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Four Mothers


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Western funerals: black hearses, and black horses, and fast-fading flowers. Why should black be the colour of death? Why not the colours of a sunset?”

Daniele Varè, The Maker of Heavenly Trousers

My daughter has four mothers.

Like most human children, my daughter, Katey, started out with just one mother. After her father’s remarriage, she graduated to two. Me, and the “other mother.” When my daughter married Bill, she got two additional bonus mothers - - her husband’s birth mother and his participating practical mother. The first Christmases she was married, Katey was frantic with guilt about which mother to visit and which holiday traditions to bestow upon her kids. By the time the third kid came along, she told all the mothers, “hey, you’re welcome to come by and visit us.” Go Katey! Mothers are a tough bunch - - and four of them doesn’t always make it any easier. She confesses she still sometimes feels guilty. She sends a lot of flowers on Mother’s Day.

This morning, Bill’s birth mother, Kay, died. She birthed six of his brothers and sisters, and lived for her final years with his closest sister, Lori. Kay was a problem mom. Yes, I know what you are thinking - - I’m the problem mom - - but Kay was Bill’s problem mom. She was a hoarder, and then a giver. She had a bunch of kids - - and abandoned them. Then she collected a bunch of stuff - - and gave it away to the kids who she gave away - for their kids to use - and then throw away. In the end, she got cancer and took a long time to die. Life is a tricky business.

If this seems harsh, well, then it is. Most of us do not have ideal families, and even the ones with just one mother and one father may have the problem mom, or the problem dad from whom they cannot escape. While having bigger families, allows us to have more people to go to for love and support, it also increases the opportunity for sadness and disappointment.

Psychologically, we know that people become overwhelmed with life and use certain strategies to comfort and console themselves: Drugs, alcohol, hoarding, extreme activities, are all ways of shutting our feelings down when we think that we just can’t take the emotional pain. But death is an emotional pain we cannot escape. Try as we may, eventually it catches up to us. That is why we have funerals.

Funerals are meant to be a ritual to console the living on the death of a loved one. People of strong faith in various religions get comfort from the ceremony of the community in which they worship. If you believe in the pearly gates and angels to greet your loved one; if you believe mom will return as a butterfly (or a cat or a cow); if you feel that your loved one will be with others who died before them (even if they might not really want to!); or will rise to a higher state of consciousness - - then these are vital ceremonies for you to attend. Rituals help us recognize the passage of time and heal the emotional sadness we feel.

Personally, I don’t care too much for most of the funerals I’ve attended. And no, I don’t want to kiss a dead body. When I went to my dad’s funeral last year, I couldn’t help but think he would have been bored as hell with it. I was not asked to participate in it, and my side of the family wound up going alone to a lunch afterward. It was a nice lunch. I was Dad’s favorite.

No, what I want is a Life Celebration. The ones I’ve liked have been gatherings with music and story telling and good food and wine. They are bawdy and there is alcohol fueled sobbing and crying - - maybe ranting and arguing, accusations about who mom loved more - - she loved me more, no she loved ME more. It’s human (or at least Irish). It’s necessary. Have you seen a funeral in New Orleans? They have parades and horns and dancing! Talk about stress relief!

My daughter and son took the children to Denver this weekend to see their Grandma Kay before she passed. All but the littlest one will remember something about her. I don’t know if they will go to a funeral with a preacher from a church she never attended, who will say things about a heaven she never cared for, or a Jesus she never believed in. However it turns out, I hope her children will go to lunch afterward and tell stories about which one of them mom loved best.

My daughter has four mothers. One of them just died.

Godspeed, Kay.

Santa Nana

Santa Nana's Tip. A handwritten note to the family of the deceased is the absolute best thing that you can offer when someone dies. It does not cost anything but a postage stamp, if you can't deliver it by hand. When the grieving have a chance to take a breath, sit down and read your letter, they can be comforted by a story you share about their loved one. Something sweet. Something funny. Even, something sad. There ARE words to say you care. Take the time to share them.

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