Trigger warning: The following piece contains detailed description of death, alcoholism, suicide and child abuse. This is a true personal story.
When I went to identify my mother’s body in the funeral home I opened the sealed envelope that contained her autopsy report. She was found at 9:09 a.m., November 15th, 2007. It was her birthday.
Her name was Patricia Ann and she was forty-nine years old. She was found in bed holding a picture of me with her left hand; reaching for the phone on her nightstand with her right. Her long hair was matted from having vomited as she lay on her side. Nostrils, right and left were crusted with blood. She was found to be wearing pink undergarments and a flowered nightgown. Her nails were clean and painted but had her own skin under them. There were no signs of struggle, but three long scratch marks on her cheek they say are evidence of seizure activity.
Eleven gallon jugs were found in her room. Two next to her bed with lemonade and vodka in them. The investigator noted the pungent smell of alcohol in the room. He described it as inescapable in almost every corner except for her dresser where she kept her perfumes. In the process of her body letting go, she had soiled her sheets and on the floor were empty bottles of Xanax and paroxetine. Next to her in bed was a blister pack of an antihistamine; emptied of the twelve tablets it had contained. Cause of death they stated: suicide with liver cirrhosis as a secondary comorbid factor.
White knuckled and clutching the autopsy report I rocked in my seat with my eyes closed. I was numb head to toe. My insides began to churn and the only thing I could do to stay off the floor was to recite the only passage from the bible I’d remembered since I was a little girl,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
There was only one time before this that I’d said it aloud; to my father as he lay near death while in the hospital. He wanted nothing to do with priests providing him his last rights.
Looking at my mother now in this small dark room that passage took on new meaning for me. I wouldn’t have to cry anymore waiting for an apology that would never come. I wouldn’t have to wonder why she hated me. I wouldn’t have to hear her tell me again how my being born was a mistake.
There were no fairytales here.
I wasn’t one of those girls losing her best friend, the family wasn’t losing their matriarch and I wasn’t going to spend the next ten years remembering her on the anniversary of her death. There were no shopping trips to remember, no late-night talks, and there wouldn’t be a hole in my life without her daily calls. We hardly spoke and yet somehow laying her to rest was my responsibility.
I resented her.
Even in death I was still picking up the messes she left in her wake.
In that moment, the cloud of anger cleared and gave me complete clarity, and I tried to leave the room but the door wouldn’t open. Twisting the knobs didn’t work because somehow, they’d locked the preparation room accidentally.
I turned and walked towards her till my fingertips were resting on the satin of her casket. It felt cold and slick against my skin. I didn’t pity her. I didn’t wish I could hear her voice one more time. All I could think about was that the monster under my bed was finally gone.
As I stood there I studied the threads and colors in the wool suit they chose for her. The buttons were shiny, and her fingers were interlocked on her lower stomach. Her hair was pulled so tightly into a bun it had caused the corners of her mouth to turn up into a smile. It reminded me of the same smile that would come across her face before she’d unleash a tirade when I was little. The jewelry that meant so much to her in life was neatly placed on two of her fingers. One of the rings my father had sold some of his prized possessions to get for her.
I wanted to pry it off her cold dead finger.
All at once the anger quieted inside me. The reality that her chest wasn’t rising and falling caused the breath to catch in my own. A rich mixture of lilies and dust fought in the air with the musk of her favorite perfume. It was all around me as the ventilation system kicked on and so I closed my eyes once again, inhaling deeply to steady myself…