Posts Tagged ‘mortuary’

Seeing her

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

I zonked out last night before I could blog. Someone I met long ago — a friend of a friend emailed with his condolences and said something about how my blog would help me remember the details that sort of drift away, and I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, I wouldn’t want to forget.

I saw my mom yesterday. I woke up early (I’ve been so tired!) and got dressed and ready to go so I could sign for her body since no one really knew for sure who should sign for the release. I called April to let her know what happened last night and to make sure I could come down and sign and she offered to fax it, but the fax was out of paper with no refill roll in sight so we had to go there in person after all.

Hours later, April calls again and says they still won’t release the body. I’d called the public administrator in the morning like the coroner’s deputy had told me to the night before, but could only leave a message. So I called again and spoke to the public administrator on call who eventually transferred me to the John Bunnett who I was to ask for and he kindly told me he’d just gotten off the phone with the coroner’s office. My dad could sign for the body and I (or my sister) would need to sign for the property. Finally. And shortly before four pm, my dad, sister and I, with a herd of aunts and uncles behind us, headed to the mortuary.

Once we got there, April and Missy came in with a medium sized paper bag full of my mother’s personal belongings — just what was on her person — from the coroner’s office. Then April advised us not to see the body. This was her professional opinion as a mortician. And I’d been resolved to see the body, and my dad turned to me and said, I really don’t want you to see the body. On his way to pick us up, he made me grab one of his surgical texts and bring it with me, and in the car I was to look at the facial surgeries section (which unfortunately, or fortunately, did not include any trauma images, just plastic surgery images) to try to prepare me. And when he looked at me and asked me not to see her, I was suddenly full of doubt and scared and anxious. I didn’t want anyone else to see her like that if I couldn’t see her. What was I supposed to do? Jess said she wanted to see her. So we agreed to let dad go first and let us know what he thought. He was gone for a few minutes and I started to worry, then he came out calling for April, who’d left, then told us he thought it was ok.

She was covered up almost entirely. April had told us we were not allowed to uncover any part of her. The only part of her you could see was her nose and mouth and chin. The first look was heart wrenching. Her mouth wasn’t closed all the way — it was slightly parted on the right side of her face, her eye socket looked really red, there was another dark red spot on her cheek, and a bigger one under her chin, but she didn’t look nearly as bad as I had imagined her to look. My dad commented that perhaps for lay people that’s traumatic enough, but he looked under the covers at her head and he was relieved it wasn’t nearly as bad as we’d all imagined it could be. Her nose looked slightly off like maybe it’d been broken. Her nostrils were slightly red. My dad said she had one big cut on her head when Jess asked if her head was crushed in. Seeing her mouth like that disturbed me. My father said she probably had some mandible damage. I kept trying to look up into her eyes and under the towel. The redness of what I could see of her left eye socket disturbed me. Her icy coldness and the crunch of the plastic when I touched her shoulder disturbed me. I couldn’t kiss her face cause I was afraid of touching it and afraid of how cold it would be, but I kissed her head through the towel. I wanted to touch her hands, but wouldn’t dare uncover her.

Then all the aunts and uncles trooped in. And we went home to dinner, and just after 7:30pm, Jess and I had the house to ourselves for the first time. What relief. My aunt and uncle were going to stay, but I asked uncle BK to ask them not to — I hadn’t realized they were just staying out of concern for us. And of course, to keep vigil for my mother’s shrine — the picture, candle and flowers set up on a little table in the living room.

The hardest part was being there and all of sudden being unsure whether or not I could see her. The next hardest part was the contents of the bag of belongings which included a plastic baggy with a little manila envelope with “Soiled” written on it. It contained her eyeglass chain. It was thin nylon and had some of her blood on it. I couldn’t stop crying when I saw that. I couldn’t put it down. The thought of it being on her when she died and being soiled with her blood — I couldn’t let it go.

And then other contents that baffled me and made me so sad. And made me realize again how little I knew my mother. How people loved her and I didn’t know how much. How she had a life and did things without sharing it with me. Did she not share because I didn’t share? Or because she was like that? I had called her on her birthday (exactly one week before mine) and asked her what she was doing. She said Uncle BK and his wife took her out to eat. She didn’t tell me there’d been a housewarming/birthday party for her at another uncle’s new house. I only found out a couple of days ago when someone brought over photos. My aunt told me she’d always proclaim, I have two daughters; I’m so happy and proud. She had dreams and ideas about things she wanted to do that I’d never heard about before her death. How sad then that we loved each other so much, but knew each other so little.