Exit lullaby and words to live by
Beneath the midday sun the pallbearers removed their white gloves, formed a cross with them on the lid of the coffin and laid their rose boutonnieres over them. The men from the funeral home lowered my cousin’s remains into her grave, then one of them lifted a shovel full of soil. Her mother stepped forward and pinched a fist of earth to toss over her daughter’s resting place in farewell. Then to my amazement, my aunt lifted her voice and sang. Loud, clear, without a quaver, she sang. I don’t recall a single word of the song. I was too overcome with emotion at the realization that my aunt had sung her daughter into the world as an infant, and now, under the New Mexico sun, she offered a song by which her baby could exit the world.
A mother’s strength amazes me. Having survived her youngest child, my aunt was able to sing at the funeral, then say to those of us gathered there, “I love all of you. Take care of one another, for you see,” — and by this, I took her to mean the cemetery and graves spread before us — “where we all end up?”
I don’t pretend to understand how my aunt was able to do this. For one thing, I am less strong. Additionally, I don’t have kids, so the loss of a child is incomprehensible to me on every level. But I do think that is something I would never have the strength to endure. There are other losses in my life, of course. As I write this, my mother is sitting on the couch cutting junk mail into tiny strips of paper, being a human shredder, if you will. She doesn’t want to talk to me, doesn’t want to go out for a walk. She wants to sit with her scissors and cut paper, something she would do for hours on end if we didn’t redirect her, entice her into that walk, into that ride to the grocery store. In many ways, I have lost her companionship and her wisdom. At the cemetery I mentioned to my sister that if Mom were well she would have been a source of comfort today. Which is undoubtedly true.
But it’s also true that my aunt was tapping her innermost resources to do what mothers have done through the ages for their children. She was drawing us all to her bosom and offering her love and comfort — something that, in my mother’s increasing absence, I will accept. But more than that, my aunt was offering us words to live by: “Take care of one another, for you see where we all end up?”