Sometimes it’s a category 5 hurriccane. With my mother, death came like a slow tide, undermining the shore.
Seven weeks and four days after she was given 1-24 hours to live, it ended. A Wednesday. I was in a café on Waller Street. I had left Denver on Monday, after 5 days there. The last thing I said to her was “You rest well.” And she, bringing herself back from deep distance, opened lidded eyes and said, “You, too.”
We drove to Kansas for the funeral, to the town barely more than a ghost town, the town she hated to leave. When she got homesick, it didn’t hurt to remind her of the times she longed to be some other place where there was life. Also, how often she said she never wanted “to be put in the old folks’ home,” which she knew well from years of visiting relatives. In any case, it was impossible for my parents stay there alone, a 5-hour drive away from any of their children. The only thing they left behind was their tombstone, purchased and installed 20 years ago.
When the tombstone arrived, my mother’s maiden name was misspelled. She told me this, but not what happened next. I don’t remember if she thought it was funny.
The further from Denver the more silence takes over. The towns strung on the interstate, hunker down under that sky. Pizza Huts. Burger King. Wendy’s. The body sinks into itself. The wheels on the roadway are a gentle abrasion, buffing some minor awareness to a shine.
The Kansas border. The wheat is short and green in the furrows.
What an unnerving custom; the open casket in the vestibule of the church for the mourners to view. Shrunken. Wearing only one earring. She wouldn’t want to be seen like that.
The parish priest makes up in efficiency what he lacks in warmth. Soon the nieces and nephews are lifting the casket into the hearse. We walk to the cemetery, arriving the same time as the hearse. The sky is a milky gray; the wind, though from the south, bites. It is November, it could be so much worse.
Some prayers, some tears. The cemetery with its conical junipers, the gray glow of the tombstones in dry buffalo grass (even in death, no escape from the grid), might be the loneliest place in the world with the exception, perhaps, of the Protestant cemetery, enclosed in barbed wire, just east across the old highway.
We leave the casket on its bier. No watching its descent. It is easy to imagine.
The missing letter was somehow added. Not a bad job, considering, but visible. Perhaps it will weather into invisibility. One date can be chiseled in.