Two weeks and one day ago, I talked to my mom (C.J.’s Nana Grab Bags) on the phone a little before dinnertime. I called her to announce that C.J. had finally lost the first of his top two front teeth. That tooth had hung on for way too long and she cheered when she heard the news. Little life victories are meant to be celebrated with Nanas.
A few hours later, Nana passed away and I spent Memorial Day painfully and tearfully recalling every memory of my mother that I could conjure up, afraid that they would perish with her.
I would never wish a long painful death on anyone, but the shock of a sudden and unexpected death seems unfair too. I guess there’s no perfect way to die.
As my brother Michael and I left our mom for the last time, I leaned over her, kissed her forehead and whispered.
“I love you, mom. You are the best.”
It was the first time she didn’t refute my praise. She didn’t say, “oh, no I’m not.” I wanted her to brush off my compliment. I wanted her to open her eyes. I wanted her heart to beat and her lungs to breathe and for the previous hours to have been a sick joke the universe would someday apologize for thinking was funny. If I was being tested, I wanted to pass the test and get my mother back.
We left the hospital and my body trembled all the way home; knowing that I would walk through the door and rip Chase and C.J.’s hearts in half quickly and cruelly.
As Michael, Matt and I told them that Nana’s body had stopped working, I looked into their eyes and watched a jarring life moment confuse them. I watched their sense of reality go into a dizzying spiral.
For a second, Chase thought we were kidding and C.J. struggled to catch up. And, then it started to sink in.
“Can we see her again and say goodbye?” they asked.
“I’m so sorry, but you can’t,” we said.
“Who’s going to play dress up with me and let me do their makeup and do crafts with me?” C.J. cried.
“We all do those things with you and we will never stop,” we promised.
“It’s not the same. It’s not Nana,” he said.
“What are we going to wear to the Celebration of Life?” C.J. asked immediately, because even when grieving he is concerned about fashion.
“I’m wearing a tie,” said Chase, who loves any excuse to wear a tie.
“I want to be a girl at Nana’s Celebration of Life. I want to wear a dress. That’s how Nana would want me,” he declared and asked if we could go shopping. I promised him we would.
“Will everyone at the Celebration of Life know that I’m gender nonconforming?” he asked.
“No.” I waited for the usual self-editing and deep consideration about his gender expression around new people to begin.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I’m wearing a dress.”
And, so we went shopping for a dress for my son to wear to my mother’s funeral.
To be continued…