A year ago this morning my mother joined my father and her family as she went to be with our Lord. It was unexpected and oh so very strange. As usual, our family was disgraceful, meeting the moment with our usual humor. Within an hour of her death, my sister and nieces were on the phone with me as we did the true Southern tradition of Dividing Mama’s Jewelry. Sorry, but it is still funny. If my mother and her sisters had not done the same thing, it would not have been as humorous, but it is a Southern tradition.
I did not know how to act. As usual, my BFF, Josie, was right there. I know I have made her crazy these past few years with the way I have acted and reacted to the heartaches of life. I go inward. I basically quit living. I went nowhere and did nothing, then complained when no one invited me anywhere. I’ve since learned that there are many people who handle the grieving process by wanting to be included, but refuse to accept invitations. I’ve also learned we do this because we fear the public process of showing our grief. My friend, Linda, nearly kicked me in the tush to get me to go to Christmas Eve service at St. Paul’s. I did not want to go and cry. I was told what better place to cry?
Not wanting to hear the music, I was late for the service. I did okay until the recessional hymn, Joy to the World. I started crying. Guess what? It was acceptable. What better place to be than church? One very wise woman told me she had learned our society doesn’t want outward displays of grief for our parents. We are to maintain this artificial stoicism, suffering in silence. Grief and tears are normal.
So far, it is the only time I’ve truly cried for my parents.
On New Year’s Eve, I was at yet another scavenger hunt at Home Depot. Walking out the door, I discovered hanging baskets of ferns and geraniums, were already in place, for the early southern Arizona spring. I thought about my mother, calling my sister. I tear was shed. Then – I began to think about the battle I would be having with my mother about the early purchase of hanging baskets. She would always buy them too soon – and then have them singed or killed by a late frost.
While I was packing up the house and her things, I’d start telling people about certain items. I know it was a pain. I realize it was just that. But – I was dealing with memories.
Memories are a good thing.
The past few days, I’ve been communicating with a few women who have suffered horrible loses in life. Everyone handles grief differently. We’ve all come to the conclusion our society no longer knows how to handle the mourning process. We have become too modern, too casual and – perhaps afraid of our own emotion. As a society, we don’t know how to approach others.
What do we do?
What do we say?
Consequently, we clam up, not daring to mention the deceased. According to my cousin-in-law, this is the worst thing. The loved one who has left us did just that – they are no longer here. They have not been erased in our minds, nor in our lives. We need to talk about them, to remember their lives.
Perhaps the previous generations had a better way of doing things. During the formalities of the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian eras, there were rules for mourning. Everyone knew their place and their duties. A spouse was to be mourned for a full year, with a widow not daring to wear any color but black for a year. Then they could wear lavender, for half mourning, for six months. Full mourning was unrelieved black. Half mourning was lavender. For a parent, one would wear black for six months, then lavender for another six months. Finally, on the anniversary of the parent’s death, full color could be brought back into your life. Children were to be fully mourned for a year. A sibling was three months in black, then three in lavender, and so forth and so on.
The process of living came to a halt. Curtains were closed. Some families draped the windows with black crepe. There were to be no loud noises. Visits were kept short. Flowers were allowed. Notes were formal and answers were required, immediately. If possible, the family would retire to the country. It was easier that way. For the first months of deep mourning, there were no public appearances, unless at church. It was a given that all invitations would be declined. People were still invited to functions, but the invitations were politely declined on social paper trimmed in black. After three months, at homes were allowed. After six months, a person could attend quite social functions, but never the theater or opera. They could attend a party or dance, but not participate in the festivities.
It was the way of the world. There were no deviations, unless the mourner was male. Women were expected to give up their lives. A widow who even went near an eligible male for a year was shunned from polite society. But – if a man were left with small children, it was perfectly acceptable for him to remarry, often as quickly as possible, so the children would have a mother.
Grief was expected. Someone gave my mother a little ornate Victorian bottle called a tear collector. Once the bottle was full, a person was to quit crying, and get on with life. It was all about knowing what to do and how to behave. Heaven only knows the standards of our modern culture no longer exist. People do what they want, when they want. Instead of being allowed deep mourning, a person needs therapy and grief counseling. Maybe, what we really need is kindness, compassion, and the realization that mourning and grief is a normal part of life.
Rules for behavior might not be a bad thing, after all.
As for the hanging baskets, well, they reminded me of the circle of life.