Last week, I flew back home to help with my mom’s memorial service. Nope, no one’s idea of a good time, but it had to be done.
In the days leading up to the trip, I tried on a few dresses to wear to the service only to realize not one of my black/grey/appropriately somber outfits still fits. Thanks to ballooning boobs and a fine little pooch I’m working on, I look either like a porn star or… well, pregnant. And I really didn’t feel like being on display any more than I would be.
Lucky for me, my sister is a clothes horse. She picked out four different outfits me for that would call too much attention my burgeoning belly. In fact, I think she really liked it. Not only did this rely on one of her true gifts (i.e. the ability to look fashionable in any circumstance,) it gave her something to do that was not altogether depressing.
Over the first several days I was there, we spent time pulling together items for the memorial. Pictures, mementos, books… things that represented who my mother was. This, by the way, is one of the hardest things to do. Try rummaging through your house and distilling the essence of who you are into one cardboard box. We ended up heavily weighted toward her Puerto Rican side. There is a part of me that wonders what she would have picked out for herself. After all, she was in the US for over 50 years. Her life was so much more than the place she was born.
Still, this is a big part of who my mom was to us. She waved that Puerto Rican flag high, figuratively and literally. I suppose that’s what these services are all about- who that person is to those they leave behind. Because realistically, few of us are around to plan our own memorial services.
The memorial itself was… um… weird? Is it okay to say that your mother’s memorial was weird? Well, it was. And here’s why.
You may recall that my mom knew I was pregnant before she died. She was so incredibly happy, and of course told EVERYONE about it. Her doctors, nurses, staff, visitors… So what if a whole bunch people knew about my pregnancy early?
This is easy enough to say when I am hundreds of miles away, quite another thing when I’m attending my mother’s memorial. I would say about a third of the attendees knew I was pregnant, resulting in some pretty awkward conversations. While my father, sister, and brother all got the requisite “I’m so sorry for your loss” stuff, I got “Congratulations!”
Do you have any idea how strange it is for people to be congratulating you when your mother just died?
Not just for me, but for approximately ⅔ of attendees who had no idea I am pregnant. One person, the mother of a high school friend, whip around and was HORRIFIED when a nurse came up to me and congratulated me. I wanted to turn around and say “No, this is totally okay. Trust me.” But then I thought “Fuck it. I am not responsible for other people right now.”
My mom was very active in the Spanish-speaking community in our town. All the little old latinas came out of the woodwork to pay their respect to my mother. And let me tell you, this is a very chatty bunch of ladies. (Sorry to reinforce stereotypes, but GOOD GOLLY are they gossipy…) Consequently, they all know I am pregnant. There was hugging, kissing, crying, and more than one offer to be my child’s “abuela.” Then more crying. And more kissing. On both cheeks.
After it was over, we packed it all back in the car and drove back to my father’s house. (How odd that it is just his house now…) Later that night, I sat in bed feeling overwhelmed. Tired, sad, but mostly emotionally exhausted. When I get like this, I don’t know what to do because ALL THE FEELINGS. A full meltdown is imminent.
So I’ve developed a process which normally clarifies things for me. I stop what I’m doing, take a deep breath, and clear my mind. I ask myself what is really bothering me, and typically something boils to the top. This time, one thought rang loud and clear in my head.
I want to put this pregnancy on pause.
And I laughed.
Keep in mind I had just spent a week taking care of other people, specifically my father who has an unrelenting need for support and love right now. There is no room for what I need. This isn’t an unusual dynamic in my family in crisis mode. Admittedly, I also don’t ask for what I need. After a lifetime, I just assume that people won’t help me when I need it. Normally, I can make this work- I bury what I want and act like I cool with “Whatever”. This gives the illusion that I’m understanding and easy-going.
And yet… I know I can’t do this anymore. I need things in a very real, primal way right now. I need naps. I need breaks when I get out of breath. I need a lot of fiber, because I’m still fucking constipated. More over, I need to space to cry and feel sad. Not feel other people’s sadness, but my own aching sorrow.
Fact: There is no pause button for pregnancy.
Fact: There is also no pause button for grief.