Sitting on the funeral home chair, too small for my ample back end, I turn to my sister. We are hiding from a woman also attending my aunts wake service. We knew said woman in our childhood days when she had exceptionally bad halitosis and a tendency to pick her nose and rub the retrieved product in between her fingers as she spoke to you. We have no desire to speak to her. We pretend we are engrossed in a deep conversation with each other. Our mother is behind me and to my left. I hear her speaking rather loudly. Are you supposed to be quiet at wakes? I am never quite sure. I have attended loud talkative celebrations of death and somber quiet ones. My mother surely feels this is one of the loud ones.
“Marianne! I cannot believe it is you. What has it been? 30 years?” shrieks my mother.
The woman my mother called Marianne leans in close to her and responds. I cannot hear exactly what she says in response. She clearly thinks wakes are to be quiet events. I can only make out the words “lost” and “Jack”. I gather is she is referring to my father’s death a few years prior.
My mother responds (again loudly) and proceeds to share an inaccurate explanation of my fathers’ death. I cringe and look at my sister.
“Duh-nile is more than just a river in Egypt…,” she says as I roll my eyes toward her. She seems to have heard the same thing I did.
What is so wrong with admitting my father died of liver disease caused by a lifetime of alcoholism? Must our family secrets continue into the grave? Why not tell the truth? Everyone knew my father drank too much. This is no secret. I am irked. The death of my favorite aunt, my mother acting like the mayor of the funeral service and now her sharing false statements are almost too much to bear.
“And I have fourteen grandchildren!” my mother squeals in delight.
“Fourteen!” Marianne parrots back to her.
“Yes….and …” her voice trails off. Either she got the memo to lower her voice or I have shut her out. Likely the latter.
Years ago, I would be hurt when my mother said she had thirteen grandchildren. I would cringe every time I had to write her an email at the address that referred to the baker’s dozen of grand kids. At some point, I mentioned it to her and she changed her tune. She began telling people she had fourteen. She did this subconsciously without prompting by me. I was pleased as in those days I believed denying my daughters’ existence created a negative mojo or something. Some rift in the familial force field. I worried it somehow contributed to her not wanting to know us. I posited that if we acknowledged her fully and accurately it would be better for her and us when she finally wanted to meet us.
I look towards my sister again.
“Mom just said she has fourteen grandchildren”
“Well, she does.”
“Yeah. I guess…”
It is odd how her not acknowledging my daughter was a stab in the heart and how the reverse approach stabs me as well.