My Mother's Death

Wednesday, July 21, 1999, 1:00PM CDT. As I write these words, it’s now 2:00PM in Georgia. That means a small group of people are now gathered at a graveside at a little church in Felton, Georgia. They are there to engage in their usual religious rituals before lowering the body of my mother into the ground. A nephew, who I believe is a preacher, will probably say the same sorts of things that are typically said at such occassions, especially in the south. Things like, you don’t have to worry, she’s gone to a better place; you will see her again; She’s gone to be with Jesus, etc. There will probably be some mention of the Bible saying such and such, but I seriously doubt anyone will mention Ecclesiates 9:4-12. There are a couple of reasons why I am not there. The main one is lack of money. On Monday morning about 10:00 AM I was sleeping soundly at home. I kept hearing an annoying pecking sound and wondered what it was. As I gradually became more awake I understood it was someone knocking on our back door. When I peered out the door I saw it was Philis’ sister Alice. I woke Philis to go talk to her and I was trying to go back to sleep. After a while Philis came back in. I wasn’t back to sleep yet and I asked what did Alice want. She told me she was delivering the message that my mother had died. WHAM!! I wasn’t really shocked, but only a little surprised. I had dreaded the coming of this day for some time. And now it was here. After a few phone calls I was able to determine that maw’s body was at Lester C. Litsey funeral home in Cedartown. I talked to a man named Trey there who said he would like to meet with me as soon as possible to make burial arrangements. Our old Chevy still has a bad transmission and I wouldn’t trust it to take me that far and get me back home. Philis was able to get her mother to let me borrow her pickup truck. Philis went to a quick cash place and borrowed some money so that I could make the trip up there. I arrived at Cedartown that evening and got myself a motel room. My nephew Jimmy had wanted me to pick him up to go with me to the funeral home. I had stopped by his trailer in Buchanan and got him and his son Junior. I visited with them for a while, visited his ex-lover Sally and their daughter Jamie, and Jamie’s daughter Anna who is now about two years old. Very beautiful child. Jimmy’s not yet 40 and has a two-year-old granddaughter. Hmmm. I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep. I picked up Jimmy the next morning and we went to the funeral home. I answered all the questions I could about maw’s name, parent’s etc. There was some question about whether anyone would “say a few words” at her burial. Jimmy suggested a cousin (maw’s nephew) named G.B. Richards. I tried to think of some way out of that at first and didn’t make any commitments. Trey said she would be available for viewing about noon. Jimmy and I went to the nursing home where maw had been living to pick up her stuff. I just got her little TV set and her old purse and a few knick-knacks. I told the employees there that I would donate her clothes to whomever may want them snce I had no need of them. Then Jimmy and I went riding around some and ended up at the cemetary where his mother (my half-sister) and his brother Billy are buried. We had a long talk there. I explained to Jimmy that I really wasn’t interested in listening to a preacher tell me the usual bullshit at my own maw’s funeral. I let him know that I was an atheist and explained some of the reasons why. I suppose Jimmy does have some belief in God and he says he prays now, but at least he does understand what some of my reasons are and he has learned enough tolerance (through his AA meetings he says) to be respectful of other people’s beliefs. I went through the things that are most familiar to atheists; if God made the universe, then who made God? It’s an establised fact that matter can be neither created nor destroyed. The universe is made of matter. Therefore, it has existed eternally and had no need of a creator. If there were really such a thing as a soul that separated from the body at death medical science would have discovered it by now. The functioning of your brain IS you and when it stops functioning, you cease to exist. The Bible makes impossible claims like the sun standing still and moving backwards. We know such a thing didn’t happen because it violates the laws of nature. If the Bible has anything in it that’s wrong, then all of it is suspect. Jimmy listened and occasionally interjected that he didn’t understand a lot of what was in the Bible and a lot of the religious claims he’s heard do not make sense to him. But one has to be guided by his own heart he guessed. After a while we went back to his trailer. Shortly a call came from Trey that maw was now ready. Jimmy, Junior and I went back to the funeral home. I braced myself, hoping that I would not have to deal with other relatives there. I genuinely like most all my relatives, and as far as I know they are are basically good people. And I know that they truly mean well when they come to you at a funeral and hug you and say things about how sorry they are and so on. I do appreciate the sentiment, but I can take only so much of that sort of thing. Fortunately, no one was there. Jimmy, Junior and I went into the parlor where maw was laid out. She looked good for a dead person. One niece had bought her a very pretty light blue dress with gold buttons. I told Jimmy that she looked just as she had looked on several occasions when I went into her apartment in Ozark and found her taking a nap on her bed. On those occasions I would lean over her and kiss her on her forehead. Her eyes would open and her arms would come up to hug me. And I would give her a big hug, still enjoying the warmth, literally and figuratively, of my dear mother. But this time, of course, there was no warmth. This thing in front of me did not open its eyes. When I kissed her forehead it felt like kissing a brick. Dead and cold and stiff as stone. Jimmy was saying that he wished he had been able to come see her more often. He said she did see his granddaughter once. I was thinking how I wished I had been able to get to see her as well. I had not seen her since March. I didn’t trust the car to go that far. I had no money to fix it.


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