Ten years ago today, Mama died. I don’t ever say I “lost” her, because I didn’t. I know exactly where she is. It has been a difficult decade. Budge says I’ve never been the same since that night. I just know I miss her. I still grieve her death, just not as intensely as I did right after she died. No one can sustain a grief like that. One would die. Some people have.
One thing that terrifies me to this day and will ruin my day if I think about it is a choice I made for her funeral. She wanted to be buried immediately or as close as possible after her death and she threatened me with a haunting I would regret if I had her casket opened, “so people who didn’t care to come see me when I was alive can come gawk at me when I’m dead.” Because of those two factors, Fletch, the owner of Fletcher’s Funeral Home, which handled the funeral and all, advised me not to have Mama embalmed. He said it would save several hundred dollars and with no viewing, it was really pointless.
He was wrong. It had a point I hadn’t considered until the night after her funeral as I was lying exhausted in bed. See, when someone is embalmed, all the blood is drained out of their body and replaced with horrible chemicals. This serves two purposes. One, it preserves the body for a viewing, but, two, when all the blood is drained out of a body and replaced with chemicals, that person is — without a shadow of a doubt — dead. No other outcome is possible. Since I didn’t have Mama embalmed, that night and at random nights since I have had the horrible thought hit me that I buried my little Mama alive and she woke up in the dark of the casket and grave and screamed for me as she tried to get out before she died for real of a heart attack from the exertion or from suffocation. At one point a few years ago, this though got on my mind and plagued me so much that the only thing that kept me from exhuming her body to assure myself I hadn’t buried her alive was the cost. I called about the price and realized I had no way to come up with such an amount. I still wonder sometimes and it will cause me to have a panic attack every time I do.
I miss her profoundly, but differently than I did just after her death. Even after all this time, something important or otherwise notable will come up and I’ll think, “I need to call Mama and tell her!” I’ve even reached for the phone before. That doesn’t happen as much as it used to. In fact, the first thing I did when Budge and I got into the car to leave the hospital the night she died was to erase her contact information and custom ringtone from my phone so I didn’t dial her accidentally and bring up her voicemail.
“My Mama’s dead,” is also no longer the first thought I have waking up in the morning. I go long stretches of time now without pondering her death. I wonder sometimes if I’m in danger of forgetting her, but then I’ll pass a grocery store or see something bright yellow and I’ll tear up and remember that, no, I won’t forget her.
Sometimes, I have difficulty recalling the sound of her voice. When that happens, I’ll sing one of the old songs from our little white church to myself and inevitably I can hear her singing on a Sunday morning long ago. I only have one picture of her sitting out, mainly because Mama hated to be photographed. I have a professional picture of her from when I was in the sixth grade and she and I dressed up and went to TG&Y and got a set of photos made. In her picture, she is wearing a fire engine red blouse and jeans and her hair is spilling down her back. She’s not smiling though. She looks serious as the camera snaps. I guess it was because sixth grade was the year she and I spent living with Granny and Papa Wham — Mama’s ex-in-laws. That was a hard time for Mama and she didn’t have many easy times.
I miss hugging her a great deal. I reached a point when she could no longer get her arms all the way around me, but she would then squeeze tight and try to close the gap between her hands. I miss being called her little man, a pet name she used for me up until her death by which time I was forty-two. I dream about her sometimes too. Most of the time I remember she’s dead even in the dream, but sometimes I forget and waking up from those dreams is a bit of a shock again.
As a matter of fact, the last time I heard her call me little man was in a dream I had about a month after she died. We were sitting at the kitchen table in The Little Barn. It was the ramshackle trailer we lived in for years. I could see the peeling wallpaper and scratched kitchen linoleum as clear as day. I knew in the dream she was dead, but it’s like she had summoned me there just to tell me something. As we sat there, her with a cup of coffee in front of her, me with a glass of sweet tea, she said, “Little man, Mama isn’t coming back. I have to go on now. I spent your life trying to prepare you to live without me and now you have to. You can come to me one day, but you have a life to live on Earth for a while longer.” I nodded, she slowly disappeared, then the dream ended. She just faded away and I woke up crying.
I get angry sometimes that she’s gone and never had a chance to take it easy. Mama worked either at a difficult job or slaving away at home all of her life. She didn’t stop until Granny Ima went into the nursing home and by then, she had expended so much of her energy in service to others, she didn’t have anything left to sustain herself. She didn’t last long at that point. I always longed to give her an easy time. I wanted her to take vacations, and for her to have a new car that didn’t constantly need fixing. I wanted her to be able to do whatever she wanted to do to the house without worrying about the cost. I wanted to give her all that, but I gave her nothing. I did the only thing I could do — I loved her. I guess, excluding Budge – my precious wife, I loved Mama more than anything or anybody in my life. Matter of fact, it wasn’t until Budge came along that I learned I could love someone more than I did Mama. Mama was a close second though.
Budge misses her, too. Mama helped her wrangle me through bad spells. Mama had long experience with my black moods and outbursts. She knew how to handle me and she lived long enough to teach Budge much of what she had learned over the years. Budge says it’s not enough though. She said working with Mama always made calming me down easier than having to do it alone. I’m thankful to Mama for teaching Budge, and I’m thankful for Budge for trying.
People say it’ll get easier and time will heal the wounds. I don’t think so. It doesn’t get easier; it gets different. The grief has carved out a spot in my heart and ten years have worn the sharp edges off so it lies there much more calmly and I can carry it better, but it is still there. Something tells me it always will be.
Love y’all. Keep me in mind today, and keep your feet clean.