The most difficult part about my mother’s passing wasn’t the loss of her earthly body. At the age of ninety-four, her final years were a slide into vegetation, making her death a relief, a time for reflection, as well as feelings of sadness and joy. The funeral itself presented the hardest dilemma with the inevitable question, should my older son attend?
Fortunately, he made the decision for himself and therefore me, in turn, when he said he wouldn’t be coming. Part of me felt relieved and part disappointed by his reason: he said he couldn’t handle watching her lowered into the ground. I didn’t try to change his mind because being with him, even in the best of circumstances, is a challenge, but it saddened me to think that his illness, once again, roared its beastly here-I-am presence.
And how should I explain his absence to all the relatives? I asked myself. That issue turned out to be moot since their way of dealing with him is to say nothing, act as if he doesn’t exist; not one person asked me where he was.
All things considered, I shouldn’t complain. If he had decided to go, I would be embarrassed by the way he looks. Yes, it may be trivial, but it’s true. His hair—a mess– hasn’t been cut in well over a year, making it potentially a nice home for mice. His beard, too, is untrimmed. In the past, he let me know that his appearance is none of my business and I try to respect his choices, knowing that compared to everything else on the platter of schizophrenia, it’s a minor issue. Or, at least, it should be. Then again—and here I go—if he didn’t have this illness, his appearance wouldn’t be an issue at all. I have to accept the unacceptable, or die trying, a definite possibility.
What hurt the most was that after the funeral he called to see how I was doing. While that in itself was nice, the conversation took a bad turn when he said I should forgive my mother.
“For what?” I asked.
“For her illness.”
He continued to explain that her brain disorder, Alzheimer’s, was the result of something bad she had done in a past life. Not wanting to get into an argument, I handed the phone to my other son. Yes, I felt angry, but I forced myself to repeat that this is schizophrenia talking.
The next day he called again. Realizing he had said something inappropriate– whether he believes it or not–he apologized for causing me to become upset, mere hours after laying my mother to rest. Additionally, he added he didn’t go to the funeral because he didn’t want to embarrass me by being unable to stop crying. “Yes,” he loved her, he told me. “Very much.”
I felt better after the second phone call: a little. So the saga continues …