The Pause On The Side Of The Road

Mom’s memorial is this weekend so tomorrow we leave for Miami: my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, the two cats, and me, packed into two cars for a five or six hour drive across Florida. I’m finally all packed up and am sitting here in the hotel room where I have been staying (with the cats) for the last week and a half, drinking overly sweet hot chocolate and thinking I should really get to bed because t’s an early start tomorrow.

It’s been its own bittersweet respite, this hotel room by a freeway, next to a storage unit space and across from a Best Buy and a Starbucks. I checked in about three hours after I started down grief’s road and spent the whole first day crying on the king-sized bed (for which I was absurdly grateful after two months of sleeping on couches) and coaxing the cats out from behind it. Since then there’s been so much work to do—wrapping things up with hospice, cleaning out the apartment, going to Goodwill, making travel plans, and generally finishing up as much of the business side of death as possible—that I have actively looked forward to the evenings of just sitting here where no one can get me, doing online yoga and watching movies and reading the internet and going to bed early. I have missed privacy, a door I could close and lock.

It’s so hard to concentrate or to remember why I’m here or what I’ve been doing. There is a part of me that thinks it would be all right to just sort of stay here, camping out in this room with my kettle, not having to fold up the bed every morning, running over to my sister’s to do my washing, cooing “Hello good kitties!” when I come back from wherever I’ve been. It’s not so bad. I don’t have to think much.

But it’s almost over now, this pause on the side of the road: we leave tomorrow. We have to, because there is no way we would hold any sort of farewell for my mom anywhere other than the island. I have been telling the cats all day that they are finally going home, that we’re going to find them a new place that they will like much better than this room. I have worried about them these last couple of days as though they were children, fretting about how they will handle the drive—as if I don’t know the answer to that question is ‘by screaming and clawing the entire time–and giving them extra ear scratches and buying them extra treats. In my regular life I have never wanted cats of my own because I know I can’t commit to caring for them, but now I find it impossible to think that tomorrow night we won’t all three go to bed together and that I will have lost yet another connection with her.

Even more impossible is to consider what happens after we get there tomorrow evening. I have never been to a funeral and haven’t the faintest clue of how to behave. A good friend of mine told me the other night on the phone that I just have to remember it’s not for me or about me, which is true enough, but if that’s the case, do I really have to go? Do I really have to be someone who is attending her mother’s memorial? Will I look around for her, wondering why she isn’t there, where she’s gone off to? I didn’t ever really know her in this city–I chose to leave her–so it makes sense that I’m not seeing her around here, but how can I go home to the island and not be with her?

I’m just so tired. Everything is so absurd. It’s time to get into bed—the cats are already there, waiting for me.


  1. I really do think it’s for you, though, for you and your sis and everyone who’s there to remember and farewell your mother. Don’t worry about how to behave. Be yourself. You’ll be fine. There might be a tiny proportion of people there who came for some other reason, but almost everyone will be there to share in loving your mom and mourning her absence. You’re already doing that all the time. So just go, and let yourself be, honey. Love.

  2. I’ve been to a fair few funerals, and I have to say that while it’s hard, it’s also of great comfort to know how many people were touched by someone’s brief moment on this planet.

    Don’t worry about how to get through it — you will do just fine, and it will be a nice memory (as far as possible in this kind of situation) in retrospect.

  3. It is for you, though. It’s for the children, and it will likely feel surreal and miserably uncomfortable — going through motions, theater of the absurd as you already so sagely noticed. It’s okay to check out as you murmur the same thanks over and over.

    I know you can’t imagine having to go to this, but I know too a day will come where you will look back and realize you can’t imagine having missed it. So just do it for that future Chiara, the one who hurts less. You’ll get to there, promise.

  4. I could not stop laughing at my father’s funeral. The whole thing seemed so surreal, and there were so many small, stupid details he would have found ridiculous, and all I wanted to do was turn to him and say, “Can you believe this shit?”

    Grief is so weird. I like to tell people that after I lost my dad, it was as if a glass wall slammed down around me: I could see my life as it was and I could see the dreams I had had for the future, but they were utterly cut off; I was in a new land and I’d have to navigate it while seeing the old one and being unable to ever inhabit it again.

  5. You will get through it, and it’ll be what it’ll be. But remember you have many people such as myself, from all over this wee planet, wrapping you up in hugs right now & when you need it most. Don’t be afraid or worry about how to behave, whatever happens will be. I’ve tried desperately at these times to not cry, or conversely, to feel something rather than numb.. but just being there is all that you’re meant to do. Look forward to giving you a real hug, go easy on yourself xxo

  6. I have been to a lot of funerals. A lot. I’m pretty good at them. I wish I could be there with you and talk you through it like some weirdly social medical procedure. You don’t need me, though, because it’s just about getting together people who thought your mom was swell. You just have to be yourself and let people talk to you and, hopefully, eat cookies that people bring. Or brownies. The brownies were my favorite when my grandfather died. Bless Motel 6 for being a place you can have cats! I hope you’re traveling safely by now. xo

  7. I think it’s just as valid to look at it like it IS for you, too… whatever gets you through it. And you will get through it.

    At my mom’s funeral in July, my best friend whispered “this won’t last forever, and it’s almost over” to me, and she was right, and knowing that helped.

    FWIW, the most overwhelming feeling I had was that my mom wasn’t present at her own funeral. I don’t know where she was (or where she is now), but I knew with 100% certainty that no matter where her physical body was, she herself was not there. I did find that comforting, weirdly.

  8. My thoughts are with you, your sister and anyone who knew and loved your mother.

    My dad died 8 years ago tomorrow (12/6) and it might help you to know that the pain does eventually go away and you (at least I) am left with all the great memories.

    I like to think the my dad is amongst the stars looking down on me and helping me through life.

    Take care of yourself,