22 May 2013

The Death of Mother Wood, Part 1

Sometimes confusion sparks my imagination. Most often this happens when my head is clear but the external environment is in disarray. I am confronted by a disorderly assortment of materials or objects or ideas and take on the task of creating a comforting, harmonious arrangement, explaining or reconciling inconsistencies; imposing order on the chaos.

Though the precipitating factor was external, the confusion I've felt since learning of my grandmother's death last week has more to do with my own emotions and thoughts. Imagination is an uninspired witness to this confusion, sits in the corner and says nothing. Reflecting on the life of my family is like opening Pandora's Box...and there's a mess inside. Full of stuff that wasn't washed before it was packed away...wasn't sorted or labeled...wasn't wrapped in tissue or folded neatly.

My grandmother was 105 years old and had been in relatively good health until the last two months. The news of her death seemed natural and timely. I was not, and am not, grief stricken. Feelings and memories are colliding inside me but grief is not part of the mix.

Nothing is clear even now, almost one week after my father called to let me know his one-time mother-in-law was dead. I see everything through a fog.  The outlines are blurry. It's like slogging through a shadowy bog, knee-deep in oozing substances of various colors and consistencies; feeling the brush of wet vegetation  against my bare face and arms -- some of it young and green and some of it decaying; occasionally startled by the hiss and cry and scream and whisper of strange creatures, hiding among the leaves and grass...above, behind, around me.

The movement of my thoughts and feelings this week has been lazy and haphazard and unguided. I'm getting nowhere. I'm writing now in search of  a ray or two of clear light, trying to "get somewhere" and make some sense of things because this kind of confusion is uncomfortable.

And beneath/behind/within the intellectual and emotional chaos, lurks (murmurs?) a suspicion that the whole process is Me trying to tell Myself something...


One stream in the current mire of confusion could be called "the unspoken":  things alluded to but not discussed outright; things omitted in contexts where mentioning seems logical or instinctive. Things in plain sight that we pretend not to see. Questions that are asked but go unanswered. It's always been this way in my family and I've always struggled with it. My grandmother's death only serves as a fresh reminder of a familiar pain.

An example:  her obituary:

Eva Mildred ‘Mother Wood’ Wood, 104; of New Albany

Funeral services for Eva Mildred “Mother Wood” Wood, 104, of New Albany, will be at 11 a.m. Monday, May 20, at Galatian Baptist Church, New Albany, with burial in Abundant Life Memorial Gardens, New Albany. She died Thursday, May 16, 2013, at Rolling Hills Health Care Center, New Albany.
Visitation will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, at the church.
"Short" if not "sweet."

Discussing Mother's unmentioned survivors, my father offered "If they named all the survivors it would take up a full page in the paper." He's right: listing the names and relationships of Mother's survivors would be a lengthy task. She gave birth to 16 or 17 children, most of whom are still living. Each of these had 2 to 8 offspring (I'm in that generation.). Most of us have an average of 2 to 3 kids (Mother's great grandchildren); and those children, including my son, have children of their own (the great-greats). Given that some in my generation started having children a decade earlier than I did, it's even possible there are a few great-great-greats. A sizable tribe of descendants.

Listing survivors would also be a daunting task since estrangement, unacknowledged "illegitimate birth" and "vanishing acts" are not uncommon in this family. We don't really know all the names...  I learned only last Spring from my father, for example, that my deceased mother, at least at the point in time where she was pregnant with me, was uncertain about the identity of her father. (This was the same conversation in which he confessed that they were not married when I was conceived and they married to legitimize my birth). I do not know if she solved that mystery before she died.

But what about her life? Some mention, if not celebration, of her life. The liveliness of riding the Earth's revolutions for over a century, holding and bearing new life more than a dozen times...all the working and playing, singing and sorrow, seems worth mentioning. Not for her but for those she leaves behind. Only a generalized hint in the number 104 and even that steals a year from her actual age by family tabulation. No mention of her membership on a senior softball team in her 80s. No mention of the strength and beauty of her whistling (not sure I ever heard her sing but boy could she whistle!)

Who wrote the obit? Who chose "Obit Lite" over a more abundant, celebratory announcement? 

Artist:  Lisa Le Quelenec
"Last Light, Southbourne"

I did not drive back to Indiana for the wake or funeral. At the hour of the funeral I was at the piano in Christ Episcopal Church in Holly Springs MS, practicing Bach and Beethoven in memory of her. My reasons for not going are nebulous, more swirling debris in this emotional quagmire.

I was born and raised in New Albany but when I make return visits no one among the community I knew then can provide lodging. I could stay in a hotel; and, as an adult I've made a couple of friends who live there or in nearby towns and could possibly host me. But there is something so profoundly albeit indistinctly disturbing to me about there being not a single open door among the people who have known me longest that I resist making return visits. It's a 7-hour drive from here. I think of making that drive, sleeping in my car at the conclusion of business and driving back and my heart hurts.

There have been no detailed discussions of the bans. The explanations offered on each of the first-and-only occasions when I inquired felt permanent, e.g., "We just never did entertain," "We don't have the space for overnight guests," "Oh, I wouldn't dream of subjecting somebody to our holy mess," etc. These explanations feel like descriptions of fixed circumstances; they prohibit revisiting the question. 

Elements of shame, anger and embarrassment swirl in the murky waters of my emotional reaction to this reality. They float far beneath the surface as fuzzy outlines with glowing eyes. I don't talk about the feelings with friends and family. I generally avoid stirring those waters. With Mother's death, the waters have been disturbed. I writhe in contemplation of "What kind of life is mine that no one who knows me welcomes me home?"

(picture discovered in FB photo album and inserted 3 months later)