The Poisoned Ink Well

Saturday, December 07, 2002

For Marie and Renee

If I have to consider the death of my father, then it would be impossible, not to remember the death of my other mother (a lady who helped raise me) due to breast cancer. She died about a month after he passed away. I received the call and news of my father’s death while visiting her daughter, who was my best friend. We were having coffee and her mother was talking to me about the clothes she had chosen to wear for her own funeral. We were shocked, it was so unexpected to hear the news of his demise as we prepared for her death.

My friend was working tirelessly doing all the nursing care for her mother. It was one more cancer death in a family already scarred by their time in the Delta Region with one person after the next dying for what seemed like a death every year. I attended many more funerals than weddings in Louisiana in my youth and I used to keep my wardrobe of dark dresses at the cleaners, always ready for these occasions. (People raised in Louisiana know what I am talking about)

We were both in our early twenties when her mother passed away in 1986. Her Mom was wearing the blue chiffon she had picked out and all of the pink and yellow roses and carnations were arranged exactly the way that she’d asked.

She said it stormed at every family funeral, and I remember during her mother‘s funeral, we were sitting next to each other under the velvet canopy, and we heard a clap of thunder, and then an abrupt down pour began, it was so fast that everyone standing on the outside rushed in at the same time.

She looked at me, with her big brown eyes, and grabbed my arm, and smiled in a tired, half hearted way, and whispered in my ear “ I knew something was wrong and I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I thought that we had forgotten to do something. But that’s what it was. It wasn‘t raining. I’m kind of relieved. We‘ve never had a funeral without rain” I smiled at her and hugged her.

Around us everyone was leaning in and huddled together, in a damp mass.

She lost her father to brain cancer, her mother to breast cancer, one of her grandmother’s to lung cancer, and another grandfather to cancer. They lived next to a canal in the city where they dumped lots of pesticides and chemicals. At one time, there was a City Parish Nursery just across the ditch from them. She lost almost her whole family in ten years time. Already by the age of 11 they had found a benign tumor on her breast.

Now she is busy raising her own four boys, with very little help or support. I think she was trying to replace all of the people she had lost over the years.

Her family would have loved to have helped her, but most of them are situated, quite different, these days. You can find them, anytime, down the block from Cortana mall, on a cozy side street, under some trees, next to a lake, and six feet down.