My mother was an Aries. Her birthday is coming up and with Easter and missing my family, I’ve been thinking about her a lot. My mom died 10 years ago on Father’s day. She wasn’t satisfied with just Mother’s day.
I was almost 25, Jeff was almost 20 and Miranda, well, Miranda turned 10 two days later. She died of breast cancer. Our mom had struggled with cancer for most of Miranda’s life. She had all sorts of chemo and radiation; she had a bone marrow transplant and every other treatment money, fantastic health insurance and an insanely attentive husband could provide. But it wasn’t enough and she died. When it came, it was quick and, we think, less painful than her life was up to that point.
It was hard watching her suffer. It was hard living with hope and harder living without it. Those six years were turmoil for all of us. Jeff and I growing up and dealing with the world as teenagers and girls in her twenties do outside of the cancer cloud. Miranda was just starting her life and never knew our mother in any other way, really. Then she died and life moved forward, cutting our personal histories into before and after.
The thing that had never been voiced to us before she died was that the hard part isn’t the death or the loss, at first. It doesn’t feel real for a while. There’s a honeymoon period, if you will, where trying on the cloak of “my mom’s gone” feels weird on the tongue, but it doesn’t really touch. No, the hard part is the living.
For Jeff and I, and I would assume our stepfather, it was the condolences and the genuinely sincere well-wishers. It was the sad looks and the hard hugs. It was the inability of most people to have a regular conversation when one was desperately needed. It was the overwhelming kindness that crippled like tar when we needed to move quickly.
Jeff and I became partners again, like we had been at times in our youth, but hadn’t been for years. We never left each others side, deflected as much as we could for the other and together, we developed a sure-fire strategy that simultaneously ended conversations and brought us a humorous relief in the hollowness. It also weeded out the weak-hearted.
It’s the one-two punch of The Dead Mother Joke.
It started during a conversation we had in the backyard days after she died. We were tired of the she “passed on” or “She’s no longer with us” or the best “She’s in a better place”.
My mother’s better place was actually the backyard with the Sunday morning sun on her face and a cup of coffee; In the linen robe her mother-in-law (more of a mother than her own) made for her listening to the sounds of the birds and her kids playing and her husband looking at her with love and devotion as she complained about the god damned fire department noise behind our house. That was her better place. So unless you think a better place is six feet under in Lafayette, California, she ain’t there. And you might. In which case, awesome!
“I know it’s hard, but you know, she’s in a better place now.”
“Yes, she is, isn’t she? She can finally stop dieting. In two months, she’ll fit into those Donna Karan jeans she was lusting after.”
“Yes, she is and you know, she was so worried about dying without hair. She was thrilled to learn that hair keeps growing after you die. Hope she gets a least one more inch.”
It allowed us our way of dealing with the grief in our own way and has developed into a way of keeping her with us. There’s always an opportunity for a dead mother joke. And again, as she’s six feet under and in varying degrees of decomposition, she’s not really in a position to object, is she?
Well, she is, but that’s another story for another day.