Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Mother's Passing--Aftermath

(The previous post is here.) The days begin to run together in my memory, and so I will not attempt to distinguish them. It is enough to know that we stayed with my father for nearly a week, leaving on Tuesday morning to return to Illinois. This was a time of mourning, a time of rebuilding, when the family huddled around each other and tried to close ranks. I didn’t really want to do anything; I just wanted to be close to the ones I love. And so I spent time with my brother. I tried my hand at golfing with my father. I spent some time with Crystal, just driving and talking. I tried to encourage Gabrielle as she struggled to adjust to being the woman of the house. I was able to meet Lily, my newest niece who is only a few months old. We talked about Mom frequently. Sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we cried. During this time, the Lansberry family was of great help to us. Already they had dropped all their business and driven to Erie with us. Now, they took my children for several days so that we could have a chance to mourn, picking them up in the morning and dropping them off at night. Each night, when I found that I could not think, Jay helped me determine plans for the following day. One night, they spent an evening with us, having brought over peanut butter pie from Marketplace Grill and the fixings for pina coladas. We had a Puerto Rican party by crowding into the kitchen and jabbering at the top of our lungs while Jonathan and I debated the finer points of making the drinks. Fourteen adults in a small room. It was a great time. We could not have made it through without them. *** I did not bring back much that belonged to Mom. My wife, sisters, and sister-in-law divided up her jewelry, so Crystal and Arianna both have some special jewelry from Mom. I did not receive any of her jewelry (although I was once given some). Instead, I returned home with a single item: a pink flamingo Beanie Baby. You see, at some point my mother had fallen in love with pink flamingoes. Not the bird itself, mind you. No, she loved the tacky plastic lawn ornaments that have become classics in the minds of many. Those around her encouraged this habit by providing her with as many pink flamingoes as they could find. Jeremy even found a calendar featuring posed pictures of various pink flamingoes. It wasn’t that Mom was blind to the hideousness of these plastic avians. Rather, it was precisely because they were so tacky that Mom loved them. They are like she was: loud, outrageous, and full of life. So, if you were to poke through her garden, you would find several pink flamingoes peeking out of the foliage at you. There were a couple of flamingoes in the front yard that she even dressed up, changing their costumes for various occasions. During the summer, they were dressed as tourists. During Tom and Elizabeth’s reception, which was held at the house, they were dressed in tux and bridal gown. During Halloween, they were in costume. One was a pirate, as I recall. So, while I was passing through Mom’s workroom, I discovered that she had a Beanie Baby that is a flamingo. Those of you who have not worked with me may not understand that my constant companions at work are my Beanies. I was never obsessed by collecting them, you understand. Actually, Mom bought me the first one (a bat that I named Floyd), and the rest have tended to follow naturally. This was the case at my previous job and is still true in my job at Samaritan. So I asked if I could have the pink flamingo. She now sits in my cubicle at work, with Floyd and Lloyd and the others. Her name is Linda. *** My brother came over the day after the funeral. He had gone to the gravesite that morning and discovered something amusing. The cemetery had erected a temporary marker and had misspelled our last name. “Benezra”. I laughed so hard that my brother thought that I was strange. You see, everyone misspells our last name, and each time that I think that I’ve heard it all, someone mangled it in a brand new way. Benezra, Benerza, Benezi, Ezra, Ben, Benzera. It is a constant curse that follows us. Paperwork is lost, documents are misspelled, telemarkers stumble over their tongues. It made me laugh to think that this mistake had followed Mom to her tomb. I know that she would have thought that it was hysterical. *** I have already said that I did not return home with much that belonged to my mother. But one thing that we did bring was the journals that she was keeping for the children. She did not get very far in writing them; her life was full and she did not have much time to write. Yet she was trying to reach out to her grandchildren who had moved far away. She wanted to offer them words of comfort, words of encouragement. While we were still in Erie, Crystal and I sat down and read them. In general, they each ended with entries made on November 2, 2002. The day that Crystal miscarried and Naomi, our unborn daughter, died. And so my mother wrote to my children about Death. What follows is are excerpts from those entries. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Dear Arianna, Tonight I write to you about Death. Death and Sorrow has touched your family. How much of it did you understand? There was a baby in your Mommy’s tummy and now there isn’t. Cricket died and we don’t even know if the baby was a girl or a boy. Your Daddy keeps saying “she” so we’ll assume that Cricket is a little girl. She’s in heaven now so you might ask why are we all crying? We cry because we never got to know her, and because your mommy and daddy feel such pain at her loss, and because one should always cry at Death. Remember Jesus knew He was going to resurrect…no, bring Lazarus back to life in a few minutes and yet He wept. If the Lord of all can weep at Death, surely we should…. Dear Isaac, It’s been a long while since I’ve written and now I am going to write about a hard time—now. I should have written about visiting you in Illinois and your face being the first of the grandchildren I saw. You were supposed to be napping, but you heard us and looked out the window with your wonderful smile—and then you woke up everyone else telling that Grandpa and Grandma B. were here. Tonight, however, I need to talk with you about less happy times. One day this week, your dad left you at Lansberrys (well, more than one day) and you didn’t want to stay and your dad told you he needed your help because he had to go fight the monsters. At that point I’m sure you had no idea that the Monster he was fighting was Death. Your baby sibling died tonight and since your mom named the baby Cricket and since your dad calls the baby “she” and “her”, I will also. She was so young, but so real to us. I was looking at patterns to knit after I finished with Aunt Adiel’s baby. Thinking Aunt Adiel likes this; your mom would like this instead. I thought of Cricket as #6 (grandchild) and another precious being. But she died and is with Jesus so why do we cry? 1) We wanted to know her. Your father said as he wept that he wanted to be a daddy again. 2) We should always weep at Death. Jesus did and He knew He was going to bring Lazarus to life again. I am writing about Cricket in all your journals because she is a part of your family and should not be forgotten…. Dear Samuel, Baby Cricket died today. Your dad talks of her as a she. Your mom named her. It is very hard to have a baby die who you haven’t seen or felt or known. Just bloody tissue at the end and yet a precious soul who is with Jesus. We cry because we did not get to know her…I think our combined tears would make a good sized lake…. This is harder than usual for me because I can’t come over and hug you or change a diaper or fold laundry or wash some dishes. Anything to be useful—and perhaps that is what God is teaching me—to trust Him to care for those areas I used to take care of. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Once again, it was as though God had allowed my mother to speak to us from her grave. “I’m okay now, but it’s okay to cry, too. Just don’t forget to trust in Jesus.” And it will be hard. My mother was a central part of our family. She was the birthday organizer, the holiday coordinator, and the preserver of family traditions. She was still young and had not begun to hand down any of those duties. Who will take up her place? I do not know, and it hurts to think of traditions being lost. Yet, God is faithful, and I need to learn to “trust Him to care for those areas [Mom] used to take care of.” *** In the refrigerator were two Milky Way Dark bars that Dad had bought for Mom while he was out on July 19. The dark chocolate helped ease the headaches from which she suffered. On Wednesday, Gabrielle divided them equally among us, and we all ate. I don’t know what this meant, but it seemed right. It was taking care of unfinished business, and we did it together. You know, Mom used to divide all our food. It was a skill, too. There were seven of us, and no food comes in packages of seven. However, my parents believed in being equitable. So Mom would take the remaining piece and divide into seven equal pieces so that we could each share the final piece. Often this resulted in miniscule slivers of pepperoni or coin-sized pieces of hot dog, but we didn’t care. It was the principle of the thing! Besides, it forestalled any squabbling. After all, we were each getting a fair share of the food. No one could argue with that. So I got my piece of chocolate from Gabrielle, and when I ate it, I cried. *** I do not mean to suggest that all was gloom during that week. In fact, I was glad to be able to be back in Erie for a while. I just would have preferred there to have been a different occasion. And so, in proper time, we celebrated birthdays. Elizabeth’s birthday is on July 28, and so we had stayed in Erie to be able to celebrate with her. That was important to her, and so it was important to me. Also, on Sunday, my family surprised me with cake and ice cream. My birthday is on July 31, and they wanted to do something for me while I was there. As I recall, it was Adiel’s idea. Over the years, our family has learned the importance of joy even in times of pain. Special days like birthdays or weddings were not set aside or overshadowed by times of grief. There is a time to everything, and that includes birthdays and dying days. We learned it from Mom. And so, nine days after Mom died, we celebrated Elizabeth’s birthday. We watched her compete in a soccer game, which her team unfortunately lost, and then we returned to the house for ice cream cake and presents. But even at the party, there were shadows of grief. After all, Mom wasn’t there. And, the next day, I was leaving. (The next post is here.)

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