I’m planning my mom’s memorial. It’s happening on Saturday. She died three months ago, and for those three months, I’ve been swimming in grief limbo. This postponement has been an emotional cheat, really. Because I’m still conducting this last business of her life, I can pretend she’s not really gone. I can hear her voice in my ear every time I make a new decision, from the font on the programs to the guest list to the music.
That’s the upside. The downside is actually orchestrating the damn thing. You see, she is a lapsed Catholic who married a Jew. She was completely non-religious. But in organizing her celebration of life, I find myself longing for some kind of traditional parameters. In both faiths, people are buried quickly. Mourning adopts a ritual and a structure. And then, well, it’s all over and you can curl up in bed.
My mom made her wishes clear when she was dying: She didn’t want any fuss—“no hullabaloo,” as she put it. She wanted to be cremated. She wanted some of her ashes sprinkled at Mother’s Beach in Kennebunk, Maine. As for the rest? Well, we were left to go rogue.
Sure, in some ways, it’s nice to be able to design our own memorial service. I can choose music she would have liked, pick foods she enjoyed, invite those closest to her. That’s exactly the downside, too: Not only am I grieving my mom, I’m planning what feels like a wedding while also working and sending my kids back to school. Is the caterer going to package the food properly? Did everyone see my Paperless Post invite, and why does someone keep clicking on it but not responding? What if the tent is too small? What if it rains? What if the mums wilt? What if the linens look tacky? What if everyone forgets to show up? What if my kids’ blazers make them look like miniature Pee-wee Hermans?
It’s also very surreal to channel the amorphous enormity of grief into such banal decisions. Party platters or baskets? Folded programs or flat? 2 p.m. start or 3 p.m.? Oh, who cares, I want to say. My mom is dead! Does anything else really matter here?
In more rational moments, I know everything will go just fine. The tent will get delivered. Guests will show up. They will eat. The programs will not blow away. Swifty’s will resize her obituary, and it will sit regally on the easel my friend ordered on Amazon, which will definitely arrive on time because they’re always prompt, right? My mother’s ashes will not reanimate, come to life and slap me for choosing Italian subs instead of Reubens. The whole affair might even be—dare I say it?—festive and relaxed.
I’m trying to keep my eyes on that: It’s not about the sandwiches or the serving platters. It’s about her. I deserve to breathe, to wallow a little, to remember her and to let things unfold as they may. And as much as I wish I had religion to dictate what to do, the truth is: What I really wish I had was my mom.