Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mourning on the Winter Solstice

Today is the last day of Autumn.  I keep seeing and hearing people say things like 'Happy Winter Solstice'...Merry Christmas... happy whatever....  I am rarely joyful this time of year...  I'm certainly not in a celebratory mood whatever the calendar says about holidays.

my grandparents with their eight children

On December 20, 1958 my grandmother, Bertha Elizabeth Moore Hough, died at the age of 49.  She had eight children of her own.  Her two youngest were teenagers when I was born.  My mother was the second daughter.  My Grandmother had raised me since I was a baby, and was really the only mother I had ever known.  For several years before she died, she was very ill.  Lots of hospital stays, in and out of a coma, often at home (when she was not in a coma) in a hospital bed set up in the living room.  I was not allowed to make noise or bother her in any way.  My aunt and my great-grandmother took care of her most of the time, and it seemed like I was always 'in the way'.

At the time of her death, I was taken to AGH in Pittsburgh where she was conscious - just long enough to kiss her goodbye.  I was eight years old.  I did not recognize the woman in the bed until she spoke to me.  Very little was said to me directly, but I gathered by all the somber faces that she would not be coming home from the hospital to sleep in the living room any more.  The grown ups kept saying what a relief it was - that she was no longer in pain - her suffering was over - she was with the Lord - at rest.  Nobody seemed upset that she was 'gone'. 

It was the week before Christmas - the living room had been re-arranged with the Christmas tree platform - complete with lighted village and electric train - all set up for me (and my many cousins) to play with. And we did!  We were excited - like all children - with the anticipation of presents, fresh fruit in our stockings, lots of delicious treats to nibble, and snow!

And then we had The Viewing at Findlay's Funeral Home in McKeesport. It was on Jenny Lind Street - which went all the way up the hill to the street we lived on - Meadow Street.  I remember the building - I was told to be quiet and stay out of the way - there were lots of grown ups - I found a quiet corner on the landing half way up a stairway where there was a stained glass window.  I had crayons and coloring book with me and proceeded to stay quietly out of the way - until I was called to 'kiss mummy goodbye one last time' - hoisted up to see over the casket for the first time, I think I might have gone into shock.  I stiffened and pulled away - no way was I going to kiss that thing with make up on in that fancy casket!  My mummy did not wear makeup, so that could not be her.  There must be some mistake!  I ran back to the calm familiar safety of my crayons on the stairs and stayed there until they took me home.

The Funeral was the next thing I remember - sitting still while the minister talked - then getting into a big fancy car with my Great Grandmother and my Grandfather.  She was buried in "Grandview" cemetery in McKeesport, and I know I was there - but all I remember is the cold weather - and pulling a red rose from one of her flower arrangements - and some bows.  I put the rose (wrapped in tissue paper) in my bible - I untied the bows and washed the ribbons - pressed them neatly and rolled them up, stashing them safely in my bottom drawer along with all my other childhood treasures - safely hidden under my play clothes.

Our presents from 'Grandma' / 'Mummy' were already wrapped and waiting for Christmas morning.  We opened our presents, being told that she had shopped for us a long time before she 'got sick'.  I didn't understand that - she had been bed ridden for months.  She was in no condition to go shopping!  It was obvious to me that someone else had bought and wrapped the presents.

It was Christmas - not a time for mourning, but a time for singing and presents and cookies and company!  I think about 40 of my cousins were there - all noisy and excited - but I had been quiet for so long that all that noise and chaos upset me.  I just wanted everyone to go away.  Mourning was not on the agenda - not then - maybe not ever!

But as I get older - now well past the age of my grandmother when she died - I wonder about her life, and how and what I could have learned from her if she had lived just another 10 years or so...  I mourn now for the life and the woman I never really had a chance to know.  Not for the upset, angry fury she showed me when she found out she was dying.  Not for the depressed woman who tried to commit suicide. 

Today, I cry for the woman who might have been - and the woman I might have learned so much from - if her life had not been cut short.  She was a talented baker, quilter, seamstress and gardener.  She taught me to fill bobbins for her treadle sewing machine, and thread the tiny quilting needles for her.  She taught me to love music.  And to always wear clean underwear.  I know I could have learned so much more.  Every needle I thread reminds me of her.

I have not done any sewing lately.  I have been knitting - a lot - which I learned to do in my teens and twenties.  It's very calming - therapy, even. 

This is not here in a public forum for any reason other than I want to put this into words - so I can remember her - not for the temper tantrums she threw at the beginning of her illness - but for the love and care she gave me for as long as she was able.