Mom died early this year, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. Even though I made every effort to talk with her before she passed, I could not do so through no fault of my own. My Uncle, who I once loved and respected, used stature and position to stop me from having a conversation with her in her last moments.
It would be one thing if he didn’t know she was dying because that would only infinitesimally lessen his actions, but the nurse told me he knew. The same nurse who he initially wouldn’t let talk to me or update me about mom’s health. He, while in Indiana, and me in Texas — we both knew she was dying. And he wouldn’t let me receive updates about mom’s condition or offer any updates himself.
Why would anyone stop a child from saying goodbye to a parent? I still don’t know the answer. He had no words when I asked him why he wouldn’t let me talk to mom at her graveside. He took a long inhale, looked up to the sky, and had no response before asking me if I’d have ongoing interactions with him, stating, “My world is small, and I don’t want it getting any smaller.”
Now that she’s dead he wants to rekindle a relationship with me? Perhaps you should have thought about that before you became a roadblock between me and my mother in the last moments she was alive.
If you didn’t want your world getting any smaller, why did you exclude her children from planning her funeral when state law says we have more right to plan her funeral than you do? Why did you thank me for attending my mom’s funeral, twice? I wasn’t attending your social event, I was minding my mother’s funeral. This is a place I belong. I wasn’t in attendance for your favor. Congratulations, you made your world smaller.
When I got home this message was from him on a card in my photo box.
A confusion of emotions hit me because otherwise, this would have been a genuine note from someone who cared. But, it is from the very person who would not let me speak to my mom in her dying moments. This feels disingenuous at best, after everything he had done to the contrary.
Mom had been terminally ill for years. The pattern of going into the hospital, being on death’s door, and recovering is all too familiar. Anyone close to the situation was both hyper-aware and calloused at the same time. Each time she went into the hospital there were reminders of The Boy Who Cried Wolf story where one day she would cry wolf too often and die alone.
She did die alone, except for two nurses who were by her side playing hymns and praying over her. No family was allowed. There was no iPad face conference. We were under code red restrictions, both in my hometown and her hometown, which meant no one could visit her room. When her blood pressure dropped rapidly, my Uncle was called to her bedside.
Her health went downhill so quickly that there was no time to get cross-country to be by her bedside. In retrospect, if I had made the trip, code restrictions and my Uncle would have stopped me from reaching her.
As it was, he notified me that mom was in the hospital 13 hours before she died and wouldn’t let me talk to her — a horror of a power-play move from one who is full of self-placed righteousness yet weak in integrity. Hiding lies behind the strength of the thinnest wet piece of flimsy paper, exerting far more than was good, right, legal, or in alignment with mom’s wishes.
And yet, it was.
No one saw her before she was cremated. The funeral director said it wasn’t possible. He was still finding his way through new regulations for funeral homes and had to jump through numerous hoops in order to get mom ready for burial. Together, the director and I corrected the spelling of her name from his pet name to the legal spelling. At least anyone who is looking for information about her death should be able to recognize her name.
The director recognized the power my Uncle was exerting over these services. Having held that position for many years, he told me he witnessed many family hardships and he could see what was happening. “The kids’ rights supersede his rights for the funeral. This is not executor territory.”
During the service, my Uncle delivered her eulogy, the message I should have been giving. He said something about trees and roots. I got that much through osmosis. If this was his proverbial olive branch I missed both the extension and any possible means to receive it.
My husband said his words were good ones, but I had no ears to hear. I was numb and didn’t offer even the courtesy of a glance in his direction. I looked at mom’s flowers, at her urn, at the base of the podium, but not at him. He offered me no courtesy, and I provided more than he gave me by not leaving during his speech.
To keep myself in that pew, I practiced deep, cleansing breaths under my mask. His words were not distinguishable. They faded into background noise like the hum of a fan, and black fuzzies crept in from the edges of my vision as I fought to claim headspace.
I should have followed the lead of my older and wiser brother who coached me on how to protect and grow my headspace. I didn’t fully know how he had to protect himself in these moments, and perhaps he didn’t either. I commend him for the way he handled himself. Part of me wishes I had been as courageous.
He’d gotten good at self-preservation from all this drama over the years, and I was playing years of catch-up in about a week. He’d been wrongly vilified, and me too, but I didn’t know the depth of the lies until I made the trip for her funeral. It was the conversations I had with others that offered some healing, not the events themselves.
Had I known then what I know now, I may have been better to opt-out of the whole experience. Mom was already gone, and my Uncle would not let me say goodby. I couldn’t get back the last moments he stole from us. Mom would have liked to know that, even through all the pain she had inflicted, that her kids wished her a peaceful send-off into the next world.
He robbed her and us of good things, and he’ll never be able to walk those decisions back. Perhaps he didn’t want me to tell the truth about her lineage. These are heavy moments and going through the motions is like walking through quicksand. Your energy wanes through slow movements, and yet somehow you have to keep going, or else get stuck in place.
Everything gets weird in death, and even stranger still, under code red conditions. There’s no line of those waiting to say their goodbye at funeral services. No handshaking and no hugs or condolences. A limit of 25 people could attend — a tough enough experience, made more challenging by a pandemic.
To say goodbye, I’d have to forge my own way. I wrote out my farewell and everything I would have said with no barriers and no prying ears. The 17 minutes when I did all the talking, and she couldn’t respond as the nurse held the phone to mom’s ear didn’t do either of us justice.
There are no boundaries to what I can say here, no one to stop me, and no feelings to hurt or unhurt later. I can say whatever I want to now. I poured it all out onto five front and back word-filled, tear-stained, ink-smeared, emotion-filled pages and I didn’t hold back anything.
I wrote about decades of hurt and her lies. How she wrongfully, willfully changed how some of the family viewed us if there was personal gain to her momentary desires. I told her that she took the easy way out and bailed on her children. Each one of us in turn. I let her know where she failed and that I don't want to be anything like her.
Some moms never show up well. And for those of us who live motherless lives, I want to make sure my kids don’t have to face that possibility. I want them to want me in their lives.
There are dead roots that have no chance of being rekindled. Roots that survive are tied to those who had eyes to see the damage that’s been done over the years.
Goodbyes are hard because humans are wired to connect. Whether it’s a kid who grows up and moves out, a beloved pet who passes, a house that’s sold, a job you move beyond, or a dying loved one, some kind of closure is necessary. And that closure was denied.
What is a proper farewell under these circumstances?
I’m still trying to figure it out, but am getting closer all the time. There’s some balance between internal resolution and letting go. I continue to write the ending. I’ve been robbed of saying goodbye, and now I get to say so long on my terms.
Do we ever really say goodbye?
I’m still working it.
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