And so this mourning, while giving gifts, has also taken away. I’ve lost two of my passions. They have vanished or are strangely altered, temporarily I’m sure, but altered none the less. Singing in church and playing tennis are out of reach. Seems as if iI can’t do either. Well, one makes me cry and the other makes me feel displaced.
Since the death and funeral, I’ve missed a lot of church. Today I get up and off to church I go. Reconciliation Sunday, walk up to the altar and place a flower or light a candle in memory of someone or in hope of justice. Always remembering my sexually abused children, the suffering of 1 in 4, I place the daisy in the vase for them and my Momma.
And as I walk away from the altar, the singing started and never stopped. “I’ll fly away oh glory.” I knew it was coming but I didn’t know it would never stop. The song Witlon and I sang to Momma and to ourselves and to the ocean and anyone or anywhere we went during the last month. “I’ll fly away” when it looked as if she surely wouldn’t, we sang more often and louder and softer and less in tune and more in tune. Anything to give us all the peace we were seeking. And so singing, something we did together for fifty-six years is lost to me, for now.
I don’t know what has happened to my tennis. I wonder if it’s my concentration, my passion, my need to be slightly violent when I stare at the ball and swing my racquet with conviction. I want to want to play again, I want to want to slam the ball down the line and hit a volley that bounces over my opponent’s head or spins away from her so that the score advances in that lopsided manner we call out, 40-love! Set point. I want to feel like it’s Ok for me to have fun again. That somehow that is not going to hurt her or me.
I harken back to the day that one of my more severly ill Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patients told me that he could stand on the beach, seeing the dark clouds and watching the rain fall on the sand and on his arm but never feel a thing. Not wet, not plopping rain drops, not water streaming off his face. Nothing. “I can not feel the rain hitting me, I can see it, I know it’s there, but I can not experience it tactilely.” “Nothing,” I ventured into this land of the unknown, “not one feeling?” “Emptiness, nothingness, vacancy, I feel that,” he offered.” And I had to wonder. Until now with my lost tennis skills, I guess I have a glimpse, a small and promisingly fleeting window into that universe he walks in daily. To feel happiness, is to feel. If you can feel good then that opens the window to sad. Once sadness has awakened, it deepens into tears flowing down your face in church while the congregation sings “I’ll fly Away.” They are singing a joyful hymn of love and hope, but you are singing to your Momma who is lying painfully in her bed, trying not to live but also trying not to die. I think by now we have all discovered, there is no way to do both, not at the same time anyway. One way will win in the end. I believe that is what the skin of the PTSD veteran was trying to tell him, don’t you? If you are not going to live, then you are choosing death. Choose life or you will certainly die.
Systems Centered Therapy would say that in the moment of the singing that I am “personalizing” my Momma’s death. Remembering the past instead of staying with the present. I say, “how do I do it any other way?” Gratefully seeking answers to a sincerely asked question, I breath deeply into my grief and memories, pushing my Momma from my chest to my back and opening to the suffering.
I know why I miss her in church. Church was a very special time for us. It was practically the only time my Momma ever sat down. Sitting never came easily to her. Holding an office in every club of which she held membership and helping to start or volunteer in at least half of the organizations Robeson County offered, did come naturally. Momma had little time or patience for relaxing. One of her friends tells a funny story. “Dot called one day and needed to talk. She asked, “Are you busy? I want to come over and talk.” Mrs. Betsy said, “No, Dot, I’m not busy. Come on over.” Momma said, “Well what’s wrong? Why aren’t you busy?” Mrs. Betsy said that from then on she learned to say instead, “Not too busy for you Miss Dot.”
Siting with her in church was a peaceful coming together without all the frenetic pace of our daily lives. Delivering flowers and food, reading the Bible at the Cancer Center, church visiting, holding up my end of the girl scout troop she led, (of course she sold the most cookies at the insurance office), listening to me practice the piano or flashing cards with math facts; these were the activities that held our lives and made our moments. But in church we had to listen, sit in the pew, holding hands, my head on her shoulder or in her lap, just side by side in that sweet communion that Jesus loves us, this we know. No matter how many math facts I missed, or sheets lay unfolded or cakes were cooked without baking powder (mine) or beans that went unsalted, we were perfect for one hour a week. Together in the pew.
“I’ll Fly Away” we sing to her almost every day still. Hoping that what we say is true. Knowing that it is but wanting proof anyway. My good girlfriends know. They tell me now that losing your mother is the most powerful and strangely physical process they have ever known. “Go slow, slow slow. It stills surprises me years later. Take care of yourself.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Sharing DNA, placenta and umbilical cord that connects us in the womb. Why wouldn’t it continue in the afterlife? Where is that connection, that cord that links me to her. Why does it hurt so much to severe it and where is the scalpel I can use to cut this cord forever as I continue to bleed in a manner so foreign and new to me that It grabs me hard in moments just when I think that it surely must be over. Physical indeed. ”More present and powerful than childbirth and menopause,” they warn me over and again. And where I wonder for the hundredth time is the evidence, the manual, the instruction booklet that will guide us through the months to follow. What is the song that red-wing blackbird was singing during the first week after her death? Surely he knew, following us around for days as if we were deaf. As if we had never heard the song of the black bird trilling on the marsh, beckoning us to join the joyous chorus. Marveling with us not so much in her passing but in her coming at all. In her power to change the world so dramatically and in changing the lives of all she touched, profoundly altering us.
Our church service closed today with the hymn we sang at my Father’s funeral, “When the Saints go Marching In.” Oh Lord, how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in. Surely that includes Momma and Daddy, marching their way into heaven. Straightening out a few of the archangels, dusting off the thrones, selling a life insurance policy to those worrying about eternal life and serving pound cake and pimento cheese to all who still hunger for food. Surely it does.
6/11/13 10:27pm Addendum
I played three sets of tennis tonight. Won all three sets. Yes.