The Viewing


My mother’s voice still rings within me, although there have been times over the last few days when I consciously forgot about it, as awful as that may sound.  I take comfort in knowing, however, that, like the resounding song of God that thrums through me and all creation, her voice is there, fragile, yet wrapped in strong, silver chords.

I hadn’t seen my mother since December.  She was frail and sickly then, but I thought she would live a few more years.  Seeing her body in the open-casket viewing this past Tuesday, was both shocking and reassuring.  For as a result of working through my amends I was able to make peace with my mom a few years ago.  Together we shared a sweet, intimate connection.  We spoke often of saints and matters of faith.  And while she still held on to the sadness that I was the child “who moved away,” she still appreciated that we could talk the way we did—openly and comfortably. 

So there she was—dressed in a red sweater, hands folded across her chest, as if, as the poet, Bill Knott* says, “she was flying into herself.”  Under her hands were her rosary and her prayer books.  And since she loved crossword puzzles and did several every day, my brother tucked the one she would have done on February 18th at her side.  She had on golden earrings, and my brother, a barber, had actually gone into the funeral home the day before and cut her hair.  How tender that image is to me of him cutting her hair.  I am not sure I could have done that.  I told him how grateful I was for his loving act.

She looked peaceful, a bit stern, almost like a royal bird lying there—light as a feather.  She looked healthier, oddly enough, than I had seen her in years.  I kept expecting her to rise up and say, “Hey, what’s going on?”  So many feelings—angry, sad, dramatically tragic, strangely silly, peaceful, happy, all swirled through me as I saw her lying there. 

A kindly old woman from my mom’s church came up to me as I stood there and said, “She looks peaceful.  I sure hope she’s in heaven.”  “Why wouldn’t she be?”  I asked.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” the old woman said, “it’s just that one never knows.” “I do,” I said, “my mom is in heaven right now, singing and dancing with the other angels and saints.  She’s doing whatever she loves to do.”  “Oh dear,” apologized the old woman, “I didn’t know you were her son.  I’m so sorry for your loss.”  And, looking rather embarrassed, she slunk away. 

I turned back to my mother’s beautifully decorated shell and, while my heart aches to be able to speak with her again, bake bread with her again, or just sit with her in silence at the kitchen table again, I know—all dogmatic theology be damned—my mother is in heaven, happy and singing, truly, a bird on a wing.

*The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans

Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog

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