The Urn

by Lisa on December 14, 2010

I opened her urn today.

I had to.

I was cleaning my room. It was a mess as usual. I stood looking around, staring at nothing in particular—paralyzed by the overwhelmingness of my chaos and debris. How can I let it get like this? What’s wrong with me? I have a burgandy Jackson Hole blanket for one curtain and a floral sheet for the another. There are cobwebs near the ceiling. Pillows are thrown on the chair in the corner. The dresser has drawers open, one with a pajama leg hanging out. The bed looks like a tornado hit it—a combination of rumpled blankets and clean clothes to put away. Then there are the other, other clothes—clothes hanging in the closet, clothes on the floor in the closet, clothes in the hamper, clothes in paper bags, clothes on the bedroom floor, clothes stacked on the dresser. Clothes, clothes everywhere. It feels like I’m drowning in clothes. The ironic thing is I personally don’t have many clothes, but whatever clothes belong to this family seem to swarm about like a hive of bees looking for a new stump in which to make their new colony. Pants, shirts, sweaters, dresses, coats, pajamas, shoes, they all travel from room to room in a large hive. They find a new apiary where ever there is an empty, flat surface. Although I often joke about being a pile shifter, it’s really not that funny as piles are exploding in every room. Living in a small, old house I often blame lack of storage, lack of time, or lack of money for my tidiness problems, but I suspect it’s really laziness, motivation, bad habits, and an inability to find a spot that makes sense. What ever my problem, I can’t seem to kick the messy habit. I find it depressing. I continue to survey my domain in utter dumbfoundedness. What to do next? Where to start?

urn3That’s when I spy it.

The urn.

It’s sitting on my dresser. It has a fine coat of dust on the top of it. I stare at in and think, why can’t I be more like my Mom? She would have never let her room get to be such a catastrophe. If she were here, she’d probably shake her head at me. Maybe chuckle, or make some little snide half-joke, half-truth about my pigginess. She might offer to pitch in and help me clean it, but probably not as she stopped doing that some time ago figuring that no matter what she did to help it would just be a matter of time before it was a mess again.

I walk over to the dresser and look at it. I reach out to pick it up. The weight of it surprises me every time I lift it. I dust off the lid. Is this really my mother? My beloved mother inside this little, metal pot? I take it over to the blanket-curtain. I roll up the blanket and shove it around until I can get it to stay on the top of the curtain rod without falling in my face. There are curtains behind the blanket, and they’re ugly. They were once bright-white, but now they’ve got stains on them and marker from when my children were little ones. They smell dusty. I push them back and stand in the light. It’s sunny out today. The sky is bright blue, with white fluffy clouds. There are a few patches of dark grey sky on the horizon, but it’s impossible for the heavens to look ominous because the sun is too bright.

I run my finger over the lid. What does it really look like inside? They told me they put her ashes in a bag so in case, God forbid, the lid were to come off she would not spill out. They told me that the container they cremated her in with be intermingled with her remains. They told me that after she were cremated that there would still be bits of bone. They told me all kinds of things. Mostly stuff I tuned out or didn’t want to hear.

I rub the lid again. Should I open it? I’m still not sure. I stand there for an unknown amount of time. Remembering. Seeing her little body lying, tiny and still, on the table. She looked like she was sleeping, but I knew she was not. She had her wig on, and they’d put make-up on her face to hide the bruising. Her little bird-like hands were crossed over her middle. They were cold and semi stiff, but they warmed up as I held them. Looking down at her face, it looked like her only the essence of her was missing. I picked out the outfit she was wearing because I knew she liked it—black pants, a little black and white rose-print, cotton sweater tank top with a matching cardigan. I remembered that she had taken that outfit and wore it in Italy less than a nine months ago. I remembered her telling me she felt pretty in it. To think about it now is almost more than I can bear.

I turn the lid. Just a little at first. Then a little more. It’s completely free now. Slowly I pull the top off and gaze inside. The container is half empty. At the bottom lies a plastic bag with white ash. The bag has a zip tie around the top of it. I stand there staring. That’s it? That is my Mom? I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe my Mom-genie to come out. Maybe some comfort. Maybe to feel a connection to the remains inside. Maybe a sense of closure.

I poke at the bag. The contents seem kind of gritty—a chalky white color. Not at all like fireplace ash I had envisioned in my mind. More like what I think powdered ceramic clay looks like. I hit something hard. I poke a little more. It looks kind of like a shell. A bone-bit, I conclude. What bone is that, I wonder. I push the bag over. Poke a little more. More bone fragment. This piece is a bit bigger. I tip the urn toward the light. Now curiosity has taken over. I’m not creeped out that I’m poking at the ashy remains of my Mother. I’m just curious as to what’s in this strange container, and how can that really be my Mom.

I hear the kids in the other room and am brought back into my surroundings. I quickly place the lid back on the container and screw it back on. Then it hits me. My mother is gone. Dead. Not coming back. I start crying. Instead of being an almost 42 year old woman, I’m reduced to a five year old. Wondering: who will take care of me? Who is going to take me shopping and buy me clothes? Who is going to help me get ready for a party when I’ve procrastinated till the last minute? Who is going to come over and help me paint my kitchen? Who is going to make the curtains for my room with the fabric I’ve been saving for four years? Who is going to notice that my kids have outgrown their shoes and buy them new ones. Who is going to make me chocolate cake with chocolate whipping cream for my birthday? Who is going to see in my face that I’ve had a bad day and give me a hug? Who is going to love me despite all my shortcomings and faults?

I cry because I miss her. I cry because my life as I knew it is gone. I cry because I’m not ready to be an adult on my own. I’m not ready to be motherless. I’m not ready for my kids to miss their Granny. I’m not ready to watch my Dad fumble around trying to find his way and start a new life. I’m not ready to to make Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. I’m not ready to be the one my kids look to for freshly baked cookies, and piping hot bread out of the oven, and new nifty clothes that I cleverly sewed in an afternoon. I don’t know how make her calzone, or her chicken enchiladas, or her geledots. I’m still little and needy. Still immature and afraid of making colossal mistakes. I want a Mom. My Mom.

I hear the kids again. They are intermittently laughing and fighting over the new zuzu pet in the living room. It’s after 2:00 pm. Way past lunch time. I need to go prepare something to feed the hungry trio. The laundry still needs folding. The bed still needs the clothes to be put away and the sheets washed. The cobwebs still need cleaning. The clothes still need to be dealt with, but I don’t have any more time right now. And, I don’t have any more time to wallow in grief and self-pity.

mom-obit4I put the urn back on my dresser. I dry my tears, and head out of the bedroom. I’m sure I will have to deal with this some other time, some other day. For now, I know I that she loved me, and I loved her. And, that’s enough.

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