way—but you can’t deny that that’s her body full of her DNA, however inanimate, and that half that same DNA is in me, and how the hell does one define “existence” anyway?

See, it’s an existential problem as opposed to a grief kind of thing.  I think.  After all, there’s also the quandary of not being able to objectively gauge one’s own emotions at a time like this.  And even that’s complicated because my relationship with my mom was complicated.  She was a good person with a good heart, but you may know that mother-daughter relationships can be a mixed bag.  I’m just sayin’.  (My mom would have said the same thing.)  So when people assumed I was coming from a place of grief because it wasn’t her on the phone, I felt a bit odd accepting heartfelt sympathy over something that wasn’t really the problem at the time.  (By the same token, I admit to calling her old number once to hear her voice on the machine, so there’s that.  It was emotionally confusing—I don’t recommend it.)

I will, however, take any and all sympathy for my existential crisis, as well as whatever random philosophy you want to put in the comments.

About admin

Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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2 Responses to An Attempt to Explain the Inexplicable

  1. Cheri says:

    Paula, my dad has been gone now for 16 years and yet there are still times when I think its him when the phone rings. He was really the only one who called. We talked all the time about everything. One day I was watching a baseball game on tv (something I used to do all the time with dad) when I remembered my mom telling me my dad had donated his corneas. I thought to myself that means there’s someone out there possibly watching baseball with my dad’s corneas allowing them to see. It was weird, like you say what is it that is the person we loved. I do so get and understand your feelings in this. Hang in there remember the good, the love. Let the existential stuff work out in its own time!

  2. admin says:

    Wow. That’s kind of a cool thing, the possibility that part of him is still watching baseball. But weird, too, as you said. I think it’s good that life is constantly demanding that we re-evaluate what we think of it.

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