Vague memories of the day that my mother was laid to rest hit me from time to time. I was not allowed to attend the funeral. My father thought it would create a sense of trauma for me. So I didn’t go. Over the years I’ve wrestled with whether or not I should have been able to decide that for myself. But now as a parent myself of a child who is almost the exact age I was when my mother died; whether I would have wanted to go or not, I do understand that my dad was doing what he thought was best. I was taken to the
Mare Island Park by the waterfront in with my cousin Johnathan. Our Sunday school teacher Sis. Thurston stood as a surrogate that day and cared for us when our family couldn’t. I gather from the swiss cheese memories I have of that time we spent a lovely day at the park, grabbed a bit to eat and ate ice cream cones. I’m sure mine was a strawberry cone. Vallejo
I remember that I promised myself. Why we make promises to ourselves I believe is a protection method to face those things that we know will be difficult. I promised my 7 almost 8 year old self that I would be strong because the day before the funeral my daddy asked if I wanted to go the mortuary to “say goodbye” to my mother. I said yes but not really understanding what “goodbye” meant. So, “be strong Jessica” is what I said to myself.
We walked into Cooley and Riolo Mortuary and I was frozen at the opening to the room. I saw my mother set dead center in the middle. The room seemed to compliment everything about her. The atmosphere made her seem angelic and peaceful. There was some odd stringed and harped chords lulling in the background making the ambience cool and calm. She was in a raised casket. My mother’s dark brown mushroom wig and a soft rose colored dress complimented her redbone complexion. Her skin seemed to be glowing but muted and gray all at the same time. Mommy’s lips seemed to be slightly turned in a smile. I was glad to see that she looked so good and so…healthy. The past two years had taken away her usual light and happy demeanor. The chemo had taken away her thick hair and left scabs and scars on a gaunt face and greenish skin tone. Blindness, hallucinations, jaundice and all the bi-products of cancer had left the voluptuous and charismatic wonder I had idolized from birth less than who I’d always know in our short relationship.
My father nudged me forward towards the front of the room. I stumbled a little but regained my footing and somehow made it up to the casket. Close enough to touch the edge of the reliquary with my nose. It really looked like she was sleeping. And I longed to touch her. To feel the warmth of her hand and even for her to give a light squeeze back. So I slowly reached out my hand to hers. Every so slightly, sliding my little girl into her full grown woman hand. No familiar warmth. No squeeze. No movement at all! The chill of her hand sent me into hysterics. Her hand being so, so cold pushed me into reality and I realized that my mommy was gone! I began to wail! So much so to the point that my father and to carry me out of the room quickly. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs and sobbing until my throat felt raw and my eyes were dry and puffy.
Even as I write this I am overwhelmed with the memory. Tears sting my eyes. It was when I realized that I would never see, hear again. I stayed silent for days after.
So on the morning of Thursday October 12, 1989 I remember my older brother Jason dressing in a dark suit with a very sad look on his face. Not really in the mood for conversation. I became oblivious all over again in my 7 year old mind as to what was happening. I believe that my mind couldn’t process the grief so I melted into a fog that children use to protect themselves from horrible things. I remember reasoning with myself that Jason was just being mean to me.
After going to the park I remember going to my aunt’s house for the repast. There were tables and chairs everywhere. It was an odd sight to see for me at the time. I saw every end of the spectrum in faces and occurrences. I saw black and white faces, people sobbing and laughing and those who chose to sit in total silence. I glided through the crowd wondering why strangers were being so nice to me when I normally feel invisible.
I felt sad but couldn’t remember why.
The picture attached to this post is me at my 9th birthday party and Chuck E. Cheese. This is the first memory I have (taking this picture) from the day of my mother’s funeral. I remember being disgruntled but not understanding why. I guess I get it now.