Not one day goes by that I don’t think about Cleal Shine. Whether it’s just a little snicker about something she did or said, the near-physical pain I feel sometimes when I think of the pain she, herself, was in during her final days on this side life, she crosses my mind.
It’s impossible for me to even look in the mirror without seeing her staring back at me. That worry crease between my eyes is ever-present. This hair…Lord, this hair. There’s…so…much…of…it!! In all honesty, though, I’m proud to have this head of hair because it’s so much like hers, right down to the gray she tried so hard to hide. I refuse to hide mine.
I remember how dementia ravaged her mind and caused her to be so frustrated. Mama was super funny. All her life, she made fun of any- and everybody and most situations. That’s why we didn’t recognize the onset of her dementia immediately. As far back as I could remember, she played around about everything, including remembering stuff so it took us a while to absorb the fact that she really was losing her memory.
It comes to me like it was yesterday that I talked to her shortly after I relocated to the Dallas area, and she couldn’t remember whether or not she’d eaten that morning. She kept saying, “I don’t know if I ate or not.” I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It only got worse.
The first time she didn’t recognize me, I thought my heart would stop beating. I had come in one weekend to handle her household bills and when I unlocked the door, she just stared at me. I asked, “Mama, why are you looking at me like that?” She said, “I’m trying to figure out who you are. Why do you have a key to my house?” It took every fiber of my being not to cry in front of her. I didn’t do it in front of her, but when I got back in my car, I let loose. By the time I made it back to her house, she knew who I was, but I was still shaken.
In the end, I had become numb to the fact that she didn’t recognize me all the time. I was so broken to pieces by her condition overall that I had become numb. I was dealing with the breakup with the man I thought was my soulmate so the summer before I lost her was much harder than any I’ve ever lived though including the summer after my divorce was final.
The funeral remains a blur in my mind. I can’t really say it was a blur because I remember everything about it, but it was surreal. I remember seeing her for the last time in that casket. I had made all the arrangements, including choosing a dress for her and making certain that her hair was styled the way she would have wanted it. The thing that I’ve never told anyone about was my own internal fight at the cemetery.
It had been raining the whole day and my cousin, who officiated the service, asked if we wanted to do the commitment portion of the service that would have been performed at the gravesite inside the church. Since the weather was so bad and her sisters were older, we decided that we’d do that, but several of us went to the cemetery anyway. My ex-husband, Will, Mama’s baby sister and a few others went so that we could see her lowered into the ground.
Since there was no formal commitment, the handlers went about the business of lowering her down so that water wouldn’t get in her grave. That has always bothered me. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis so she was always cold. It was cold and wet that day. I didn’t want to leave my mama at that graveyard. I know she was dead. I know she felt nothing, but in my mind, I was concerned that she was going to be cold. That still bothers me. I know it’s unrealistic, but it bothers me.
I miss her, but I know she’s with me. I can’t wait to see her again.