My mom died Sunday November 22 and I returned to Bakersfield
the next day to help make funeral arrangements and to keep my dad company. My
mom’s real life, the one she loved, had ended some months earlier, so the end
of this unwanted phase was as big a relief to us as to her.
There are advantages and disadvantages to living on opposite
coasts from the rest of my family (my parents, brother, sister, and children).
My mother’s decline and death and the tasks we all face when members of our
families die was an occasion that brought us all closer together emotionally as
well as occasionally physically. My brother, who is the only one of my siblings
who lives in Bakersfield, had been the most disconnected from the family and
became the rock we all relied upon. My sister and I increased our phone
conversations (I hate the phone and she hates email). We are closer and our
relationships stronger going forward.
My dad and I sat together for many hours each day and ate
many meals together at Rosewood, the retirement facility in which he lives and
my mother had died. We reviewed documents, spoke to the mortuary and to his
church, and contacted insurance companies, banks, pension administrators, the
fund administrator, etc all between incoming and outgoing calls from and to
friends of my parents’. My father would occasionally get frustrated with
automated answering systems (turning those calls over to me), but generally
every place we dealt with was well prepared to assist us through the required
steps at the time of a death.
My mother is—was—a planner and she had spared us any doubts
about how she wanted her funeral and every thing about it conducted. This was
indeed much appreciated by us. Mom had even prepared her own and my dad’s
obituaries as much to insure that we had the relevant facts at hand as to
insure it said what she wanted said. Some revisions were naturally necessary.
For example, being six years younger than my dad, mom assumed that he would die
first. “Warren preceded her by (?) years,” was changed to “She is survived by
her husband Warren,…”
One evening, sitting next to each other, dad in his usual
rocker and I in my mother’s, dad suddenly launched into a renaissance of his
own life. He told me of a life of greater trials and disappointments than my
mom’s. But he is a quiet and loving man, who did not mind at all living in mom’s
shadow. With better health as a youth he would have lived a very different
life. He never complained but now he wanted me to know of some of his bad luck
and promise unfulfilled. This will be another story at another time.
Mom’s funeral was lovely. We celebrated her life and
furthered the emotional adjustments required of us. We were thankful that her
strong wish to die at this point had been granted. But there were moments,
often provoked by some little act of tidying up, that forced our hearts to
focus on what we had all lost. One such was removing the colorful sign on mom
and dad’s apartment door that read: “Happy Anniversary – Sue & Warren
Coats, 68 years and still sweethearts!!” My struggle to remain composed while
removing that sign was matched only by my effort to smile when I replied to a
nice old lady waiting next to me for the elevator in Rosewood who asked
(recognizing me—sort of—from an earlier visit): “Do you live here or are you