Thursday, February 21, 2008
I think I'm going to give you guys a reprint tomorrow so I can catch up. Also to move me away from the death story vibe I've been on.
I just can't help it--there is something about death and dying and mourning that transfixes me. I find it very fascinating. There is something about the experience that strips the masks we wear through our lives away, leaving us naked. And, as I've mentioned before, the culture I live in now is very preoccupied with death.
My sister asked me to write some stories about my experiences around the time of our mother's death. It has been a long time--half my life ago--and memory does have a tendency to flicker around such traumas. But today's story is one of those.
His movements jerked and his hands made the most peculiar gestures. The words, carefully crafted, spilled out of his mouth in a monotone, obscuring meaning as if he spoke into a tin can. I pinched myself to keep from dozing during Peter's sermons.
The Church of the Cross in those days had the reputation of being a tough crowd. A small tough crowd, but if you could play it there you could play it anywhere, liturgically speaking. Decades before, the diocese took note of how many bishops had paid dues circuit riding the parishes of Beaufort county and sent the best and brightest there as a cruel hazing ritual. We got them, but we didn't get to keep them long. Peter had been there longer than usual.
Mother adored him. He had been a Rhodes scholar and Mother, an educator, found this endearing.
"But he's so boring and he doesn't know what to do with his hands," I said, not understanding how a Rhodes scholar could be such a lousy public speaker.
She smiled and admitted that was an area Peter lacked proficiency. "You just need to listen to what he says and not how he says it."
I was young and did not understand. I needed to feel my pain and experience, drinking in sorrow like cold milk. Cancer provided many opportunities for this.
Mother had been dying by inches for years. Each time she had a surgery, we would naively believe it was over. It wasn't, of course, but we continued our lives until it was time again to face the monster.
Peter dropped by often during those last years. Such a nice man, I thought, too bad he can't preach his way out of a paper bag. He went in Mother's room and I remembered the soft sound of them talking. She felt better after those visits saying Peter was a good pastor, the best the church had ever had.
At the end, I understood.
I borrowed money to fly home from Atlanta for the last weeks. The cancer stole her from us before she died. Her skin became translucent and her veins were blue under the surface of her hands. I'm not sure she knew me by that time, she was going away and nothing any of us could do could hold her there. She had stayed months beyond her time for us, only for us, and she couldn't stay longer.
My memory flickered, dancing from here to there like I time traveled between the points. We kept her at home to the very end, only loading her into the ambulance down the ramp my father built for her last trip away from the place she called home.
She left in daylight, on the sort of softly shaped day in April where azaleas bloomed and the wind made the Spanish moss flutter. My brother and I held her, he on her right side and I on her left. When my mother exhaled for the last time, the wind stirred outside and the trees bent.
It was a good passing, but I could not feel that then. The door opened and there was Peter. Mysteriously, he came like the wind that rose, blown there on the breath of God.