Lessons from Pat’s Life and Death

I have never been as involved in a funeral as I was in my mother’s last week. Here is some of what I learned:

1. A lot of people will say, “if there’s anything I can do, just ask.” Hold them to it. You might as well let these people help you. You want someone to bring you some food? Pick up in-laws from the airport? Help you write the obituary? Answer your phone for a day or two? Pay for things? Why let yourself suffer more? James said it best: “you have not because you ask not.” One friend asked me what she could do, and without missing a beat I told her she could pay my student loans. That got a laugh, after all…

2. Laughter is appropriate. I fancy myself a humorist, so when “they” asked me to give remarks at the service, I knew I had to be funny–especially since I was sure no one else would be. When I told my wife, “I have to make them laugh,” she got nervous, but I managed to pull it off. You ever heard 1000 people laughing for 20 seconds straight at a perfectly dry punchline? It takes away the pain.

Also, my father made some joke about getting himself a pretty Russian teenager. At least I think it was a joke…

3. I also learned that black widows aren’t just spiders. It was beautiful to see the church members show Dad so much support. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice the preponderance of unmarried women in the house. It’s nice of you to insist on ironing his shirt, but he knows how to iron. I don’t think Mom even ironed his shirts, not regularly, anyway. If it had been Dad who passed leaving Mom to grieve, I’m sure church members would have come over to help out. But would it have been these same sisters? And would they iron her clothes unasked while she entertained? And would they stay past 11pm? It was all very Christian, I just want us to all keep my next revelation in mind…

4. She’s not actually dead. Time to get a little mystical if I may. I’m not implying that she’s somewhere in New Mexico having cocktails with Tupac and Elvis. No reason for the insurance company to investigate. Everyone’s body gives out on them sooner or later, and she did succumb. But, I’m convinced that the soul is eternal, and people do live on in spirit. So much of the pain we feel is because we believe the person isn’t around anymore to talk to, when they are. No, I can’t hug her or email her or laugh on the phone on a Sunday night. But, I still feel her presence, because she still exists apart from that poor corpse we watched get buried. Life is energy, and even atheists know that energy is never destroyed, it only changes form. Yes, it’s sad from our perspective, and yes I’ve cried. I felt like crying today. But another thing I’ve learned is that…

5. Sometimes a good cry is the best thing for you. I forgot about that. There was a time not too long ago when I would let myself cry all the time at the beauty of things–it was part of my spiritual walk. Too often, I get caught up in this role I play-the thritysomething husband/father/leader. That guy’s not supposed to cry, is he? You can hold the floodgates back for as long as you want, but one day, the dam will burst. Release some of that pressure before it’s too late. Also, reach out to family and friends before it’s too late. Your family is probably like mine at a funeral, saying…

6. “Seems like we only see each other at funerals.We’re going to get together more often, for real.” Yeah. See you at the next funeral. There was so much food and so many relatives and friends on hand, I gotta admit I had a pretty good time burying my mother. Everyone was saying it: “This has been so nice–uh, under the circumstances–really, really nice.” I think the phenomenon of the family reunion came to pass because people were tired of only gathering for funerals, or homegoing celebrations, as we like to call them. And it is a homegoing, because Mom is free now. Yes, free from the ravages of cancer. But also, free from all the fears and insecurities and feelings of lack that come with being a person. She was more successful and fearless than the average Jo, but she still had her difficulties. Emphasis there on had. She’s free.

7. And I’m finally free to call her Pat. My mother never allowed young people to call her by her first name. Same for business settings. Even me and my brother’s wives called her Mrs. Pickens. I know she’s dead because if anything would have made her sit up in the casket, it would have been me calling her Pat. I don’t do it out of disrespect, but it somehow fits now. Like, Pat was a genius, but she came along at a time when no one would tell a black girl so. Or, Pat was a dynamic public speaker, and I think that’s where I get my skills. Pat was one hell of a woman.

Ah, those tears feel good….

This should be the last post about my dead mother for a while, or not. I just have to get this out of my system in my own way. Thanks for reading it.


4 responses to “Lessons from Pat’s Life and Death

  1. Hello Seth,

    I arrived at your site, from CG Walters site
    where he had featured your blog post
    “Cheerfulness as a Life Power” .

    I never dreamed that after reading that message
    and me clicking on your main page that I would find myself
    sitting here reading this message and crying.

    May I admonish you in a motherly sort of way….
    for these words you said…

    ‘This should be the last post about my dead mother for a while.’

    Don’t you DARE stop writing about your Mama !!! If you
    are moved to share something that comes to you, share IT
    right away. giggle… can’t ya just hear her saying the very
    same thing ?

    I’ve also read the other posts about your Mother. What
    a beautiful foundation she was to the man you are today.

    Remember Seth, no one else’s hug will EVER feel quite
    like your Mother’s because YOU hugged her first from the
    inside, as she carried you. You bonded with her before the
    world knew you. But I can assure you, in every hug of
    condolence your Mother embraced you too.

    Here is a beautiful song that I have shared with many
    military families to comfort them in the loss of their
    family. May it bring you peace and maybe even a whisper
    of a hug.


    The Other Side

    I’m over on the other side
    where life and death softly divide.
    Left my skin and bones behind
    now I’m over on the other side.

    Can you feel me there with you?
    My breath is gone but I’m not through.
    Loved you then and i still do
    from over on the other side.

    I can fly. really fly.
    below the earth … all through the sky.
    Tell em all I did not die.
    I’m just over on the other side.

    It’s good here on the other side.
    The sweetest songs…the bluest skies.
    Thank you for the tears you cried
    but it’s good here on the other side.

    I can fly. really fly. below the earth…all through the sky.
    Tell em all I did not die.
    I’m just over on the other side

    The world is smaller than a needle’s eye.
    Where life and death softly divide.
    When you leave your skin and bones behind
    I’ll be waiting on the other side.

    I can fly. really fly. below the earth … all through the sky.
    Go tell em all I did not die.
    I’m just over on the other side.

    Paradox of Grace – CD
    Don Conoscenti: all instruments, lead vocal, high vocal at end
    Ellis Paul: harmony vocals
    Released 2001

    TO HEAR the song…….

  2. You are a gifted speaker and writer Seth. I sent the emails informing me of your mom’s death to a mutual friend who had also attended her wedding. She sent me the link to your blog. I loved the comments about the helpful sisters and I know your dad saw through any overt “concern”. I atended your mother’s funeral out of respect and concern for your dad. I left feeling so happy for her and your father that they had successfully raised two handsome, impressive young men. You see, when we were young women, before she had met your dad, we talked about whether to have children. The pill was relatively new and we now had the option to choose or not to. We talked about the many limitations raising children imposed upon women. I declared I would not do so. Your future mother said after all was said and done she thought she would. One of her reasons-a bit of immortality. I am certain that in the end she felt raising you and your brother had also brought great joy and was her proudest accomplishment.

    Dolores Cole

    PS-tell your dad not to rush, but don’t begrudge him happiness if in time he finds a good woman to share the rest of his life with.

  3. Hi Seth, I worked for your mom years ago and I just found out only minutes ago that she passed away. My heart is deeply saddened and I am leaving now to find your dad and get/give a much needed hug. I am so sorry I missed this and I hope you and Tre are coping well as well as your wives and children. Thank you for posting this blog.

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