I’ll Get to It.

My mother sits perched upon my mantle in a gray marble urn. I dutifully dust her semi-weekly but otherwise I try to avoid looking at her.

When I was growing up, my mother generally had to ask me to do something several times if she wanted it done at all. This dynamic did not change as we aged. Upon learning I still had not gotten to a particular task, she often gave me a look of anger. Sometimes, though, I’d receive a look of disappointment and exasperation that clearly said, “Why can’t you just do what I ask of you?” This was such a loaded question that she dared not ask it out loud and I wouldn’t have dared to answer.

“Ma, I’ll get to it. I said I would,” I’d sigh and huff instead.

She asked that when she died her ashes be buried with her parents’ ashes in a plot owned by her cousin up in Maine. I don’t remember the cousin’s name or what part of the family he comes from. I don’t know where the cemetery is, who else’s urns are in there and how many spaces are left. I could make some calls and get this information. The time to do this would have been when she passed, but I had other, more important things to do.

As I loaded her into the car after her memorial service, safely tucked next to the flowers and the cold cut tray, I whispered to the NJ Cremation Society tote bag I was given to carry her in, “Ma, I’ll get to it. I said I would.”

Since then, we’ve moved to a new home and over two years have passed.  I’ve decorated around her at the holidays.  I put a wizard’s cap on her at my son’s 4th birthday party.  She’s right there in the thick of things, day in and day out.  The presence of the urn reminds me in a not so subtle way of the promise I made to bring her back to her parents, back to the place she was born.

The other day I lugged yet another Rubbermaid bucket up from the basement to sort through her things.  I sat cross-legged on the living room floor to examine the contents.  Each musty composition book told a story:  Mom’s deterioration from multiple sclerosis.  Every visitation and child support check Dad missed along with every time she suspected he called and hung up on her.  The school records of her children and letters she wrote to friends and never sent.  A whole world went on when I was too young to notice to any great degree.  She wrote it all down.  All her life, until she could not, she wrote.

I felt the urn staring at me, as if that’s possible, from its place on the mantle.

“Ma, I’ll get to it.  I said I would.  But I’m not ready to let you go just yet.”

Linking up, once again, with the good folks of Yeah Wrtie.  Please click through and read the other entries.  I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.  You can vote for your favorites on Thursday.

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54 Responses to “I’ll Get to It.”

  1. IASoupMama says:

    Oh, man… I’d have a hard time getting around to that, too. I think it’s really neat that your mom was a fastidious writer — mine keeps everything, but has no system to organize anything, so her house is one step away from being featured on Hoarders. Great post!

    • My mother just tossed stuff into piles. She definitely would have been a hoarder if she was more mobile! It’s only in bins now because it got packed up when she moved. But it is a treasure, that’s for sure.

  2. Oh Michelle, maybe when she died she didn’t yet know what a cool place your home would be with a little guy growing up and her daughter becoming a writer herself. . .and maybe if she had, she would have asked to stay there instead. I’d rather be on your homey mantle than in freezing ol’ Maine! Wonderful story.

  3. carrie says:

    How hard. But it must be nice to have that written record your mom’s life. My mom wrote a few notes to my brothers and I when we were kids (in our baby books) and I desperately wished that there was more of them. That’s why I first started blogging, so that my kids would have all those notes that I wished I’d had.

    Great post!

  4. Loved this, Michelle. How wonderful to have those written records to go through and allow yourself to marinate in your mom a little longer. In losing people I love, I worry most about the things about them that will fade from my memory over time. This gives you a way to replenish those thoughts. What a great treasure she left you.

  5. Bam! Great job. The wizard hat is a great detail. I love your voice.

    • Aww, thanks! I toyed with putting a picture of “her” in the hat (because, yes, of COURSE I took a picture!) but decided it wouldn’t fit. It earned me lots of odd looks at the party :p

  6. I think she is right where she belongs. Grief is for the living, she has the gift of peace already. xo Ellen

  7. Christie says:

    Well written, nice job. I like how you captured the conflict between keeping her with you and honoring her wishes. I find it amazing (and sad) how realize that entire lives can be consolidated to crates and boxes. You are so lucky to have all of these written memories of your mother.

  8. Don’t you partly just want to keep her with you? I know it isn’t ‘her,’ she’s in the bucket, but I would have a hard time letting go the last of my mom.

    • Yes, that’s just it. If I make the call, if I do bury her, it’s done. She’s gone-gone. Now, even though I know it’s silly to say it this way, she isn’t all the way gone yet. I’ve tossed this one around in my mind for a long time.

  9. This is that “meh” post you mentioned on Twitter yesterday? Great job once again. I really enjoy your writing and can imagine the mix of feelings around this last “task” your mom asked you to do. I think your timing is perfect! Great post!

    • Yes, this is the post. But it was all over the map when I first wrote it. There was a lot more in there, all different angles. I cut a lot and focused on one piece. I also always fear that my writing will come off as too sad or like I’m trying to make you cry or feel sorry for me, which I’m not. I’m actually really OK and I want it to read like someone who is genuinely OK overall but still grieving in day-to-day ways. I don’t know if that makes sense. The drafts were too much, too tear-jerky and seemed forced. I hope that it doesn’t feel that way now. Never my intent – I never want to be one of those “Oh no, here she goes again” bloggers.

    • And what I should have said first was thank you!!

  10. Studio Liz says:

    I love the honesty of this post. Somehow I wonder whether she is really ready to leave you yet and that’s why you haven’t “gotten to it.”

  11. Jester Queen says:

    Oh yeah. It’s that last thing. It’s not a failure of duty at all to hold onto her. When you lose someone beloved, you need someplace to go to mourn. You will only take her urn up there when you are ready for that place to be far away. I am so sorry for your loss. I know that isn’t the point, but I still ache for you.

    • It is far. I don’t know that I’m the grave-visiting type (I don’t have any to visit, so this would be a first), but NOT being able to seems not right somehow. I appreciate your kind words and the sympathies.

  12. Mamarific says:

    Loved your first line…sucked me right in! I love how you incorporate her into the holiday decor. You will know when the time is right to part with her.

  13. Kristin says:

    I’m going to go a little against the grain, as a control freak, and hope that you bring her to her chosen place when you’re ready. Since one of the prompts is rituals, I’ll use that word. I think that the rituals we have in mourning and burial (like going through your mom’s things) are so important to help us finally let go. I see that urn of ashes as your final ritual of healing. Cremation gives us the choice (would you keep a coffin in your garage?), and it gives those who have left us a choice. When you’re ready (another two years? Five?), follow through on the choice she made. And I love Maine.

    I also really loved the paragraph in which you load your mom in a tote bag into the card. Cleanly and well told.

    • Every time I see the tote bag I laugh. The urn is heavy, so I appreciated the carrying device but still. Do I throw it out? Can I use it for groceries? So weird.

      I appreciate the feedback. Like I said on Twitter, the word choice is funny. All my life I’ve felt like I’ve had choices that I either didn’t want to have to make because I felt an adult should have had to or that weren’t really choices at all when you get down to it. I often feel like a child when it comes to matters of my mother (that whole parentified child I don’t want to do this sort of feeling) even though I’m not a child anymore. It sometimes stops me from making rational decisions.

      She was not a control freak like I am so I don’t know that she’d care ultimately but I can’t discuss it with her, you know? I wish I had. Someday I will take her to Maine. I do love it there too, though it’s been a while. Again, thanks for the feedback :)

  14. I have to agree that I bet she is really happy at your place amid all the hustle and bustle.
    And wow, what awesome treasures you have in her writing and notes that you’ve found!
    This was a great piece, with great emotion and flow to it. I enjoyed it very much.

  15. I do not care where you mom is. I just hope you will always tell us the story that got her there. 😉 This is very well done. Such an unimaginable task. I should say tasks. And they were all described so well…I especially enjoyed the part of you discovering her writing. I’m sorry for your grief and just wish I could accurately express it in a way that is sincere and that you are OK with.

  16. Sounds like me and my mom while I was growing up. Very touching story. I would bet your mom is at peace close to you.

  17. Loved this, particularly when you added “I’m just not ready to let you go just yet.”

    I have told my husband that if he dies, he’s getting cremated and will probably hang around on a living room shelf for a long while before I’m ready to put his ashes somewhere. Same goes for my parents. I’ll just want them around. The rest of the family just rolls their eyes at me, but I know they’ll humor me when the time comes.

    • It’s hard – she was sick for SO long that I had to be OK with letting her go from life. But now, it’s way different and I didn’t see that coming.

      If nothing else, it’s taught me to tell my loved ones to put me where they need to. If that’s close by because they need me or in a closet out of sight because it hurts, to worry about themselves. Either way, I’ll be OK.

  18. I literally had chills at the end of this, so good! I agree, wait until you are ready. And what a wonderful thing that you have her journals. Watching from the mantle, she must be so proud of you!

  19. Touching and tender. Of course, you know, she’s with you regardless…

  20. I loved this! I hope you keep mom around forever so she can be at all of your parties!

  21. Ellen Stumbo says:

    Michelle, this is such a heart felt piece, I love it. How do we let go? Especially with the relationship between mother and daughter.

  22. Goosebumps, my dear. The unspoken battles of teen and mom, oh yeah, I felt it down to the bones. Bravo.

  23. I love the way your mom stays with you–and the wizard’s hat is a great touch. Do you think she’d rather be present with all of you than up in Maine? I do. There’s humor here, but a big dollop of sadness that makes me want to go call my mom and see if there’s anything I was supposed to have done in the last forty decades that I’ve not gotten to yet. Thanks for this.

    • Thank you for such a nice comment. Sometimes it seems odd to have humor in something so inherently sad, but that was one thing that my mom and I always had – a sense of humor about all the bullshit. And death, just another big lump of inevitable bullshit when you think of it. I’m sure she’s glad to be here, and still a little pissed that once again I didn’t listen because I always have to do what I want 😉

  24. Kianwi says:

    I still have both of my parents ashes. It was never my intention, but it also never feels like it’s the right time to spread them. I need to get to it, too.

    Very well written, as always. Very moving!

  25. Ado says:

    Wow, this was excellent. That’s really all I’ve got for you: just excellent writing. Packed w. meaning. I loved this.

  26. Rosstwinmom says:

    Well done. Great transitions from though to thought. Very smooth, easy read.

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