Writing Your Mother’s Obituary

     You do it, because you don’t want anyone else to do it. After all, she was your mother. It’s a strange way of holding on. You once were the newspaper columnist, and every one expects it. After all, who else should do it?
It all happens so fast. Between then and there, you have about 45 minutes and change to madly write, trying to think what she would have wanted mentioned, what others in the family would find meaningful. Trying to get it “right.” The paper has deadlines; and they don’t wait. Just a few hours ago, she was breathing. A few days before, she was traveling in her beloved Europe. A few hours after that last breath, you are at the dreaded funeral home. You’ve called the church. The date is cleared. You’re ordering flowers, trying to think, when all you really can do is feel the most impossible Jackson Pollack of feelings.
Two weeks ago my mother Fran Tomlinson Beard died after open heart surgery in what was a complete shock to my family and me.

Anyone who has a mother who is 79 years old has considered the possibility. You learn possibility and reality are two different states of being. The doctors affirmed up and until the last few hours that she would make it. They were mistaken.
The most amazing thing about it, even two weeks later, is the complexity of feelings. One minute you think, “Hey, I’ve got this handled.” The next minute you are a puddle of tears and despair. Another amazing thing about it is how many people you meet who carry profound and deep sorrow about losing their mothers, or fathers. I haven’t been shy. When someone says, “how are you?” I say, “My mother just died.”

These words have an immediate reaction: Muscles in their faces retract. Skin tones change, and their reddened eyes are filled with moist liquid. They say, “My mother died two years ago (or five years ago, or ten years ago)….I think of her every day.” We both look in one another’s eyes with this incredible recognition of mutual understanding. We smile with our molten eyes and sniffly noses. Complete strangers, our hearts touch. At the grocery store, the laundry counter, the rough and gruff, the indifferent and diffident, all change. Business is stilled. Before, having never lost a parent, I was unconscious to this secret cult of aged orphans.
My mother founded All Aboard Travel Agency almost 40 years ago, and  I find myself stepping up to take over the executive management. Of course, it will never be the same as with her. Fortunately, we have a great office manager and staff. The role holds no immunity.
Last week, I met with Joe Dunnavant, Manager of Worldwide Sales, from the Four Seasons. He said Mother mentored him during the early days of his career. Shaking my hand for the first time, Joe looked into my face.  A wave of recognition hit him.  “Oh, I see Fran in your eyes!”

As much as I’d meant to be calm and cool, blood gushed into my eyes and tears swelled up. In a flash, my tears became his, like two tuning forks. We both looked to the right and down at the ground to regain composure, before we totally lost it. Throughout that first meeting, meant to be gay and upbeat, we only gingerly caught one another’s eye from time to time, lest the electric tear connection reestablish itself.

Like I said, one minute you think, “Hey, I’ve got this handled.” The next minute, not so much.