Cover of Soylent GreenThis afternoon we went to the funeral home, a trip that filled me with dread because. even though Mom had pre-paid for her funeral, that was 20 years ago, which meant the funeral industry scum had 20 years to lose the paperwork, change the rules, begin operation under new management -- Soylent Green, Ltd. I believe the new group is.
To my dismay -- the dismay of having to improve one's notion of the fundamental decency of one's fellow human being -- when we told the funeral people that You know what? We've lost every scrap of record of Mom's prepaying, they poked around for a couple minutes and reappeared with a photocopy of the original agreement. The funeral director explained several times that mom had bought a $8,500 funeral for $3,700. I didn't mind. It's okay to preen occasionally.
We were so thrilled that we were not being ripped off that I bought several gaudy nonessentials -- yes, Mom will now have an eternal website of pictures and tributes and so on of which I shall be *webmaster* -- because, damn, if I don't go thousands of dollars out of pocket during the next few days.... Well, what's the point of having in-laws?
Though this is my last one. I thought Mom's advanced age -- actually only 98 years, five months -- had steeled me against any emotion other than relief that her suffering, which was wonderfully brief, is over. And I felt quite a lot of anticipation that E. and I will be at home for Christmas for the first time in five years and will be able to spend all of December together for the first time in five years. The relief came washing over me, you might say, before there was pain to wash away.
But at the funeral home today one of our tasks was picking out a bit of poetry for the cards that will be handed out at the service. They had several pages of samples, and I choose a handsome sentiment by Emerson -- though the funeral home spelled it Emmerson, which error I graciously pointed out. And then, just because my Ph.D. is in English Lit, with a specialty in 19th Century British, I read a poem by Tennyson because I thought E. and Esther would like it and I like doggerel because doggerel reads well.
I read the first two lines of the poem, and then I began to weep, pretty damn loud, real weep-track quality if there is such a thing. And for what? Only cliche can come after that question, but if cliche happens to be the truth, well, you can't just go around making shit up to be all cool and Steven Sondheim.
And for what -- as I was saying -- did I weep? For my mother-in-law who gave me my wife (thank you); who said she loved me in spite of the fact I was not handy around the house when I came to visit, though I tried; who was so fierce in her joy and her sorrow and who laughed madly in her gladness, laughed as her daughter laughs, loud enough to embarrass you to be honest, if it happened in public.
Actually, Mom cackled, and it was nice finally to be able to say, So that's what that word means.
And I cried, mind you, over Tennyson. But that's a good thing because it shows the tears were genuine, all mine and none of the poet.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,When I embark;
For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
I concede: Isn't it pretty to think so?