I had just taken my morning shower when I looked in the mirror (not something I regularly recommend) and thought of my mother. She'd never been satisfied with her body, particularly her stomach that had been sliced open when she'd had her gall bladder removed. At the time, there were no laparoscopic surgeries; her slice and the subsequent scar were at least a foot long and ran diagonally across her belly. She wore a panty girdle for the next six-plus decades and only stopped wearing it (along with a bra) a matter of months before she died.
(The girdle is not the point, though I too wore one that went from my waist to the top of my knees. Why? I'm sure I felt my butt was too big along with my thighs. And maybe all the other girls in my high school were wearing a girdle so I thought I should, too. Ah, peer pressure.)
The point of all of this is that getting out of the shower today I saw my mother as she laid on her bed not long after she died. My family had expected her death and had gathered to be with her. Actually, I was in the hospital thirty minutes away from where my dad had landed after a bad fall that led to a subdermal hematoma and his death just three-plus weeks later.
When my sister called to tell me that our mother had passed away, I left my brother in charge of my dad and drove like a maniac to get back to my mother. She lay on her back with sunlight bouncing off of her purple silk pajamas. Her arms had been placed along the sides of her body. The bright red nail polish either my sister or one of the hospice nurses had applied a few days earlier highlighted her delicate, slender hands. But what I remember most was that my mother's stomach--the one she'd kept under rubber all those years--was absolutely flat. She would have been delighted.
You may find all of this bizarre, even perverse. And I wouldn't blame you. But in my memory of my mother's death more than twelve years ago, that is one of the two visual images that has stuck. The other is of my mother's left eye that remained open. Sure, it could have been closed as we see in the movies, but we chose to leave it as it was. And my sister and I chose to see the humor in it all. There was my mother keeping her eye on us even in death. She'd always be there in some form or another, and we'd always know that she was watching. It would be hard to get away with anything.
I find it soothing to remember these curious, sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming memories of friends and family who have passed away. My dear friend Milos who scolded me for not replacing my wood carving boards and utensils on a regular basis. My friend Susan who raised five children--count them, five--as a single parent but went on to own her own educational media company and who just before her death asked to be forgiven for anything she'd ever done to hurt me. I wrapped my arms around her and asked for her forgiveness.
As we age, our circle of dear ones continues to shrink. After the initial grief and all of the attending emotions, it's important to keep the memorial service going, even as the years whiz by.
Now I'd better pick up my game so that those I leave behind will have more than enough laughs to go around.