July 25, 2013

What looked like an easy flight across summer skies (Sacramento to Phoenix to Baltimore) turned into first, non-stop turbulence, and later, a circuitous route around a storm that kept us in the air 2 hours longer. I don’t know if this is a typical response to travel, but there comes a moment before any trip of more than five days when I no longer want to go. It’s all just too hard. There’s a house to prepare, plants that need to be watered, mail and papers to be stopped or collected, clothes to decide upon, wash, maybe iron, pack, and a pet to send to her vacation home. When that moment arrives, I want to indulge in the vapors, lie on a sofa in a darkened room, with a cold compress on my head and someone rubbing my feet while murmuring unintelligible, yet comforting sounds. I want to stay home.

Before this trip, I was in that moment for eleven days. We had just returned from three weeks in Europe and I didn’t want to get on a plane again less than two weeks later. Never mind that the last last flight ended in being diverted from San Francisco to L.A. Or that my feet were so swollen I could barely walk. It wasn’t that. The purpose of this trip: the internment of my mother’s ashes in Arlington Cemetery.

Last Saturday morning at 10:00 AM, my family stood in the oppressive humidity of a Virginia summer listening to the words of Father Victor and the journey that began on December 12th, when my mother died, ended. My hope was to be emotionally present at this event.

In December, as I flew across country, my father, sister and brothers were coping with the shock of Mom’s death 12 hours after her stroke. Soon we were all consumed with the rituals of grief: choosing pictures, readings and music for a funeral mass, planning a luncheon, and making arrangements for out of town family members. When I began to write Mom’s eulogy, I finally realized the cost of living so far from my family. Because in a strange way, I didn’t feel her loss. I’m used to not seeing my mother for months at a time. Sure I talked to her frequently and I’ve made the trip East a couple of times annually in recent years. And yes, I did have a strong feeling after spending time with her daily for two weeks in October that this could well be our last time together.

On Saturday morning my family met at the administration building of Arlington Cemetery where 29 funerals are conducted daily. Ah, the efficiency of the military! Kind and knowledgable cemetery employees explained the process and organized us into the cars that brought us close to the gravesite. We walked up a hill, the same hill that leads to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, my sister holding my father’s arm, the family trailing behind. The service was short, the location beautiful. Near the end of the readings the distant sound of taps underscored the lovely words from scripture. I wish I could remember them, but I was focused on my father and his grief for the woman he was married to for 69 years. Still, I was there in the moment, feeling the loss, and for that I was grateful.

I think the nature of grief is that it ebbs and flows and what evokes that sharp stab of grief is unpredictable. In the airport, coming home yesterday, I missed my mother. I knew I wouldn’t be calling her to say I made it home safely and to hear her tell me how much she already missed me. Today, as I walked past gardens in our neighborhood, I thought about the gifts and burdens that are the legacy of being my mother’s daughter. I love to read and garden and write and cook. I love to laugh. I know how to love fiercely. I worry too much and am practical when I want to be imaginative. Like my mother, I left my home as a young adult and forged a life separate from my family. And like her, I’ve lost and gained by that decision.