Holidays + Grief = Lunatic Mom

It’s Monday and I’m so psyched that MWOB is getting back to its roots by welcoming back my oldest and dearest friend, Kath, as a MWOB guest blogger.  Our friendship began in 4th grade and will last to the end of time.  I wish every woman a friend like Kath.

Kath is a mom to three kids, a wife, a pediatric cancer nurse (aka “a saint”), and a mom without a blog.  Really.  I begged her to write her first post when MWOB was just an itty-bitty newborn blog and I had to beg her again to write this story. Okay, maybe not beg. But insist.  

So in the spirit of what MWOB is all about (that even without a blog, we all have a story to tell), I give you a story from Kath:   

My mom passed away a little over a year ago. The one thing I’ve learned about grief is that it’s a real bastard. It does NOT get better with time. The pain does NOT fade gradually. It’s not linear; it’s more like a process, a sea of waves alternating with calm waters. I can be cruising along, doing well when something (fairly “routine”) happens, and I’m racked with the grief all over. It’s like being sucker-punched right in the gut. The wind is knocked out of you, the scab ripped off and you’re vulnerable and hurting all over again. 

My mom is buried at a large Catholic cemetery here in Phoenix. Four times a year, they have a “clean up week” where all decorations are removed from the gravesites to keep things tidy. These dates are clearly posted at every entrance. You must remove all flowers, etc. for the week and then you’re free to place them back on when the week is over. I understand the need for such a clean up every few months. It keeps the cemetery from looking trashy, and really, who wants to be buried in a trashy cemetery?

Last Christmas (the first Christmas without my mom) my family bought a nice large wreath on a metal stand for my mom’s grave. It’s strange, but it’s really important to me that she has something on her site. I know she’s not really THERE, I believe she’s in a much better place, but I want her final resting place to look nice. We bought an artificial wreath so we could use it for several years. Before the cemetery clean up last year, I brought the wreath home, wrapped it up, and put it in my attic. This past Thanksgiving, I cleaned it up and placed it back on her grave for the holidays.

Which leads me to last Monday. My boys, ages 10 and 7, were off from school and we had to take my dad to his chemotherapy appointment. (My dad was diagnosed with lung cancer 6 months ago. Pretty sucky). While at his appointment, it dawned on me that it was clean up week at the cemetery and I had to get that wreath. After settling my dad in for his treatment, my boys and I headed down to what I thought would be a quick trip to the cemetery. 

On the way there, it dawned on me that the clean up may have already begun. But I knew the property was enormous, and the chances of my mom’s grave being cleaned (she’s buried on a far end of the cemetery) were slim. I was reassured as we drove up, because there was a blanket of red/green/silver decorations on graves as far as the eye could see. 

As we pull in the gate, my 10-year-old, B, speaks:

B:  “Mom, it’s gone.”

Me:  “What???? What do you mean?” 

Although, I know exactly what he means because his 10-year-old eyes are way better than my 41-year-old ones.

B: “Meema’s wreath is gone. They took it off.”

I tried to process what I was actually seeing. The 2-acre area where my mom is buried was picked clean. Not a flower. Not a wreath. Not a bow. Absolutely deserted. It was the only area of the entire cemetery that was clean. 

Then…the sucker-punch right in my gut. I vividly pictured in my brain the worker standing on my mom’s grave, grabbing her wreath, stuffing it in the trash. HER wreath. MY MOM. Tears welled in my eyes for yet another loss. How could I have let this happen? 

I scanned the property and saw several men cleaning up the adjacent area. I floored my car towards them and slammed on the breaks.

“Stay in the car!” I barked to my boys.

The cemetery worker heard me before he actually saw me.

“WHERE. IS. MY. MOM’S. WREATH???” Then the sobs came as I blubbered. “I had to take my dad for chemo today. I couldn’t get here in time. How could you have thrown it out……?” I’m really not sure exactly what I said, only that I was hysterical and crying. 

The older Hispanic man looked at me with the kindest eyes you can imagine. “I’m sorry,” he said. Then he said it again. And again. And again. He pointed to another area of the property and told me the decorations had all been taken there for disposal. I was welcome to go and look through the items to try and find it. He hoped I did. I apologized, too. After all, this guy was just doing his job.

So my boys and I headed over to the area behind the Mausoleum and started
dumpster diving for my mom’s wreath. We found three large piles of sad, discarded Christmas items. The whole area smelled like rotten flowers and old Christmas trees. The center pile had some sort of music box or toy playing music from way down at the bottom. It was playing the melody of the “Happy Birthday” song, but the batteries were clearly drained so it sounded off-key and sickly and creepy – “Waaa waaaa waaaa waaa waa waaa….

After five minutes or so, it became apparent that we were looking for a needle in a haystack. And in all likelihood, my mom’s wreath was at the bottom of the heap, crushed and soiled. Would I really want it if I found it

And that’s when it caught my eye. I spotted one fine looking wreath towards the back of the pile. It had pristine, green leaves. It had gorgeous pinecones. It had a perfect stand. It had a crisp, velvet bow. Oh yeah, and it had someone else’s name on it. Yep, it was addressed to a person at a lot number/grave number at the cemetery’s address. My 10-year-old caught my eye at just that moment.

B: “Is that one Meema’s?”

Me: (lengthy pause….) “Um, no. This one has someone’s name on it. Keep looking.”

Man, what was I thinking? I couldn’t take someone else’s wreath. But, dammit, I came for a wreath and I wasn’t leaving without one. I mean, it was just going to be thrown away anyway, right?

So, I subtly removed the tag and after a couple more minutes nonchalantly said, “I think I found it.”

B: “Isn’t that the one we just saw with someone else’s name on it?”

Me: “I don’t think so. I don’t see a name.”  What the hell was I doing??

My sweet boy just looked at me with the most sincere eyes. He knew which wreath it was. This lie was going nowhere.

Me: “Look, honey. In the next two hours, this beautiful wreath is going to be smashed and discarded with all this other stuff. It was just like the one Meema had, so it’s okay if we save it from being thrown out.”  Yeah, we’re SAVING the wreath….we’re regular saints!

But you know what? That was enough for both my boys. They didn’t need any more explanation. If I said it was okay, they were cool with that. Then my 7-year-old picked up a poinsettia and says, “What about this pretty plant?’ And his brother grabs a small decorated Christmas tree and says, “This is cute.” Suddenly our wreath rescue mission has turned into bargain hunting at the after-Christmas sales. At a

But, trying not to shirk my parenting duties completely, I became all indignant.

Me: “We can’t take those things! They don’t belong to us. That would be wrong. We are taking the wreath and that’s IT!”  We loaded up the wreath and took off. 

As I reflected on the roller-coaster of emotions that I experienced and inflicted upon my poor kids, two thoughts occurred to me:

First, I am making a deposit into both boys’ savings accounts. They’ll need it for therapy one day. 

And second, I’m pretty sure my dear old Irish mother just rolled over in her grave.

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