“Don’t Show My Body”: A Story Reveals Mother’s Character

by Memoir Mentor on February 21, 2010

My spring classes have begun at Santiago Canyon College, and once again I am posting noteworthy student stories on my blog. This week’s story Linda Mocomes from Linda Missouri, who has attended my classes for several years. (Pictured, left, in photo). I admire this story for the creative way she reveals her mother’s character and relationship with her family through a variety of literary techniques: scene, flashback, dialogue, and more. Note how well Linda anchors this story in the era it occurred, reflecting attitudes of the day about women and religion. Read on, and see for yourself…


Don’t Show My Body
by Linda Lacey Missouri

“Don’t let anyone see my body when I’m gone.” Mom’s frail but insistent words seared me with her authoritative command.  I took Dad’s arm and we stepped away from Mom’s hospital bed. I repeated Mom’s edict so Dad could hear her words. “Mom said, ‘DO NOT, under any circumstances, have a public viewing after I’m gone.’ What do you make of that, Dad?”

Dad shook his head in the negative. “Well, I never….” Yet, his smile confused me.  “If that’s what Willie wants, that’s what she’ll get.”  At this desperate time, Dad would say anything to agree with his beloved. He had a history of placating his wife. He wasn’t about to create a fuss now, just days before their 58th anniversary.

Mom’s request surprised me. How about all the times Mom wanted to show her face—those perfect eyebrows that I never saw her pluck. Did nature alone give each brow such a precise domed curvature? Starting before I could remember, Mom took weekly trips to Rosie’s beauty parlor, getting free advice from movie magazines and from Rosie.  While they gabbed, Rosie put a stylish curl in Mom’s black sturdy hair and on occasion, dyed the grey.  Rosie and Mom discussed the news of the day. They debated Dr. Spock’s modern message that picking up infants when they cried would not spoil them. They grieved at the headlines of Charles Lindbergh’s stolen baby.

Mom had agreed to marry my dad on two conditions—first, she could hire a maid each week. Clara from Sweden kept the downstairs in perfect order in case neighbors rang the doorbell without phoning. Second, Mom could visit the beauty parlor once a week where Rosie kept Mom’s hair (and maybe her eyebrows, too) in perfect order.

The voice from Mary, the ICU nurse, shocked me out of my reverie.

“Mrs. Lacey has a visitor. May I show her in?”

Mom quickly jerked her oxygen mask to speak. “Who is it?”   

“The minister from your church.”

“Which one?”

“It’s a lady.”  Mom’s eyes narrowed as she shook her head. “Go away. I didn’t invite her. She can’t come in.” 

“Why not, Mama,” I interceded. I knew how much the church meant to Mom, and I wanted a miracle recovery for her. I didn’t want a minister to turn against my mom at this critical stage. Though I was embarrassed, I tried to stay calm. “Why don’t you want to see her? She’s from your church, St. Mark’s Methodist. ”

“I just don’t.” When Mom squinted her eyes at me, I knew her side of this conversation was over. But I needed to continue.

 “Mom, she came all this way just to see you. I don’t want to send her away.”

“I don’t want her to see me,” she yelled. I felt my face flush, yet I kept going.  

 “Why, Mom?” I pleaded. “She just wants to pray with you. She cares for you.”

“If she sees me, she’ll go back and tell others at church how awful I look lying here in the hospital bed. I can’t let that happen.”

And so, the nameless reverend woman who ministers to the dying got turned away by my mother’s vanity.

I had a mixed reaction. In one sense, I felt proud of Mom for knowing her own mind and for not letting a stranger invade her inner sanctum when she was hooked up to every drip and tube. Mom’s pride, much like a mother lion protecting her cubs, was now protecting herself.  I understood her need for privacy. But, I also knew how much Mom’s physical body needed healing and I wished she’d let the minister meet with her.  I prayed for clarity of this confusing situation. I wanted a miracle.

I probed further. “The church means so much to you.  Don’t you want this minister to pray with you?”

“I hardly know her,” Mom struggled through her quivering voice. “She’s not the real minister. Dr. Shelby is the one I care about. He should have come, not her.” Mom paused, motioned for me to lean closer, out of range of the nurse. “And she’s a woman,” Mom whispered. “How could she really help me?”

 I jerked involuntarily when I heard Mom’s stunning announcement. Her faucet of core beliefs was dripping into my ear.  Mom was telling me a woman doesn’t have the same status as a man, at least in her religious world and maybe elsewhere. And someone she doesn’t trust can’t just make an appearance now and expect to see her caught lying down, helpless, without her daily cold cream and puff of rouge, without her flashy smile and carefully crafted outfits, without her daily dose of her favorite perfume, Windsong, and without her ability to greet a guest properly.

I took Mom’s fragile hand.  Mom had not yet told me to go away. I breathed a sigh of relief. She was letting me see her this way, humbled and scared, without her props and properness. She let me be close to her now, even if a lifetime as mother and daughter had often left me afraid to speak my mind. I certainly didn’t want her to send me away from her bedside, now. I took a deep breath to hold back my tears. Mom thought tears were messy and lacked a certain control and discipline.

Three days later, on September 20, 1985, my mother died. She waited until Dad and I were away from her bedside. I like to think she needed her privacy in order to leave us behind.

When we had Mom’s funeral, we had a closed casket, honoring Mom’s wish not to show her body.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wendy Pfaff February 23, 2010 at 7:23 am

Wow, Aunt Linda. Your writing is amazing. It makes me feel as if I were there at that very moment in time. Some of these things I didn’t realize about grandma but fall into place and make more sense after reading your piece. I’m glad you wrote this. I hope you write more:)

2 Nancy Caslick February 23, 2010 at 10:29 am

Linda, Thank you for asking me to share your memory. I feel that I know both you and your mom in a deeper way than I did before reading about this emotional time for you. I love the image of “a faucet of core beliefs.” I can totally relate to your mom not wanting anyone to see her in the hospital, for I have thought of that myself. Possibly one place I went wrong in my marriage was in not asking to hire a maid?
I am glad you suggested to look for this website. nancy

3 Richard Lewis February 23, 2010 at 10:56 am

Well, well, you’ve certaintly become a very-fine-writer! CONGRATULATIONS!!
It’s such a compliment to all you put into that has real meaning to you.
My heart heard the controls your mother used and I immediately projected you
and your brother into your early years and sadness raced through me. I clearly
remember your father with grace and generosity and immediately felt gladness.

Thank you for sharing ~~ Love and best wishes always ~ Richard

4 Tracey Fox February 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm

A little jewel box of a story, Linda. I especially liked how you “fleshed” out your Mother, allowing me to join her in her past and certainly during her final days with you and your Dad. I’ve printed it, and am sure I’ll read it again and again. You know how I love to take photographs; well, your story is a photo captured in words!

5 Janet Overholtzer February 24, 2010 at 10:57 am

Oh Linda, how I loved your story of the last days with your mother, What a story teller you sing. A gift. My daughter Lisa is visting for a week and is a writer, I wonder what she might write about me. The last day with my mother we were closer then we had ever been. It was amazing Think of you often,,, love Janet

6 Sherry February 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Oh, Linda, what a joy it was to be able to read some of your writing! You have quite a gift. It was amazing to actually almost be there with you in that moment of time with your folks. In fact, it was better than “being there” because I was able to actually feel what you were feeling. This is truly an impressive example of how a writer can paint a picture and mood with words. Thank you! I hope to see more of your writing in the future. Sherry

7 Martha Sarkissian February 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm

This story deals with tremeoundous issues: the rights of the dying, the rights of the living, family relationships, the life style of women in the forties and the position of women clergymen– and all in only three pages. Your writing always has great depth and layers of meaning. Thank you for doing the hard work to produce it.

8 Willi D. Hill February 24, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Very interesting story. It leaves me yearning to know more, especially more about your relationship with your mother. Yes, “Her faucet of core beliefs was dripping into my ear,” is a wonderful phrase; but, again, it leaves me wanting to know more: Was this the first time she had turned on the “faucet”? Hadn’t you heard her beliefs throughout your life? I’m intrigued by your mother because she is such an unusual person, as you are. Keep on writing, LInda. You’ve got a lot to tell us.
Was your mother’s name really Willie? Mine was Willie before I dropped the “e”.
Willi

9 Susan Lacey February 24, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Wow Linda!
Thanks for allowing us to share this family memory. I felt like I was right there with you at the hospital. You have a gift for memories and writing. I enjoyed it.
Susan

10 Brandt Lacey February 25, 2010 at 12:15 am

Linda,
I had the great fortune to know your mom and dad a little. I was young when I was last around them, but what an impression they made. When you wrote about the look Aunt Willie (your mom) gave you, I had to smile. It was easy for me, as a young boy to know when I had come to that point with her. And there was no doubt to anyone when she had reached that point of “I’m through with this area, or task, subject, etc”. She was and still is a great lady. Everything you described in this story I could clearly see Aunt Willie doing! Thanks for sharing this clear and vibrant set of events. Brandt

11 Charmaine Pack February 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Dear Linda, Thank you for sharing your story about your Mom with me. It touched me deeply. Especially because it allowed me to learn about your Mom & Dad, and more about your experience being a daughter. I so agreed with the other poignant comments shared, including wanting to know more…
I love you dear friend. Charmaine

12 elizabeth Preston February 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

comment about Linda Missouri story:
Thank you Dear Linda. I appreciate this look into your story. My Mother, too passed on after all had left her bedside, unlike your Mother, mine did welcome all into visit her. I always thought she wanted to be alone with her higher self and God. She knew Dad would be taken care of and that her task, moving into a senior community and instigating hospice care for him, was finished, she was exhausted. That’s how I like to look at it.

Thank you for sharing your constant inward glances of self and experiences. I am working on embracing my grief and loss as food for understanding love and expressing tenderness as a normal part of my life rather than feeling shame. Thank you Dear One.

Beth

13 elizabeth Preston February 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm

comment about Linda Missouri story:
Thank you Dear Linda. I appreciate this look into your story. My Mother also passed on after all had left her bedside. Unlike your Mother, mine did welcome all into visit her. I always thought she wanted to be alone with her higher self and God. She knew Dad would be taken care of and that her task, moving into a senior community and instigating hospice care for him, was finished, she was exhausted. That’s how I like to look at it.

Thank you for sharing your constant inward glances of self and experiences. I am working on embracing my grief and loss as food for understanding love and expressing tenderness as a normal part of my life rather than feeling shame. Thank you Dear One.

Beth

14 Martha Franco February 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Thanks for been an inspiration to all of us new (semi-new)students.
Love your story, Martha Franco

15 Lydia Davis February 28, 2010 at 11:10 am

Linda, Your writing about your Mother opened a window on your life for me. I saw
you as a young daughter observing your Mother and later as an adult seeing
your Mother as a person who was fearful of being seen. Although I never had the pleasureof meeting your Mother you have spoken of her many times. Your
writing helped me to understand how it was for you to be Willie’s daughter.

Your Mother’s comment about the Minister being a woman…”How could she
really help?”, reminded me of how often as women we undermine the feminine.

Thank you for sharing the gift of your story.

16 Mary Franz March 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Thank you, Linda! Your story took me in, close up and personal to a vulnerable, intimate, sacred time of passage for your mother in which you were among her chosen few to be present with her for. I could really feel her era and character, and I admire the respectful place you were able to hold even in the face of her cold faucet. Unlike her, I love your tears, even if they are messy! They are a conduit, or expression, of your tender, loving heart.
Your writing is a gift – thank you for sharing it!

17 Betty Nelson March 11, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Linda,,
I appreciate how difficult it is to put emotions in writing, especially when they are wrapped around someone close to you facing such a traumatic event. You revealed a lot about your mother and her relationship with others including you and your dad.You also let us see into your feelings too. Thank you for sharing with us.

18 Barb Webster August 22, 2010 at 10:09 am

I was so glad to read your deeply personal story about your mother, especially since I had the privilege of knowing her when you and I were grade schoolers and strumming ukuleles together at your house – I do remember her black hair! Martha, my mother, had so many of the same qualities – vanity, not giving females credit if they were in a typically male position, having a maid to keep things “perfect” for those who might drop by – while we have moved on to be more tolerant and live a casual lifestyle deep down there is no doubt a litle, or a lot, of Willie and Martha buried in each of us! And hopefully we have learned from them to become who we are today.

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