The burning obituary

When God wanted to send a message to Moses, he used a burning bush. When my mother wanted to send a message to my sister and me, she sent a burning obituary.  I think it’s fair to say we were more freaked by our sign than Moses ever was by his.

It happened the day of her funeral. We had gone to the funeral home to make sure she looked ok.  Mom had spent a good deal of her last years on earth giving us very specific instructions about how she wanted to look at her funeral.

Among the many specific orders she left was that she wanted to be buried in comfortable shoes, she didn’t want to wear the dress she’d worn to my brother’s second wedding, and her makeup had to be subdued so she didn’t look like a fast and easy woman. I’m not quite sure how any 82 year old lying in a casket can look fast and easy but that was not the point. The point was that we were all scared that if we didn’t get it right, she’d come back to let us know.

My sister-in-law Jay stayed at the house while we went to the funeral home. She lit a candle on the coffee table in the living room and relaxed by reading the obituary that had appeared in the paper that day. She was the first to note, with some amazement, that the paper had gotten my last name right but misspelled my first name.  She left the paper folded to that page next to the candle to show us when we returned.

But commotion took over instead. We had to be dressed and to the church early because family would be arriving from three different states at widely varying times.  Jay and her daughter left as my sister, cousin and I headed to our rooms to change. We heard the door slam once, then heard it open again and then heard one continuous scream of “OHMYGOD OHMYGOD”. We raced to the living room to find Jay running out the front door carrying the newspaper with the burning obituary.

As she opened the door, the wind blew in and blew the burning page in the air and down onto my sister Judy’s rug.  Judy grabbed the rug and before I could say, “Don’t open the door”, she did just that. The obituary again flew in the air, this time descended in lazy, curling red ashes all over her Tibetan carpet. My cousin and I ran around in our stockinged feet beating out the little sparks.

After putting out what was left of the blazing newspaper with a garden hose, we reconvened to discuss the meaning of what had happened. Clearly we’d done something wrong and mom was sending a message from beyond. It hit us all at once. We’d forgotten to put her glasses on. I think we broke records making it to her house to get her glasses and put them on before people started filing into church My mother was quite a character. She died at 82 while packing for a three-week trip to Italy.  She died in her own home, in her own bed. She died with a closet full of new traveling clothes and shoes, a head of coifed hair, immaculate nail polish and a really bad new passport photo.  She went out with class.

I expect she hasn’t gone so far that she can’t come back as needed to keep her kids on the straight and narrow.  It was her primary mission in life and the one chore she didn’t ever feel she’d quite completed.

So for what I guess is the last time I get to say this to her – I promise to make my bed every day. Honest.