The Battle for Spike

Spike is a stuffed animal. My mother used to nestle him in the crook of her arm for comfort when she slept. Because of this, Spike earned a place of honor in my mom’s coffin when she passed away a year ago, along with a photo of her family and a small bottle of Gilbey’s gin.
This is my first time dealing with formal death rituals like this. The family, being my sister and myself with our spouses, comprises the “family”: It was our job to approve of the way mom looked lying in state (“Her hair just isn’t right. Can you get her jacket to lie properly?”) and add what accoutrements we thought appropriate for her body’s next journey. I nestled Spike up against her arm (I couldn’t put it under her arm because her hands wouldn’t curl properly around him. The dead: go figure).

Enter The Housekeeper. Someone who’s been caring for mom off and on for 27 years, who’s taken to calling mom “mom”, much to mom’s offense. Who walked up to the coffin and started rearranging things to her liking while the actual family looked on incredulously. We’ll call her “Flo”.

At some point, I decided a line had been crossed, that Flo’s presumptuousness could not go unchecked, and that line was where Flo decided to rearrange Spike. Stepping in, I stated quietly “I prefer Spike nestled like this” and replaced him in his original position. Much to everyone’s amazement, Flo decided she couldn’t accept that, and a literal tug-of-war ensued, me keeping Spike in place and saying things like “Flo, I want things to stay this way” and Flo, with a monomaniac focus on that stuffed animal, determined to change things to suit herself. To my amazement, I had to stop Flo no less than three times. For a long moment, the husband and I locked eyes. Her husband started to pull her away from the coffin – even then, she remained focused on Spike, reaching for that dog, determined to have her way. For myself, I’d never felt such a powerful combination of a feeling of righteous, outright rage at what I perceived was a deeply inconsiderate behavior toward My Family and My Mom, and an irony that we would be, quite literally, in combat over a stuffed animal, over my mother’s body.

This conjures up all sorts of cultural imagery. The competing lovers jumping into a grave of a lost one; the Egyptian ritual of placing an entire entourage into the pyramid. We manipulate our dead to make ourselves, the living, feel more comfortable about their passing.

Spike ultimately stayed where I and my sister thought he should. I made sure of it.

So long, mom

Mom died yesterday afternoon, 11/2/2011. She was 87 years and one month and one day old, and I loved her very very much. It was a long battle, as she’d been ready to go for quite a while, fighting off the things that encroach on most people’s lives when they reach that age.

Mom was a softie with a steel core. A swede, she toughed it out when I was five and she discovered that her son had cancer, and that she was also about to become a divorced mother of two. We all survived that, and she saw my sister and me though our childhoods and out into the world as her own world contracted down around her condo. In the end, she was housebound, bored, and, as she put it, “over it.” The last days before her death, she was occasionally feisty, somewhat mobile, played her beloved piano a bit. She went quietly, in her own bed, just the way she wanted to.

She was my friend. I recall the exact conversation when that happened, when we evolved past mother and son to become friends who could speak their mind to each other, keep each other honest, support each other, and love each other.

Most of all things, I will miss you, my friend.