You may recall my Dad died in 2007 on April Fool’s Day, which under other circumstances would have amused him greatly. Mom and Dad didn’t like one another much and divorced while dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in middle school. Much to everyone’s surprise, including hers, Mom died a few weeks ago – on April Fool’s Day, which would have made Dad laugh and Mom reeeeeeeeally mad.
Of my siblings, I look the most like her, but not a whole lot. Our coloring is completely different, for one thing. For another, she resembled a blond Elizabeth Taylor, and I do not. Thus, it was unusual that at the funeral home viewing, with Mom laid out in the casket and everything, a mourner who has known me since I was a child approached me with trepidation, gasped and called me by my mother’s name, “…Lucy?”
“Shh!” I said, “Only you can see me.” I told her I was me, Domenica, but she didn’t let go of me for quite a while. The next day at the church service, Mom’s college friends couldn’t wait to show me a binder of pictures of their lives through the years, by which I mean the entire assembly behind me waited while I stood nervously in a doorway, glancing at pictures of my mother as a young coed, sitting in a tree.
Three days later, we all drove up to Cape Cod for the burial. In New Jersey, we left spring behind to find the end of winter in Massachusetts, for which almost no one was prepared. Mom wanted to be buried next to her mother. Her first cousin found a burial plot in the family cemetery. Next thing we knew, we were sitting and standing in a cold, wind-swept graveyard full of our ancestors and the Black, female minister from the Cape Cod church in which Mom, Daria and I were baptized before the invention of rope, when the minister certainly was neither Black nor female. But change is here, and now, and sometimes for the best.
Mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just over a year and a half ago, but a friend assured me Mom had suffered depressive and manic episodes for decades. Her depression I had seen, but I never saw manic behavior until these last few years. In her manic episodes, her sharp mind was somehow even sharper and she outwitted our efforts to get her help over and over again. Her anxiety made her postpone surgery she desperately needed, and waiting too long ultimately cost her her life. I’ve mentioned before the impact untreated mental illness has had on my life and the lives of my family members and friends. This did not have to happen. If Mom had gotten treatment for her anxiety and bipolar disorder, she might have lived to a ripe old age.
You might think this is a sad story, and in one way it is. Mom had a very rough childhood, and if ours was a society that invested in the physical and mental health of children, maybe Mom’s life would have been different and even healthier. On the other hand, at the funeral home, photo displays my sisters put together overnight showed a life in which my mother was smiling, active, athletic, singing, surrounded by family and friends, traveling, modeling silly outfits and dancing. Mom had a tough internal life she balanced with a life spent in happy motion.
Maybe the best thing we can do is keep moving.