September 21, 2011 was a picture perfect first day of autumn here in Connecticut, my mom's adopted home for the last 50 or so years of her life. She'd had a stroke exactly 2 weeks before that the doctor's told us she had no realistic chance of recovering from. On this morning around 10:45 am she started her transition from this life's realm to the next. Nothing to eat or drink for 14 days, in dying as in life, my mama was a tough old bird. Every day except the last day, for those 2 weeks of waiting/watching I'd troop up to hospice and sing, pray, massage her or just nap in the window overlooking L.I. Sound until someone else came up. My heart ached and rejoiced alternately and still does...
My Tootie wanted to be cremated and because she always marched to a different beat we decided on a memorial celebrating her and life as opposed to a traditional funeral service. I'm just not up to blogging her entire service but let's suffice it to say that if you didn't make it no worries - there wouldn't have been anywhere for you to sit. Gwen Busch SANG, the tributes were sincere (her grandson Jonathan's recollection of her saying how she could "hear a rat piss on cotton" caused some of the bishops/pastors in attendance to choke trying to hold in the laughter!) Bishop John Thompson gave a pre-eulogy tribute which ordinarily would have ended everything right then and there EXCEPT my brother Rob KILLED the actual eulogy - "It is well." I've always known but for the uninitiated - that nigga can preach! Yep, I said Nigga!
My tribute to her included a poem and it went a little something like this:
As you all can see from the pictures of my mother she was a beautiful woman, however to my way of thinking she didn't have a particularly beautiful life. Her mother died when she was a young girl and she was on her own by 17 or 18 years old. She raised my sister, brother and I pretty much on her own and always worked to take care of and provide for us - no public assistance or housing - often with some relative living with us in our already small apartments. Yet she never allowed her circumstances to make her bitter or hardened.
My mom developed Alzheimer's dementia and for a time my sister and I and to a lesser extent 2 of my nieces took care of her at home. It was very difficult for me since I was working 2 jobs at the time and in between the jobs I'd go to her house to clean/feed/medicate and spend time with her. I'm sharing this with you all even though I'm still very ashamed of myself but it will give you a glimpse of the type of woman my mother was. I had established a bedtime routine where we would pray together before I'd leave. One night after a particularly hellish day at work I was really weary and just wanted to get home. I asked her what she wanted to pray about and she said, "I don't know, what do you want to pray about? " I was like, "come ON! Not tonight!" I said, "I wish I was dead." My mother looked at me and in a moment of lucidity asked, "Why?" I said "because this is too hard." She said, "I've been through harder than this." I was like "oh man, she's getting ready to drop some knowledge on me and I've got this really brief window to get it before she slips back into la-la land! I said, "Yeah? Like what?!" and then the phone rang. The moment and her answer was lost to me forever. It's taken me to now to realize that was it - she'd been through harder things - and survived and so would I. I wrote this poem for my mom while she was still in hospice as a tribute to her, y'all didn't know I was a poet did ya? I'm gonna ask my man Boom (the organist) to give me a little jazzy something and my baby Brier (the drummer) just follow him please.
"My mom was that rare salty sweet treat - Virginia born beauty with an ironman grip.
Giving YOU her last dime - "we're having pancakes For dinner kids!"
Our humble home an open sanctuary for lost and wayward kin,
Her kitchen a meeting place-coffee shop-literary round table-prayer council-confessional-boxing ring-soul food shack extraordinaire-clear the air-bare your soul forum.
Tough love always on tap, check out her Mimi-whipping rap: "I don't care if it was Shontel, Montel or Do-tell - YOU know better than to let somebody pull my flowers up! Now go somewhere and take a nap!"
Yep, yep a salty sweet treat - working mad hard to make ends meet - with bad knees and bad feet - she'd knee knock her way through the house cleaning and humming a very off key beat. She's been grey, brunette and blonde - with eyes like hers - c'mon - she couldn't go wrong. Never left the continent of this U S of A but was SMART and wise as Tom the consigliere.
She called getting busy the "Humpty Dance" and what was cool to you to her was the "joint!" She loved Helen Baylor, Ron Kenoly, her cousins Butch and Lemuel and her baby boy's preaching and the higher heights her grandchildren and Shayla were reaching.
Whether rocking her shoulders to Stevie in her wheelchair or throwing snappy comebacks to the nurses like she just didn't care - her laugh was infectious, her faith too - this might not make the funeral blog - but Howard K. Hill and Heaven - this one's for YOU!"