Defining What Driving is With My Mother
No one in my family will be buried. No one will decay in the earth’s soil. No one will have a designated stone or plot of land. My mother made this clear last night as we drove home from yoga. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, she said as we drove through the humid streets. No child or husband of hers will waste away in the ground. She does not want to visit a grave only to be reminded of our sour limbs and dead hair. Cremation, she justified, is not against Catholic doctrine. I don’t know why she made this clear. I don’t know why she took her eyes off the rode to look at me as she said this. And I don’t want a funeral, she added. Just a small dinner maybe. With immediate family. I nodded my head, accustomed to the sound of these requests. This is what driving with my mother has become: a space to organize and plan our deaths.
Not wanting a funeral was a new request of hers, unique to last night. I thought she wanted one. I thought she wanted Elvis’s rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water to play during the ceremony. There is an entire playlist of songs she has turned up in the car and declared, Play this at my funeral. Well, mom. If there is no funeral, then when will I play these songs? Who will hear them? Who will know that these songs were your request? Before we pulled into the driveway, I pictured my life without her. I pictured myself at a wedding or party with music blaring through the banquet hall. I pictured myself standing on a table, gathering my voice, and announcing that this song was requested by my mother. Everyone’s face would curl with confusion. But if there is no funeral, then I don’t know what else to do.
One time, at a red light, my mother made sure I knew which shoe in her closet contained a diamond necklace and her first wedding ring. She told me which sweaters the shoe is located between. When I asked her why this was important she told me that if anything ever happened to her she wants me to know where to find them. And, since we were on the topic, she told me not to call a priest to her deathbed like we did for our great-grandma. You saw her, she said, you saw her resistance. She didn’t want that. I don’t want that.
A red light or maybe a stop sign later I asked my mom what her plans were for my death. Turning the party planning role onto her was natural, expected even. Her answer was previously thought out and exact as if she had a binder stashed away somewhere containing all the details. A funeral, she answered. A Catholic funeral. And I would find a priest I connect with to say the mass. Her answer shocked me. I asked if I would be buried then as well. She assured me that I too will be cremated despite the traditional ceremony. I was shocked because I thought it was clear that Catholicism no longer held the reigns of my life. I thought it was clear that Sunday obligations no longer clothed me in guilt and self-deprecation. Why would she still have a Catholic funeral for me? Why would she gather our family for a mass? Her answer was simple: You did your time Kelly, and no one can take that away from you. You deserve to marry and die in the Catholic Church. The car went silent. I felt the word deserve throb beneath my temple. How can someone deserve something they do not want? The engine’s low drum seemed to die. Cars drove past us in a muted gust. My mother turned left into a supermarket’s parking lot. We unbuckled and stepped out of the car where there is life. Where there is no planning. Where you are no longer in control of the songs that play or how loud they are heard.
Sometimes, when I am driving alone, and the radio plays a somber piano concerto, I don’t think about funerals or the sadness induced by death. Instead, I quiet my mind and let the piano keys mean nothing but music.
Text © Kelly Burke
By Kelly Burke