I remember the disturbing silence of my mother’s electric lungs. The whoosh of the machine that supplied oxygen to her had been quieted. She lay motionless, her eyes closed, the oxygen tubing pushed away. She’d never breathe again.
The muffled voices of a hospice nurse and my husband droned in the kitchen. A hush settled around me and the shell that had held my mother’s soul. My link to her. As I sat by her bedside in the middle of the living room, it was as if I was alone on a planet, a solitary citizen standing at the beginning of creation. Or, rather, at the end of it. The world as I had known it was gone.
I gazed into her face for long moments and then pulled the sheet over her head. Our long talks, our shared laughs – the beautiful, living noise of the house – would never be again.
Christmas at a July Funeral
It was a steamy southern July, but I decided that we’d sing Silent Night at her funeral. Perhaps an odd selection, but in the whirl of grief, I grasped to remember what songs she loved. At the service, the lyrics were transformed in my mind. Instead of singing of a night in Bethlehem, we sang of the night that my mother died in her sleep, in the home where I’d grown up, with a hired aide.
Peace for her. Pain for me.
From then on, the popular Christmas carol that turned 200 years old this year was forever marked as a song of mourning, a consequence I had not intended. Silent Night was perhaps destined to prick my grief anyway. For those who have lost a loved one, Christmas music often triggers sad nostalgia – or outright incidents of wailing. With carols piped into shopping malls, commandeered for commercials and fitted into festive parties and events, the grieving cannot possibly escape.
What is one to do? I’ve dissolved into tears in front of my stereo at home, stopped cold as music drifted into the grocery aisles, and changed the radio station as though I was braking to avoid a pedestrian in the street. As my grief has aged, though, I’ve found myself turning up the music and singing along. In my head, my mother is singing Silver Bells again, or Merry Christmas to You, commonly subtitled Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Funny, I never realized how beautiful my mother’s voice was until I couldn’t hear it anymore.