My Sober Life, Chapter 28

May 7, 2015 – It’s three days before Mother’s Day, and my mother is dead. I had a tendency for a lot of years prior to treat Mother’s Day as kind of a throwaway, Hallmark holiday. Even after I became a mother myself, no one ever made a big deal about it. But when you don’t have a mother anymore? It’s a million knives stabbing you relentlessly.

After she passed, but before the mortuary came, we took turns sitting with her body. It sounds much more morbid and gross when I write it out, but it wasn’t like that at all. It felt like we were standing guard, assuring safe passage. As she lay lifeless against the bed, she looked so small and frail, the diseases ravaged her until she was not much more than skin and bones. I lightly caressed her cheek, already cold to the touch. Life leaves the body so swiftly. It’s a shame we regularly get so caught up in the minutiae that we forget we’re all just a breath away from not being present here.

After the mortuary attendants had come and gone, my sisters and I went about her little half-room packing up her personal belongings. I couldn’t help wondering at her roommate. Did she know death had taken my mom not 10 feet away from her? Did she feel the wave as my mom’s final breath left her?

As we were going through her closet, I came upon a red cardigan sweater of hers. She’d had it for at least a decade. It was well-worn and faded, with large faux-wood buttons and two deep, front pockets. It always made me think of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. I held it in my hands, staring at the label the facility had placed over the washing instructions: Carole Vega. They’d spelled her name wrong. The sweater became heavy in my hands, as though rocks were in those deep pockets. But I could not set it down. I could not place it in the bag with the rest of the clothes. I laid it over my forearm and continued working.

That sweater would not leave my hands for 48 hours. I carried it with me everywhere: to the funeral home, to the meetings, to the Corner Bakery, to the bathroom. I didn’t want to wear it – I never put it on – but I could not and would not put it down. For the next nine months, I would sleep with it every night.

The next seven days are a blur. I was able to take the week off from work and assist with the arrangements. As my mom was a practicing Roman Catholic, we were to have a rosary and wake the evening before the funeral. My brother, one of my brothers-in-law, and I worked on a song to perform at the wake. I chose a song by Indigo Girls, two of my favorite singer-songwriters, that describes death in such a way that it feels like you are releasing a bird from its cage.

I hadn’t sung in front of a lot of crowds, not since my choir days of youth. I knew the song forwards and backwards, having listened to it at least once a month since the cassette (ahem, age check) landed in my 10-year-old hands 25 years prior. So I thought it would be fine. There were already several people milling about when I arrived at the mortuary and it was easy to get caught up in the greetings and well-wishes. I needed to set down my things, though, so I went into the room which had been set aside for us. And there she lay.

We’d picked out a lovely outfit for her, accented with purple, and many flowers. The funeral director had done her makeup and painted her nails. She looked like a powdered version of herself, one hand laid over the top of the other at the waist, a rosary intertwined in them, glasses on, just as you would have remembered her. She didn’t look sickly or thin.

I needed some liquid courage, just a little something to take the edge off, so I brought a flask with me. One engraved with my initials and birthdate, a gift for my 21st, filled with freshly-made margarita with an extra shot of tequila. I stood by myself in the bathroom of the funeral home looking at my reflection. My well-fitted dress, perfectly straightened hair, precisely applied makeup, sparking jewelry, four-inch heels all mirrored back at me through the looking glass. I stared into my own eyes as I unscrewed the top and swallowed the entire contents. The tequila burned as it flowed down, warming my belly, and I thought of how I’d been dreading this for months, and now it was here. No more dress rehearsing this tragedy. I was living it. I was living in an existence without my mother.

After the rosary was completed, my dad spoke to the crowd. More than 100 people crammed into this small chapel-like room, the open casket at the fore. He spoke of my mom and her strengths as a mother and friend. He told some stories and made us all laugh and cry. Then they played a video compilation one of my sisters had made, and it’s one of those pieces of my life that is frozen in time in my memory. My mom had lived almost 77 years (she died just a month and a week shy of her birthday). She’d brought five humans into the world; she’d danced; she’d traveled all around the globe; she’d been a book and puzzle aficionado; she’d been a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, friend. She’d dedicated her life to serving others. She took care of her children, she took care of her mother and sister, she took care, she took care, she took care…and here were the photos illustrating that care. That consideration. In many instances, the sacrifice of self for the well-being of others.

The final shot of the slideshow is a clip from a 70’s home video of my mom on a small speedboat near a dock. As the boat propels away from the shore, my mom – my youthful, beautiful, vibrant mom – sits up tall and reaches her long, lithe arm in the air, waving goodbye enthusiastically, as Lenny Kravitz’ Thinking of You fades out (lyrics below). It is an image that if I conjure it in my mind’s eye, I will instantly well with tears. (Much as I am right now as I type this on an airplane full of strangers.)

As my brothers began the rehearsed intro on their guitars, my stomach clenched. It was my cue, but I couldn’t do it. I whispered under my breath, I’m not ready.

My brother has been a musician for as long as I can remember. When he was in his early 20s, I recall a significantly loud fight between him and my dad In which my brother stormed out, jumped in his little Toyota pick-up, and drove to California to start a band. I think I was about five years old. His band’s name was No Exit, and if any of their music existed on the internet, I would share it here. I LOVED his music. When they produced an album, I wore the cassette (yep, child of the 80s) out. I still pull out the CD from time to time, because I still love the music that much. We’d go out to San Diego to see him play and once, I got to go to a rehearsal. It was in someone’s garage or back lot, and it was like an 80s movie or TV show. Girls on the couches, beers abounding, blacklights and fluorescent paint. I immediately became the little mascot. All the guys were the coolest ever.

I remember him up there on this massive stage at the Del Mar Fair in San Diego, and I was enamored. Here is a picture of me on that stage afterward (I am still looking for this picture…). Talk about a shit-eating grin. I thought I was so cool for not only knowing the band, but also getting to go on the stage.

So you’d think, musician brother, singer sister, it must be like The Partridge Family at your house. But other than some camp-side acoustic sing-alongs, my brother and I had never sung together. Not until my mom’s wake.

They began the intro again, and I placed my hand on my stomach, and breathed deep in through my nose, shakily exhaling slowly out my mouth. My cue comes again.

And I sing.

Secure yourself to heaven
Hold on tight, the night has come
Fasten up your earthly burdens
You have just begun

In the ink of an eye, I saw you bleed
Through the thunder, I could hear you scream
Solid to the air I breathe
Open-eyed and fast asleep
Falling softly as the rain
No footsteps ringing in your ears
Ragged down worn to the skin
Warrior raging, have no fear

Secure yourself to heaven
Hold on tight, the night has come
Fasten up your earthly burdens
You have just begun

I'm kneeling down with broken prayers
Hearts and bones from days of youth
Restless with an angel's wing
I dig a grave to bury you
No feet to fall, you need no ground
Allowed to glide right through the sun
Released from circles guarded tight
Now we all are chosen ones

Secure yourself to heaven
Hold on tight, the night has come
Fasten up your earthly burdens
You have just begun

Secure yourself to heaven
Hold on tight, the night has come
Fasten up your earthly burdens
You have just begun


In the ink of an eye, I saw you bleed
Through the thunder, I could hear you scream
Solid to the air I breathe
Open-eyed and fast asleep
Falling softly as the rain

(Falling)
No footsteps ringing in your ears

(No footsteps)
Ragged down worn to the skin
Warrior raging, have no fear


Secure yourself to heaven
Hold on tight, the night has come
Fasten up your earthly burdens
You have just begun

In the ink of an eye, I saw you bleed

(Secure yourself to heaven)
Through the thunder, I could hear you scream

(Hold on tight, the night has come)
Solid to the air I breathe

(Fasten up your earthly burdens)
Open-eyed and fast asleep

(You have just begun)
No feet to fall, you need no ground

(Secure yourself to heaven)
Allowed to glide right through the sun

(Hold on tight, the night has come)
Released from circles guarded tight

(Fasten up your earthly burdens)
Now we all are chosen ones

(You have just begun)

Secure yourself to heaven
(And now we all are chosen ones)
Hold on tight, the night has come

(Allowed to glide right through the sun)
Fasten up your earthly burdens

(Released from circles guarded tight)

Now we all are chosen ones

Thinking of You – Lenny Kravitz

Tell me mama is your life a better change ? 
And tell me mama 
Would you live your life the same 
Or come back and rearrange ?

Tell me mama how is freedom ? 
Oh I’m thinking of you 
And all the things that you wanted me to be 
And I’m trying now

Oh I’m thinking of you 
And all the things that you wanted me to be 
Tell me mama 
Are the colors deeper shades ?

And tell me mama 
Are there great big brass parades ? 
Does the sun shine night and day ? 
Tell me mama no more sleeping

Tell me mama no more weeping 
I’m thinking of you 
And all the things that you wanted me to be 
And I’m trying now

Oh I’m thinking of you 
And all the things that you wanted me to be 
And I’m trying now 
Oh I’m thinking of you

And all the things that you wanted me to be 
And I’m trying now 
Oh I’m thinking of you 
And all the things that you wanted me to be yeah

Hey mama, hey mamama, mama 
No, no, no, no, no 
Oh no, no, no, no, no …. 
Hey

Tell me mama is it just the way they say ? 
Tell me mama 
And tell me mama are you missing me the way 
That I’m missing you today ?

Tell me mama can you hear me ? 
Oh I’m thinking of you 
And all the things that you wanted me to be 
And I’m trying now [Repeat: x 5]

Oh I’m thinking of you

Thinking of you…

Leave a Reply