What do you wear to your mother’s funeral?
What in the world kind of question is that?
Let me explain.
This month, I mark time. Again. Another year has passed since my mother’s death from metastatic breast cancer on March 6, 2008. It’s been 14 years. Sure, the rawness of the loss has lessened, but the loss remains as does the grief albeit in different shapes and forms these days.
Why do I keep marking time publicly here on the blog year after year?
Because this is the platform I have where I speak candidly about these things. Here, I speak about metastatic breast cancer (and grief) every chance I get. I push back against the “pink current”. I remind anyone who’s “listening” that there are faces and families behind the numbers.
Well, for decades now, 40,000+ women and men have died every year from metastatic breast cancer. In 2022, it’s estimated that 43,780 people (43,250 women and 530 men) will die. The total has not been going in the right direction, though you might think we’d conquered the breast cancer beast based on the pink rah-rah, feel-good stories you mostly hear during October and beyond.
Since my mother died from MBC that day 14 years ago, roughly another 560,000 souls are gone due to the same disease. Another 560,000 families are missing a dear one because of MBC.
This year, to mark time, I’m sharing an edited chapter from my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person. For purposes of this post, I’ve changed the title to, “What do you wear to your mother’s funeral?”
I did this to make a point. That point being, death raises a lot of questions and not that many answers. Some questions are deep and profound and some are as mundane as, what do you wear to your mother’s funeral?
This is one tiny part of my story, and I don’t mean the story from my book. It’s one sliver of my life story that’s forever been impacted by MBC. I don’t share it looking for sympathy.
No, I share it to shine light on how each of those 560,000+ deaths represents another family’s story. Another family’s loss. Another family’s grief. And another daughter (or son) asking, what do you wear to your mother’s funeral?
What do you wear to your mother’s funeral?
Mother’s funeral was on an early day in March. It was a spring-like day, the kind that teases you into believing winter might soon be over, but of course, you know better. It was a day of warm sunshine and puddles everywhere from melting snow, yet the wind still had a cold, biting chill.
I spent the better part of an hour staring into my closet wondering, what do you wear to your mother’s funeral?
What kind of attire is appropriate for a daughter to wear to her mother’s funeral?
I had no idea.
Finally, after much consternation, I decided on black pants and a beige blazer that will now always be remembered as the outfit I wore to Mother’s funeral.
When we arrived in Madelia, we checked into the local motel. It felt odd staying in a motel in the town where my parents’ house was. However, we had decided it would be easier and less crowded if we weren’t all at Dad’s trying to get ready in one bathroom.
We spent the funeral eve gathered at the house with Dad. Susan (my sister) put together a complete meal with three courses even though none of us cared much about eating. We spent most of the evening scavenging through old photos, searching for just the right images to represent the timeline of Mother’s life for display on the memory board we intended to have at the church.
How do you summarize a person’s life with a dozen or so old photos?
On the morning of the funeral, we left for church far too early, but there didn’t seem to be much point in waiting around longer at the house. We were greeted with baskets, overflowing with beautiful flowers, that had been placed at the front of the sanctuary. Mother’s urn was positioned amongst the flowers looking smaller that I expected. I guess a person’s ashes don’t require a very large container.
Months earlier, Mother had told me about her somewhat surprising decision to be cremated. Lutherans don’t typically go that route at least not ones from her generation. Two of her best friends had been a minister and his wife, and the three of them apparently had thoroughly discussed this topic. Since she had their approval along with Dad’s, that was good enough for her.
The church had changed since I went there as a girl. An addition had been added, enlarging the social area, the space you need for feeding people after weddings and funerals. The church women, some of my mother’s best friends, were bustling in the kitchen getting the noon luncheon of sandwiches and various assortments of cake ready.
I wondered how it felt to work at a funeral for one your friends…
As we slowly filed into the sanctuary filling up our allotted number of pews in front of the pulpit, I knew the congregation was looking us over attempting to assess how each of us was holding up. As usual, I was doing the poorest job…
(A portion of the chapter has been edited out here for brevity.)
The March wind felt even colder at the cemetery. Unsure of how long they should stay, people slowly started leaving, carefully avoiding the muddiest spots and patches of snow and ice that remained.
After the church luncheon, we spent the rest of the afternoon back at Dad’s socializing with people who stopped by, one group arranging itself around the dining room table and another group sitting uncomfortably close in the living room. My sisters and I dutifully set out plates full of sandwiches, bars and cookies that no one really seemed interested in eating. No one talked much about Mother, which I found odd–irritating even.
Instead, there was meaningless conversation about unimportant things like the weather, basketball games and food.
The afternoon ended with tired, awkward goodbyes on the front porch. People didn’t know when to leave or what to say when they did.
Death makes things so awkward.
Later, as we made the three-hour drive home to Wisconsin, I thought about a lot of things. I had no idea how I was supposed to carry on without a mother.
One thing I knew for sure was that I had crossed the bridge for good now; there was no going back to my old life, the one in which I had a mother.
Luckily, I brought pieces of her with me to keep forever as treasures of my heart. I was a different person, a motherless daughter and forever changed, but at the same time, still very much my mother’s daughter.
Thank you for reading, “What do you wear to your mother’s funeral?”, helping me mark time again, and supporting my advocacy.
Let me know who you mark time for. I’d love to know.