Monday, September 15, 2008

My Mother's Corpse

Luckily, I didn't have to dress it. I anticipated that the entire time I was journeying to Oklahoma. Mormon's dress their dead in ceremonial clothing and I was petrified that as the only purportedly endowed child, I would have to help. Luckily, I got away with something less extensive, but still somewhat traumatic in its own way. I got to pull the veil down over her face and remove the white cloth covering her ceremonial apron.

But still, it was somewhat traumatic. In general, I consider myself a pretty laid back person. Shit happens and while it bothers me, I try not to be dramatic about it. But this whole death thing is hard for me to accept with the same resignation. Every part of me rebels at the thought that eventually, my body will simply stop. I will not be able to just keep breathing and force death away. I will only be able to fight for so long before my body takes over and gives up consciousness.

Then, I will cease to be human. I will be nothing but a stiff, mottled corpse.

My mother's hands were heavy when I tried to pull the cloth out from under them. They were without any inertia. They dragged grotesquely with the cloth as I pulled at it. My grandmother and the funeral director told me to just keep pulling, and I did, but not without some consternation at the way her yellowing hands held onto the cloth without actually doing so.

I had never felt rigor mortis before. When I brushed my finger on her cheek, it was like brushing a resin or rubber figurine. I told it, "I love you," even though she was no longer "she". It's amazing the things we do to keep up appearances and appease other people. But I was so afraid that if I didn't touch her in some way, I would offend my grandmother and father, who seemed to have no qualms about kissing her goodbye. I was relieved when the apron was uncovered, the veil drawn and the casket closed.

Unfortunately, a couple of nights later, I dreamed she came to life in the funeral home. I remember being simultaneously glad to see her and terrified at the thought that my mother was alive in spite of the fact that her internal organs were in a plastic sack inside her abdominal cavity. I wish now that I hadn't touched her at all, that I had let her friend help my grandmother with her veil and apron. I confess that for now, I am repelled by lifelessness.


G said...

oh my.
oh lessie... hope you are okay.

I have never have been as near to death, or in as intimate proximity to it as you have now been.

part of me greatly appreciates your account, documenting your experience of this. Another part of me wants to skim over and go on to easier stuff.

I continually send thoughts your way.

JohnR said...

This is a difficult post to respond to--I hope that nothing I say diminishes in any way the terribleness of the loss of your mother. I hope, too, that I didn't contribute to some of your anxiety over possibly dressing your mother's body.

I think the most traumatic event of my life was the death of my father in law, and his long process of getting there. It was a complex mash of crises: the pain of watching a loved one suffer and waste away and of watching those around (esp. Jana) suffer greatly, the realization that he was leaving/had left us permanently, and the confrontation with our own mortality and impermanence.

In naming these things, in trying to face them, I feel like I have a bit more power, a bit more understanding, perhaps even a tiny bit of release. I hope that your naming/verbalizing/writing about these things brings you some peace and comfort. And maybe in the process of blogging, the benefits can extend to others.

Patti said...


I'm so sorry about your mom's death. I lost my mom five years ago, and I still can't believe it sometimes.

May you find comfort and peace.

Lessie said...

G, JohnR and Patti, thank you for stopping by and indulging my morbidity.

G, I hope I'm not making a big deal out of something that for others is actually beautiful. I don't want to scare other people. I'm just telling it like it is for me.

JohnR, you in no way contributed to the anxiety I felt. I'm quite paranoid on my own :)
But as you say, watching a loved one die such a horrible death is complex and painful. And yes, blogging about it does give me a measure of release. But there's still a lot of stuff left inside too.

Patti, are you the Patti that came to the snacker at Spud's house back in Feb. 2007? Just curious as to whether or not I've met you.

galen said...

"I don't want to scare other people. I'm just telling it like it is for me."

which is the most healthy thing you can do. (echo, here, JohnR's wise words).

Anonymous said...

I considered telling your mother about this blog several times, but didn't ever do it. Now I'm glad I didn't. It seems to have worked out for the best.

Lessie said...

Anonymous, when I decided to comment and blog under my own name, I did it fully aware that eventually, someone I knew would probably find me. It was my way of coming out without having to do it dramatically. You can tell me who you are. I am sorry if I've caused you pain or anger. Life has been crazy for me over the last couple of years. I didn't feel a need to share that with my mother because of the pain it would bring her. If you know me as well as you seem to, you know the pain my father caused her. I thought it would be better to wait and see how her cancer played out before telling her fully how I looked at life. I don't have any regrets in that regard.

Chandelle said...

Lessie, thanks for sharing your experiences here. They are brutal and unforgettable, but most importantly, true. I like true things, even if they are hard to read.

I think the way we deal with the dead (and the dying) in our culture is incredibly twisted. I don't understand how people find meaning in it. Perhaps I will find that meaning someday, but until then, I just find it cruel and grotesque.

I hope you are finding the peace you need; so many of us are thinking of you and loving you.