I mentioned in a prior post that my family, which I have always considered very traditional, seems to not be quite as traditional as I once thought. Some of that has been out of necessity, as my children and my sister’s children have gotten older, they are starting to move to different locations, work long hours and the days of getting our entire family together at one time have become much more complicated. It also may be that our family has always handled things slightly differently than most. We aren’t “showy” people. We don’t like to draw much attention to ourselves (sure, I write a blog) and we all like things to be a bit understated.
When my mom died on May 13th (the same date as her mother’s death), we didn’t do what many families would do. We didn’t all come together around the kitchen table and wait for the casseroles to come. We all live in different towns, we would have had a long wait. What we did do may strike some of you as odd, but it really helped our family and that is why I decided to share it with all of you. We flew my dad in from Florida the next day. The process of getting my mom “home” from Florida would take a few days. My daughter had her once a year vacation back to Illinois planned for months. She was flying in on May 15th and we planned to take her to our favorite Michigan spots for 3 nights before coming home. Of course we talked of cancelling the trip to Michigan after mom died, but considering that we really had nothing to do at home except be sad, we talked my dad into going with us. So, two days after my mother’s death, we were on a road trip. We took a winery tour, climbed to the top of Sleeping Bear Dunes (even my 83-year-old father) and spent our allotted $20 each at the casino. We also visited a Chihuly exhibit (picture above and more to follow) which is something we all loved. We laughed, we cried, we talked about how much mom would have loved some of it and how she would never have let dad climb up a massive sand dune at his age. It was such a good thing to do, to go somewhere that my parent’s hadn’t been and be surrounded by such natural beauty, fresh air and three generations of family. I can honestly say that we had fun, not all the time, but mom would have been so proud of us. She told me shortly before she died that she didn’t mind dying, but she didn’t want to leave my dad, she didn’t want him to be sad. So, when I felt a twinge of guilt for enjoying myself, I remember her words.
We also waited a few extra days for her services because my niece was graduating from Loyola Law School. Mom worshipped her grandkids and she wouldn’t have wanted to ruin such a wonderful experience for my niece, she was proud of her success. So, after Michigan, my dad went to Chicago with my sister and her family to graduation and the party that followed. It was difficult for him because he knew mom would have loved to have been there, but he enjoyed himself. We also sent my daughter home on the day she originally planned to leave. She wasn’t here for the services. She is in the middle of interviewing for a promotion and even though she wanted to stay, we all knew that mom wouldn’t want her to do anything that might hurt her chances.
When we had mom’s visitation, I wore hot pink and my sister was in orange. We didn’t stand in a formal line, we mingled with those who came. Someone told my husband the next day that it felt like a cocktail party without the cocktails. My mom was a wonderful hostess and she would have loved the fact that so many old friends of hers, and my sister’s and mine came to show support. The next morning, with her casket covered in tropical flowers and one of my dearest friends as the minister, we had a beautiful and brief service. After a trip to the cemetery, we invited those that were there to join us at a favorite local Mexican restaurant. We had margaritas and tacos, we laughed and we cried and we enjoyed how once again, mom brought all of us together.
I’m sharing this because we all find ourselves in this situation sometime. There is a way that we think we have to behave and sometimes that differs from what works for your family. I would never have thought that this is how I would spend the 13 days in May from my mother’s death until her burial. In truth, I might have thought it really strange if someone did it this way. But, it helped us. We were already a very bonded family, but we pulled together and did things in a way that my mother would have loved and I know that she was watching with a smile on her face.