Tuesday, June 29, 2010
That's me. The one wrapped up in the green and white blanket. I still have that blanket.
My mother has left us careful instructions. Or, more like strong directives. Okay, the woman left a paper out for us in her bedroom titled “When I Die” which basically yells at my siblings and I to take care of one another and stay in better touch. (Who writes stuff titled “when I die??”) Bitching at us from beyond the grave. She admitted as much in the note. Only my mother.
We are doing our best, the four of us, to honor her wishes. We've called each other more in the last ten days than we may have in the last two years. Of course it's early on, the real test still to come...
I once compared our family to the metro system in Budapest – It's built like the petals of a flower, the lines don't cross, you have to keep going back to the center to change directions. Now our center is gone, and we are in need of practice getting around.
The day after my mother passed, I sat on the futon in her house next to my sister, trying as hard as I could not to hate said sister for swallowing so freak-ing loud-ly. Like I said, we need some practice.
We may have a lot of ground to cover, but I know we are doing a hell of a lot better than some families. From her bed in the hospital my mother pointed at my sister Rita, “I want you to have my computer. You need a computer.” Then she turned to my sister Ruth, “You get my car.” The closest thing the woman had to a will. And so it will be. Not a problem.
A couple days after the futon scene, I get out of the shower and hear through the door my older sister trying to instruct my other sister on the computer she has just come into. I freeze. All the little red flags start popping in my head. I consider never coming out of the bathroom. I have water; I could hold out forever if I needed to... My sisters are different. Anyone who knows us will know that that is possibly the understatement of the century. And things haven't always been, shall we say, smooth between them. I listen nervously for a safe moment to emerge, but everyone is on their best behavior and the coast remains clear.
Communication is a challenge, but stuff? Not an issue. At one point as we gathered a few bags of recycling from my mom's house I announced, “I want the lighthouse photo (a framed black and white of the Cape May Light with a bolt of lightning striking behind it).” My sister shrugged and gave me a look that essentially communicated, “So take it already. Whattaya want outta my life?”
At the funeral home, the four of us sat around the requisite polished dark wood table and mock-argued about our “inheritance” -- half a dozen rolls of toilet paper, at least eight sheets of stamps (she kept losing them and buying more), and $35.56 in cash we found in mom's wallet. The funeral director peers up over the umpteenth form in front of him and tells us he's seen four fist fights already this year on his porch, although to be fair he also said that was slightly above average. I asked him when his memoir was coming out. Then, I revised my implied advice and suggested he take his stories on the road in a one-man show. He didn't seem that interested, so I told him I'd write it then and it would suck for him when it hit Broadway. My siblings rolled their eyes and shifted in their seats, but did not raise their voices or threaten to take away my share of the Charmin.