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Egan: On death, holding tight and learning to let go

I put my mother in the ground on Saturday, my very own mother, in the cold, cold ground.

Hated to do it, Ma, but it’s what sons and daughters have always done, a time-honoured practice from our ancestors, who passed down some truly miserable customs.

You lie with Dad now, in the same plot, ashes with ashes. It is written in stone, right there in rose granite, with the dates and names. It can’t ever be changed now, Ma. You’re in the ground, for a long spell. I guess they call it forever.

It should not have fallen to me, but the two older ones had moved away. So your softest-born had to sign the papers and arrange for the limo and the priest, and gather the kin and leave the dying rose by the gash in the earth, and hand Father the envelope with a little money for his troubles. I hope the 100 was enough. Your final resting place was well and squarely dug, by some nameless one who shall never be forgiven.

An act of hope, the priest called it, as the urn went in the ground, which was then lashed with holy water. But I hated it, Ma, hated to do it, with all my heart.

After all you did for me. Gave me life, kept me warm and safe, dried my tears, put nickels in my birthday cake, rubbed my hair, which was your beautiful hair, softened Dad’s rage, taught me about the better thing that is tomorrow, and so many other things only we will ever know. You were my mother.

Doreen Egan, mother of Kelly Egan, died Oct. 6, 2016, age 85. Family photo / .

You forgave so much, stopped to help all those wounded birds. You sang to honour God on Sundays, you sang beautifully, you were the hallelujah and the amen.

You gave me this mushy heart, all I got some days. And I turned around and put you in the ground on a bleak November day, when no bird sang and no tree rustled with leaves, the frost having just murdered everything, the snow shrouded the face of the earth, a white sheet in a morgue.

I once met a man named Mike, who every Sunday went to visit his wife’s remains in a mausoleum, a couple of rows up. Needed a ladder to reach way up on the marble, to her spot, which he touched tenderly, even years after she was gone.

Married 62 years, he missed her in the worst way. “I just couldn’t put her in the God-damned ground,” he said, of her hard, polished, indoor home. It sounded foolish then. It doesn’t now.

Since the last breath three years ago, Ma, and I know you suffered, I had the paperwork to fiddle with and meetings with the bankers and lawyers in glass towers. And a briefcase grew with sheets and ledgers, the briefcase that held your wallet, which I took out from time to time, just to hold. You had an after-life. You weren’t gone just yet. How could you be, with all these little things to do, month after month, all the little jobs I had to do for you?

But now there’s nothing more and you aren’t going on someone’s mantle or into a gold box on a warm wall inside, or into a stone house with columns, or be spread and tossed in some favourite place. You went in the ground.

One day, I may be beside you. Someone may stand over us, and weep, and wonder, funny how all the love in the world couldn’t save them? This is where it got them, a spot in the ground.

You only die once, Ma, thank Christ. But every day after is learning to let go. Maybe that’s the part I hate most. After all that holding on, it’s the letting go.

That’s why I lit all those candles. So a light would keep burning even after I went away, just a little light in the dark, a light that was you.

It’s all I got now, Ma. You’re in the ground. But not buried. Please don’t think I buried you. No way on God’s earth I’m ever doing that, no way in heaven or hell. There is just no way, ever.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or email kegan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

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