When I read the inside cover’s summary, I knew this might be a difficult read as it dealt with memory loss and death. Both are very emotionally sensitive to me right now.
Backman’s books have a unique way of telling a story with an efficient use of words. This novella is the dialogue between a grandfather, whose memory and health are failing, and his son and grandson. It parallels the experience I had been going through with my mom as her memory started to ebb about a year ago. She told me she just couldn’t read anymore because she couldn’t keep track of the story line and characters. This was a big loss to her as she loved to read late into the night or early into the morning.
Sometimes while we were out for a ride, she would ask me repeatedly what day it was. I tried to not get frustrated with her loss of memory. What she did remember were lots of things about her growing-up years, her parents’ bakery and trips she took with them. She told me about her school days, her school friends and the jobs she worked after high school. Those memories were as clear as a bell as she told them. However, a few days later, if I asked her about them, she wouldn’t remember what she had told me.
As her memory and her body started to fail her, I realized that there would not be anyone else who could share this family history with me. Now it was mine to share with our family. My brother did not have the opportunity to hear these stories firsthand, so I have to be sure when we spend time together that I preserve her memories by passing them on to him.
My article last month went to print on the day my mother died. The realization of that day took my breath away. At that time, Mom was receiving hospice care and I knew she was close to the end of her journey, but to have these two things happen simultaneously, well, that was really something. My article dealt with having to put a parent into a nursing home and all the ins and outs of that process. With the passing of my mom that day, I now was in the next step of this life-cycle process, seeing to her funeral.
Even though we had prearranged her funeral several years ago, there still were things to do. Sytsema Funeral Home here in Grand Haven was a great help. They walked me through all that remained to be done: choosing the date for the funeral, writing the obituary, ordering flowers, picking out the music, choosing all the printables and then laying out how the funeral service would go. It all came together nicely and reflected the beautiful and loving matriarch of our family.
Family and friends attended the funeral service, and that was a great comfort to me. During the service and lunch afterward, we all reflected on memories of mom and the kind of person she was. Spunky, strong, intelligent, fashionable, friendly and the matriarch we kindly referred to as “The Queen Mum.” This came from her appearance at my son’s wedding all decked out in a beautiful outfit topped off by a stunning hat that would have had the royals nodding with approval. In fact, this is the picture of her we used for her obituary.
As soon as mom was buried, I knew that soon I would be facing the first Mother’s Day without her. I felt an urgency to get a flower urn out to the cemetery so I could put flowers in it for her for Mother’s Day. When I went shopping for an urn, I was trying to match up one to the one on my father’s side of the headstone. I’m a symmetrical person. I like the balance found in symmetry.
But, as I was looking, I spotted an angel statue with a flower basket on her back.
I loved it! I thought it was sweet, but struggled with having the two sides of the headstone be different. So, I left after taking a photo of it and sent it to my brother and his wife for their opinions. They loved it, too! So I called back to the Grand Haven Garden House and had them hold it for me, fearful it was the only one they had, and it was.
The day before Mother’s Day, I carried the statue and a beautiful flower plant out to my mom’s grave. Perfect! The angel made the perfect statement that our mom was a special and unique person.
Now the role of matriarch of the family passes down to me. My mother set a high standard. I hope I can live up to it. Time will tell.
— By Janice R. Beuschel, Tribune community columnist