They are often haughty and aloof. They have a serious aversion to bathing. They eat disgusting things. They prefer their females unshaven. They are certain of their superiority to the point of arrogance even though they are neutered. But unlike the French, these boys are sweet, lovable fur balls who do not care for Jerry Lewis movies. And they never, ever surrender.

Name: CFOMahm
Home: Metro Detroit, Michigan, United States
About Me: Italian/Polish (yes, that does make me both opinionated and dense, but there is definitely good eating at my house!). Fan of bad jokes, crossword puzzle addict, old enough to know better, but still young enough not to care. Known to the Gang of Three as "Mommy Cat - Almighty Keeper of the Can Opener and Mistress of the Front Door".
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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Michael Gets His Stone

Well, I have finally done the hardest part. The hardest part for me anyway - everyone is different and there is no right or wrong in this situation.

Today I bought a tombstone for my son.

Back in August of 2005, when Cindy Sheehan had first come into public view, Dymphna, at Gates Of Vienna wrote an open letter to her - no sarcasm, no reproach, just a letter from one grieving mother to another. People who have lost a child belong to a group that none hope or plan to join. And no matter how much we want to, there is no leaving the group - ever. I found a lot of what Dymphna said about her loss to be so true for myself also. But I had not been able to sort things out into any way that made sense - they were just random thoughts flying around wildly in my totally scattered brain. Dymphna's words helped to clarify some of my feelings.
When a husband or wife dies, we call the surviving partner the widow or widower. Why do you think it is that there is no one word to describe our condition, Cindy? Mother-of-a-dead-child is the best we can do? The lack of a name gives you some inkling how much our culture avoids the knowledge of this sorrow. If we named it we'd have some power over it. But the condition you and I share is unnamed because since time immemorial parents have dreaded this loss. It is the worst. There is nothing else that can be done to us. A motherless child is a pitiful creature and carries a life-long emptiness he or she tries to fill with other grown-ups. A childless mother is a crazy person and nothing can fill the hole, not if she had a baby a year for the rest of her life. Do you have other children? I have three. And when people ask me, pleasantly, "how many children do you have?" I look at them blankly. It is all I can do to not to run screaming from the room.
Oh so true. I hate being asked that. Not because it hurts, but because I honestly do not know how to answer. If I say "One", I feel I am dishonoring or ignoring that Michael ever existed. If I say "Two", the next question invariably is "How old are they?" Now that is a whole new answer to ponder. Will Michael be 25 this year or does he forever stay 22? If I say "Two, but one passed away." the questioner is taken aback - sure they have hurt me and sorry they ever asked. (They haven't - I enjoy thinking of Michael. It keeps him alive in my heart.)
Let me tell you the most important thing, Cindy: none of this matters. Not one piece of it. The only important part, the only piece with any real existence is Casey's death. He is as gone as though he never existed. And you are so filled with sorrow and grieving you do not see how you will ever turn back from this road of vengeful crying out like some prophet who has wandered in from the desert. Perhaps you never will. Not all of us come back, and certainly none of us return as the people we were before our child died. We are some other person, a stranger even to ourselves sometimes. But you will be less afraid of death yourself. Your son has gone before you, and that is harder than our own passing. Much, much harder. The lump in your throat will probably never disappear either.
Absolutely on the mark. I do not fear death at all. I fear lingering in pain beforehand, but Death will reunite me with my child. He will be waiting for me just as I remember him. And he will recognize me even though I will have changed much. I will hold him once more, touch his hair, hear his voice, see his smile. Finally the empty, dull, stabbing feeling in my heart will be gone for good.
Well. When you own a burial plot it is you who decides what headstone will go there. And if you decide there will be no headstone, then no headstone it is. So my beloved Shelagh, despite our entreaties, lies in an unmarked grave and I cannot bear to go visit where she lies there because of that. For a long time, I considered her father's behavior simply cruel and evil, but having had these two years to contemplate such a bizarre thing, I have come to think that perhaps it is his way of not having to face her death. No headstone? No dead daughter. It makes a crazy kind of sense, doesn't it?
This was the big truth I learned from Dymphna. I had not done anything about a marker for Michael. I knew what I wanted in precise detail. I just hadn't managed to get around to it somehow. You would think that would be so important that one would fly to the monument company to get the job done yesterday. Dymphna's words made me realize that I wanted so hard to deny his death that I could not bear the thought of seeing my son's name chiseled in cold marble. Everything else I had done without hesitation... I had handled all the funeral arrangements. I went to the undertaker's to see Michael when they brought him home. They advised me not to, fearing I would become hysterical, but I had to see my child, as he really was, one more time before the funeral directors got hold of him and did their work. I did not break down. I prepared and printed the memorials myself. I did not want some sterile, generic, impersonal cards for my son. I wanted his pictures, my thoughts, my selections for his final tribute. I did a good job for him. I went and selected his burial plot. I found a suitable, lovely, peaceful, thoroughly unwanted place. I recorded 4 cd's of music to be played at his wake - I did not want the mindless drone selected by the funeral home, the one-size-fits-all variety. There were my favorites, his father's favorites, his grandmother's favorites. Some of Michael's favorites too. Everyone liked the music. I selected his pallbearers. It was hard to ask his friends and his brother & sister to do this, but they all were glad to have been asked. He would have approved of the choices. I prepared a eulogy and read it myself at his service. It was difficult to do, but I did not falter. I picked and recorded the music for his funeral. I know he was pleased to hear the Dropkick Murphys' version of "Amazing Grace" being played as he was carried to the hearse. And finally, I stayed at the cemetary as they laid him in the ground. (An unheard of thing in our area.)I brought three shovels and buried my child, with help from his brother and a few close friends who also wanted the privilege of doing the last they could for my precious son. I did that all because there was no choice, it had to be done. If I could/would not do it, someone else would have to and no way was I willing to relinquish those details to anyone. I am his Mother. But the stone....the stone. It did not have to be done. That was more than I could bear. It would be the last thing I could ever do for him. If I could just avoid dealing with that, somehow it would never really be over. Never really be true. But the time is at hand. Summer will be here - Michael's third summer in that place. His spot needs to be marked. His friends go and leave flowers. I want more than an unmarked spot for my child. And I am strong enough now to do it. The stone will not be the end. I am ready to face the fact that the end was nearly two years ago no matter how hard I try to run from that. I can still tend his space. I can make sure it is fertilized and weeded and decorated. That I can do for him. Make sure his grass is the greenest, his flowers the brightest. Remember Michael with love and laughter, and of course, tears. That is what I can do for him now. I am ready to give him his stone. Thank you Dymphna.


Blogger Dymphna said...

CFO Mom,

You are most welcome. To know that someone else was helped by my plea to Mrs. Sheehan redeems my own pain a little.

One time, when Shelagh and her brother were very small, I'd gone to a big, impersonal teaching hospital for some tests. I was having a hard time and quite depressed.

Before leaving the hospital, I stopped by the cafeteria and had lunch -- just for the pleasure of eating something I hadn't cooked for a change. I was struggling with my tray, purse, book and pregnant belly as I came up to the cashier. I finally got my money out awkwardly and paid her. As I did, she got down from her stool, picked up my tray and led me to a table...leaving the long line of doctors and nurses and clerks, etc.,waiting.

It had been so long since anyone had *done something* for me that I was very grateful. As I thanked her, she patted my shoulder and said "honey, that's what we're here for. To help each other."

Never saw her again, but I've never forgotten her. She was right. As I watched the busy staff rushing from meals back to work, I wondered if they knew her secret...and why she was unconcerned about annoying anyone who had to wait to pay for their food.

Sooo...that's what we're here for, at least when we remember.

3/18/2006 06:19:00 PM  

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