It had been more than a month of sitting by her bedside during the day and sleeping in a chair next to her in the nighttime. My mom was purposely starving herself to death. I was surprised just how long it takes to starve your self to death. My brother lived in France and in England and in Hawaii. He had visited a few months before. He told me that he wasn’t busy at the time and could stay and help, if I wanted. I jumped at his offer. I asked him to please stay because my mom really loved my brother to bits and didn’t like me at all. He stayed silent for a few moments and then he told me that he thought that it would actually be better for Mom if she had his next visit to look forward to. Then he went back to England or Hawaii or France.
My brother finally returned to Champaign in the nick of time to see my mom. He took my place at the bedside. I went home for a shower. My brother called and told me to hurry back. I hurried back and my mom was dead. Still warm, so I was close, but no cigar. My mom actually waited for my brother to arrive and for me to leave to finally die. She left me out of it entirely. Go, Mom!
When my mom was still coherent as she ever was, she had spoken to a minister and had him plan a eulogy. I paid for her funeral ahead of time and paid the donations to the church that had been expected. Also the wake was planned and paid for. No one was caught unawares with this particular death.
The wake was held right away in Champaign, IL, where my mom had lived with us for ten years. I picked out a casket. My brother hated it and picked out another. I didn’t care. My brother wanted an open coffin. I put my foot down. Closed coffin, I said, end of story. The compromise we reached is that he got to see her in the open coffin by himself and then the funeral guys closed the coffin and no one else had to look at her dead body, especially my kids.
After my brother went in to see my mom in the open coffin, he came back and told me that I made the right decision. He said that the funeral guys had put someone else’s glasses on her. She was going to be near-sighted for all of eternity. I had no problem with that, and I certainly was not going to go checking out all the other dead bodies in the funeral home and see who got her glasses and switch them.
The wake began. I had told Sara and Lonny just to stay at school and not to come to the wake or the funeral. She wouldn’t know they were there, and they had been with her when it counted. All my friends came. People I worked with when I taught school came. Teachers of my children came. Not one of the people my mom knew from her ritzy retirement home came. Want to know why? The people in retirement homes know that they are just a step away from the grave. They are as close as close can be to each other while they are healthy. As soon as one gets sick though, it is as if they never knew you. They never visit when you’re sick. They don’t attend the funerals. Too. Close. To. Home. I saw this before my mother got sick. Her very best friend ever in the world got sick, and nothing I did or said would move her to visit her. She no longer existed in my mom’s eyes.
Tim, Lenore and Ben came to the wake. The three of them sat on a divan together, giggling. I went over to speak to them several times and asked them to please maintain decorum. We were at their grandmother’s wake and they were attracting attention. They just kept on giggling. For over an hour I alternated shaking people’s hands and thanking them for coming and running over to the kids and begging them to behave. Finally, I just gave up and sent them home. Of course, years later I found out that Tim and Lenore were stoned out of their minds, and poor little Ben just got caught up in the giggling.
The next day it was on to the funeral. All my friends came. None of my mom’s friends came. Tim, Lenore and Ben were not invited. The minister gave a lovely eulogy. The only problem with it was that all of the facts my mother had given the minister were entirely fictional. She had invented a lovely life with lots of motherly love and family time. She had invented friends with fictitious names. She had invented adventures and hobbies she never had. She had invented a life full of good deeds done simply for the good feeling it gave her. The minister said she had been especially proud of her famous pot roast. A surprising number of people asked me for the recipe after the funeral. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my mom ever cooking a pot roast.
My brother wasn’t satisfied with the funeral. He felt there had to be a second funeral in Brooklyn. I told him that I had made my funeral and I was finished. If he wanted to fly her body to Brooklyn and have a second funeral, it was completely his choice. I would not be there.
My brother made the second funeral in Brooklyn. There were flowers galore at the second funeral. There were only a few roses on the coffin at mine. Jews don’t send flowers to funerals. My brother took rolls of pictures of the second funeral. There was virtually no one there. I believe it was just my brother and his wife, our Brooklyn cousin, and yet another minister who had never met my mom. My brother took pictures of all the flowers.
There were two limousines. My mom had one all to herself. She would have liked that. The mourners were in the other. They traveled from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Greenwood Cemetery near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. My parents had a plot there. Brooklyn is a very crowded place. Each plot is designated for three dead people, stacked like cordwood. (Think of a sandwich.) My father’s father was at the bottom. My father was in the center and my mom was slated to be at the top. My brother took lots of pictures of the burial and the headstone and the flowers, oh, the flowers. My brother never misses a funeral, and this time he had one of his own to plan. He was in his element.
This is one of the photos of my brother’s funeral for my mom. You can see the headstone did not yet have my mom’s name engraved on it.
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I plan to be cremated. I want a Japanese style family ash crypt. I think it’s kinda cool how if someone dies in Japan, everyone in your family congregates on the “family meeting home” and all the ashes go to the same place. I have pictures of my mother on the very same porch of the FMH that I went to when SHE died. I stood in her footsteps to celebrate her life and she actually DID make some delicious pot roast.
Irene, you may have had the most jacked up mother of all time and space, but you have made up for it tenfold with these hilarious stories. Thanks for sharing your life with us.