Friday, February 29, 2008

The Period At The End Of The Sentence

I had no idea how many little details are involved in the ending of someone's life. I don't mean the actual death, the trips to the hospital, the phone calls we made (and forgot to make) letting everyone know. I mean the small, stupid stuff. Like what to do with the person's things. Did they have a preference for how they may be disposed of? That dress that you always thought was so hideous, was that the one that she wanted so and so to have, or thought too good to stuff in the bag for the Salvation Army?

And in the end, no pun intended, we just throw up our hands and hope for the best, And as I left my former mother-in-law's former apartment for the last time this afternoon, I apologized to her for anything that we might have done with her earthly belongings that was not in accordance to her wishes, but telling her that we did the best we could, having no direction whatsoever.

But I also mean the really stupid things. For instance, I took on the task of canceling her utilities and accounts and taking care of her taxes. The different ways in which utilities, credit cards, health insurance plans have for putting that period on the end of the sentence vary greatly and are sometimes amusing, although they probably did not intend this to be so.

For instance, after I canceled her Netscape account, I got a very polite letter from customer service, addressed to her name, which invited her, should her circumstances change in the future, to reinstate her account. Although I think that where she is now, she can do lot better than communicating through Netscape. Now that would make seances much more definitive. "I'm getting something..." the astrologer would say. "I'm getting something and...YOU'VE GOT MAIL!"

I also made a polite suggestion to the telephone company to change the name of the department which handles such things from "terminations" to something a little less dramatic, and, well, horrific, like "disconnections." Yes I know it's just semantics, but when you are dealing with a recently bereaved family member, sometimes the little things matter.

Apparently, our county legislator believes so, too. Shortly after Social Security was notified of her passing, we got a very polite letter with his condolences on our recent loss.

Just when you want to really hate politicians, they go and do something all warm and fuzzy.

But now we go forward. Having gotten all her things out of her abode, they are now mostly in ours. If you're into romance novels, have we got a bodice-ripping bonanaza here for you! Seriously, I mean it. Take a book. Please.

As I look forward to the sorting, the giving away, the throwing out (mostly looking forward to this so we can return our home to its normal state of messiness and not this mother-in-law-of-all-garage-sales that it has become), I think about the things themselves. Things have energy. And these things, they're buzzing with it. I wonder, if someone is really intuitive, if they can chart a kind of map as to where they've been. Who has touched them. The story behind that knife, that vase, that framed print that no one seemed to particularly like but kept passing from person to person because of some sentimental value.

Seems as though I have a lot of stories to write. I've been dithering about starting to write again, but maybe it starts with this. A dog-eared romance novel. A scarf. A plate.

I can't wait to begin.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ashes to ashes...

This Sunday will mark two weeks since my mother in law passed away. For those if you who did not know, after a three-week stay in the critical care unit, after three weeks of agonizing pain and suffering while rapidly metastasizing breast cancer filled and re-filled her lungs with fluid, Husband and his sister made some difficult decisions to let nature take its course, and we watched her gradually slip into a calm and peaceful death.

And this is about the hardest thing that I've ever had to write, but since she always loved my writing and always read this blog, I couldn't let any more time pass without acknowledging her and thanking her for her unflagging support, and, as always, for giving birth to my husband.

Yes, we're all exhausted and very sad, and it will take some time to work through our grief, but I want to take a break from that and share a story from a happier time. She always loved our house - in fact, Husband often says that she liked it more than we did - and one thing that we both liked was when she came over and showed me how to cook some of her famous recipes. For years, we'd go to her house, and she would make us all those wonderful dishes that Husband loved so much - chicken soup, lasagne, pot roast. I wanted to make them for him, and I asked her for recipes, and she'd say, "What recipes? I don't write these things down. One day, I'll show you."

So she'd come over. Rolling her eyes at my soup pots that were inadequate ("So we'll make less, but you guys need a bigger pot!" she'd say.), her own spices in tow (even though I had my own). She'd park her pocketbook on the table and get to work. In went the chicken I'd purchased - with her very clear direction on exactly what kind to get ("Fryers, you gotta get fryers."). In went the water, the parsnips (the shopping for which was a comedy of errors that became a scene in one of my novels, as Husband couldn't tell a parsnip from a parsec), the carrots, the dill. Lots and lots of dill.

Then you simply cook until done. Oh, and while it's simmering, you have to skim the fat off the top. I skimmed, while she went out for a smoke.

When I'm up to making soup again, I'll think of her. And now, when I walk into the house and see her pocketbook on the shelf, below the green marble urn that holds her ashes, (yes, after a week of sitting mental shiva for her I was finally able to joke that I was certain she'd be living with us one day) part of me simply thinks she's out for a smoke, and she'll be back in a minute.

She quit smoking years ago, when she was first diagnosed. But I'll still see her bitty body on our deck, leaning up against a railing, letting the ashes fly into the wind.