I scheduled an appointment to take Mom's ashes out to Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery for yesterday morning. David and I left for the twenty minute drive with extra time built into our trip out of my old military upbringing habits. However, a fine mist slicked the roads and highways. Traffic slowed on I35, the brake lights haloed in a festivity I didn't feel. We missed our turn to get to Harry Wurzbach Road, but the little delay didn't worry me as we swung by the old bowling alley of my childhood. We had time to spare, or so I thought. Then construction slowed us to a crawl as a cop conducted a silent orchestration of traffic. Finally, we turned into the parking lot of the Administration building.
Clutching Mom's urn tightly in my grasp, I cautiously mounted the steps. Mom's greatest fear centered on the possibility of a military SNAFU that would prevent her ashes from sitting with Dad's. With visions of tripping, dropping, and damaging her urn in my head, I took special care even though I knew we'd arrive within seconds of our appointment time. The sign on the front door simply stated: NEW OFFICE ONE MILE EAST. David and I quickly returned to the car, knowing we'd be "fashionably late" for our meeting. I chewed my bottom lip in silent frustration because I hate being late.
The cemetery at Ft. Same Houston stretches endlessly. We followed the curved lane until it deposited us right in front of the new building. I gave the receptionist my name and Mom's, and she instructed us to take a seat while she let someone know we'd arrived.
And I sat, for the second time in my life, holding the ashes of my parent. I knuckled away the tears, soft as the mist outside, that cooled my temple and cheek. The mist turned to a sprinkle, and I fished a wad of toilet paper out of my coat pocket, wishing I'd thought to bring one of Mom's handkerchiefs. A young man greeted us, offering a warm handshake and his condolences. He handed me a form to fill out while he took my paperwork back to make copies.
When Dad died, we struggled to find an inscription for his marker and settled on something like "Loved by All." With Mom's death, the cemetery would redo the marker. Right after Mom died, I suggested to my siblings that Mom's love of Willie Nelson songs could provide us with a more suitable quotation for the marker, but my fogged brain couldn't generate a single chorus. My sister, without hesitation, sang the snippet "Always on my mind." We knew instantly that this perfect phrase applied to both of our parents. As I surrendered Mom's ashes to the official, he asked if I wanted to go with him to witness the placement. This one last thing, though, I couldn't do.
David and I made intentional plans to run a few errands once we left the cemetery. Keeping busy keeps me focused. We dashed over to the county tax office to get new plates for our seven year old hybrid. We maneuvered through traffic to hit The Forum and Target where we purchased new windshield wipers for the car. We hustled home with the goal of decorating our Christmas tree. Keeping busy, busy, busy.
David, out of habit, checked his email as soon as he entered our bedroom. And he read about the tragedy in Connecticut. He turned on the news. We spent hours watching each update of this heartbreak. The day that started with tears continued with tears until I took the opportunity to leave the house with a friend. We sat at Starbuck's sipping their peppermint concoction and never once discussed the loss of lives. When I returned home, the news drew me until I started crying again. Finally, I switched the channel to White Christmas.
Throughout Mom's illness, I cried tears of frustration, anger, and grief. As Huntington's Disease stripped Mom of so many abilities, tears gave me release. They cleansed me. As I sat with Mom during those last three weeks, I cried frequently. I knew she didn't suffer, and I rationalized that at eighty-two, she'd lived a wonderfully loving life, but the tears still came. Tears have sprung up at unexpected moments as I've sorted through Mom's belongings, made runs to Goodwill, and repainted her bedroom. Even though I prepared myself for Mom's death, grief will cover me during these long winter nights.
But those families from the school shooting? How will they survive this wrenching loss? Children. Children.
And so yesterday became a day of too many tears.
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman