Thursday, March 20, 2008


Comin’ in from “The Edge…”
Mama Mia…R.I.P.

When I started writing this column, I said that the topics I’d be covering included the challenges of care-taking an aging parent, something that a lot of baby-boomers are either going through right now, or will very soon be going through.

Well, with Mom’s passing, that “challenge” is now over. But it has been replaced by a new one…grieving.

It’s been a little over a week since Mom’s death and, so far, my sister and I seem to be doing okay. Mom is now (“ashes to ashes, dust to dust”) in a three-pound, wooden box which we sit in her favorite chair (in front of the television) during the day, and tuck into her bed at night. Eventually, her ashes will be placed alongside my Dad’s in a columbarium back in Chicago, but for right now, we find keeping her cremains close to us in a “business as usual” fashion very comforting.

As illustrated by the following story, I have also found comfort in (even on the subject of death) maintaining my sense of humor, a quality I certainly inherited from both my parents…

Even though Mom was being cremated, we still had to find a funeral home, select a casket and schedule a viewing. Anyone familiar with the death/funeral scenes in the movies Kingdom Come, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Little Miss Sunshine or Weekend at Bernie’s should be able to wrap their minds around what happened next – except this isn’t fiction…

Mom was born and raised in Greenville, Mississippi, and my sister specifically wanted a “down home,” black-owned, “family” funeral home. Having lived in New York for less than a year, we didn’t know of any, so she asked a neighbor, who got a recommendation from a cousin.

Kathy was pleased with the price (thinking that maybe we were getting the “good neighbor” discount) and trusted the neighbor’s judgment (after all, we live in a very nice, upper-middle class area) so, sight-unseen, she booked the place and scheduled them to pick up Mom's body the next day. That morning, I suggested that maybe we should drive by the place, first, to check it out....

Turns out it was in an "iffy" neighborhood in Queens, twenty or so miles from the house. Even with Mapquest and a GPS, it took us almost an hour to find it. When we finally got to the right street, we saw a Funeral Home sign on a place that looked fairly suitable and we were relieved. Turns out, that wasn't the place. Driving down to the next block we saw another F.H. sign with peeling paint, bars on the windows, and a circa 1985 hearse parked under a carport... that was the place!!!!


When she was alive, my mom would never have been “caught dead in a place like this,” metaphorically. So, I damn sure wasn’t about to now let it happen to her literally !

Not knowing whether they had already picked up my mom's body, Kathy drove back to the other funeral home to check it out while I went inside the one we'd booked to see if (gulp) Mom was already there...

I had to be buzzed in , which pretty much confirmed my suspicions that the funeral home was a "front" for some other -- possibly illegal -- activities going on inside. I was let in to a muddy brown-paneled "lobby" where I was met by two young funeral home "assistants" dressed in jeans and t-shirts!!! I explained that I was Mentha Berry's daughter and asked if my mother's body had been delivered which point a door opened and a guy who looked like a cross between the hefty BET comic, Bruce Bruce, and Al Sharpton walked out, dressed in a "Harlem Knights" suit, bright yellow tie and wide-brimmed "pimp" hat.


I gave some lame excuse about needing to know when we had to bring the clothes Mom was to be dressed in. When told that Mom was scheduled to be picked up that afternoon (it was now almost 3 pm), I politely said "thank you" and hauled ass outa there, running up the street (to get my sister to call the hospital and tell them not to release the body!!!) so fast that I almost knocked over the midget loitering outside. (Okay, “midget” may not be a “politically correct” term, but trust me, this guy would have chafed at being called a “little person” – with any reference made to anything about him being “little,” considered an affront to his “manhood.”

He gave me a scathing look...I apologized and kept running. My brother-in-law, who was parked outside the other funeral home, said I was running so fast all he could see was hair flying in the wind like Medusa.

I was panting when I got to the other place, and the funeral director offered me a chair and asked if I needed a glass of water. He was so soft spoken and polite that I was almost able to overlook his Steve Harvey circa 1998 attire.

When Kathy and I explained our dilemma, he said he would be happy to have the service at his establishment but insisted that we call the other funeral home first and tell them that this was our decision and that he wasn’t trying to steal his clients.

I then asked if I could have a private moment with my sister. When he stepped out of the room I said:

“Look, you only talked to these people on the phone, but they’ve seen my face , and if the midget tells them how he saw me run out of there and up the street to this place, they might hold me personally responsible for their loss of income. And they already know what time the service is scheduled for…and they might be waiting for me to show up. I don’t want to come back here on Wednesday and end up in the casket with Mama!”

When the funeral director came back in, we thanked him and said we wanted to check a few places closer to home, first, and would get back to him. Quite frankly, I think he was relieved. He didn’t want to end up in a casket with Mama either!!!

Cut to the chase…We regrouped and found a beautiful funeral home just three minutes from the house. Our funeral director was a lovely young Hispanic woman who looked like she could be a member of our family. She was kind and compassionate and very sensitive to our circumstance.

It was an Irish-Italian owned funeral home. However, mom’s dad, Robert Adams was a 6-foot, 5-inch Irishman (to give equal recognition, grandma was a 5-foot, two-inch, black woman named Annie Pollard). So, since Mom is half-Irish…and this was a half-Irish owned funeral home…that sufficed as “down-home, family” enough for me.

After leaving the place, we went to a restaurant up the street to grab something to eat. Not five seconds after being seated, “Knocking on Heaven's Door” starts playing on their sound system. We all looked at each other…it was a sign!

Mom was at peace.

Happy belated St Patrick’s Day!
XO, Mariann
PS - After the service, Kathy mentioned the first place to another neighbor who said that I was right to have been concerned. She’d heard of the place in reference to funerals resulting from gang-related murders being held there. The reason people had to be buzzed into the place, she said, was to keep rival gang members out to avoid shoot-outs at the funeral !

By the way, did I mention, that the “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” (written by Bob Dylan) playing at the restaurant was the Gun’s and Roses version?!

Obviously, even in the after-life, Mom hasn’t lost her sense of humor…and, the rejected funeral home notwithstanding, she still managed to go out with a bang !


1 comment:

TampAGS said...

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