As I mentioned in my previous post, my mother has been released from prison and is now staying in a community home. Thankfully she is in another state and has no real idea where I am living. As far as she is concerned, my last known address was the house I grew up in, located in Roscoe, Illinois or the apartment I rented when I first moved to Madison, Wisconsin after my grandfather’s passing. Little does she know I am much closer to her than she realizes (two states away). A lot has changed in the last seven years, but unfortunately my cell phone number has not. So when I see an incoming call that says unknown and I receive that same call over and over again with no message left, I have a pretty good inkling that it is my mother.
I have not spoken to my mother since just before my grandfather’s funeral and the conversation was not pleasant. I found out that she had opened a phone in my name and run the bill up to almost $1000.00. When I confronted her about it, she denied everything until I told her that the number listed was the same number I had been calling her on until her phone had been disconnected. For the first time in many years, my mother was speechless, for a minute.
We had just mended our relationship a few years earlier and I really thought she had changed. I am not sure what was more disappointing, that she ripped me off or that she had fooled me once again! Through tears, I told her that I couldn’t do this to myself anymore and that I never wanted to speak to her again. I very harshly told her to ‘go take a hike’ and when her father (my grandfather) passed away a few months later I didn’t even call to tell her. She was on probation in Florida at the time when he took ill and I had told her over and over again that she needed to make arrangements to see him in case he didn’t pull through. Did she? Nope. However, as soon as the word of his passing spread to the family in Florida she was on her way to Illinois as fast as her car could drive her!
She arrived at my grandfather’s house with her cousin (a very dear relative of ours from my grandfather’s side of the family). Her cousin had no idea that she and I had previously had a falling out. She purposely left this information out of the story when she asked him to drive up from Florida with her. He would have been coming up anyway since he and my grandfather were very close, but he never would have agreed to carpooling with her had he known the situation. Several years back, he had allowed her to stay with him upon one of her numerous prison releases and she screwed him over as well. They had made amends given the family ties and he too was under the impression that she had changed. He was about to find out, as I did, that he was very wrong. She had made a sucker out of all of us again.
My mother barely made it to the front door of the house before she was met by my boyfriend at the time, Steve. I was still grieving and he knew the effect she had on me, so he took the initiative and told her she was not welcome there and that she needed to leave. She claimed that she was there to help me make the arrangements for my grandfather’s funeral and that we should put the past behind us during this time of deep despair. Before I was able to chime in and tell her that I had already planned everything without her help, the phone rang. It was Edwina. She was my distant cousin on my grandmother’s side, but she was around the same age as my mother, so I thought of her as more of an aunt. Edwina and most of my grandmother’s side of the family didn’t care for me much because of my mother. I guess they figured whatever fueled my mother’s criminal activity ran in my blood too. It was quite the opposite really and if they had ever taken the time to get to know me that would have been obvious. There are a select few who gave me the chance to be my own person and I am very thankful to have them in my life. They faced a great deal of opposition and cruelty from the others for loving me and standing by me during the “Great Family War of 2012” and words cannot express my gratitude for their support. The story of the war is a story for another day, but you get the point.
Anyway, on this particular day Edwina was actually on my side for a change and was calling to ask if my mother was at the house. You see, my grandparents lived in a very small town and one of my aunts (my grandmother’s eldest sister) lived kiddy corner to them. She saw a mysterious car pull in the driveway and when a man and a woman exited the vehicle she made a call to Edwina to tell her that she thought it may be my mother. After my grandfather’s passing, we were all on high alert. He did not have a great deal of money, but everyone was sure my mother would be banking on an inheritance either way. My grandfather loved her more than life, but he also knew that leaving any money to her would mean giving it to the federal government to cover the enormous number of fines she owed and he could not stand to see any of his hard earned money be confiscated in exchange for his daughter’s wrong doings.
I told Edwina that yes it was my mother. She told me that she would be calling the police and then immediately hung up the phone. Before my mother’s most recent incarceration, she had stolen Edwina’s daughter’s identity and ruined her credit. This not only increased the grudge she had against her, but it caused her to keep in touch with the Federal Court Marshalls to stay abreast of my mother’s legal cases and custody status. It was because of this that she knew my mother still had an outstanding warrant from years ago in Illinois that was never read in to her federal charges. My mother had no more than pulled out of the driveway before she was pulled over and arrested. It was the day before my grandfather’s funeral.
Up until that moment, I had managed to stay strong. I had no choice really. When my grandfather was in the hospital, I had to remain strong for him and after he passed I was immediately thrust in to making the arrangements for his funeral. I was twenty-five years old and I had no idea how to go about any of this. I was still in shock when we met with the funeral director and since it was the same person my grandfather worked with in planning my grandmother’s funeral I told him I wanted the exact same everything. My grandparents had a love much like that of a fairytale, so I knew that he would have only picked out the best for her when she passed. I cared for him with all my heart and I wanted the best for him, so I thought that was the best way to approach the situation.
After the arrangements were made with the funeral home, I still needed to pick out the songs that would play and the pictures that would be displayed. My grandfather was an extremely likable man with a warm heart and a unique sense of humor. There is not a day that goes by that he does not cross my mind at least once. The bond we shared was like none other and the day he died a piece of me died with him. Mine was not the only life he touched and I thought it was extremely important to include as many of his loved ones as possible in the celebration of his life. To do this, I spent the days before the funeral preparing several large poster boards filled with photos from his past. I went through every photo album I could find and created memory collages to display upon entry to the visitation room at the funeral home. I knew that my grandfather did not wish to have an open casket, but the family insisted on it (much as they did when my grandmother passed), so I compromised with a closed casket funeral and an open casket visitation. This seemed to appease everyone, well almost everyone. There were some that I was not able to please no matter what I did.
In putting together the memory boards, I was faced with the decision as to whether or not to include photos of my mother. I knew it would not go over well with the family, but I also knew the no matter what my mother had done over the years, my grandfather loved her dearly and would have wanted her to be included. So I honored what I felt would be his wishes and included as many of her childhood photos that I could find (there were not many, because my mother had found the same albums years ago and removed most of them). Not knowing now whether she would make it to the funeral or not, I was glad I made the choice that I did. Regardless of where she stood with everyone else, I felt that it was still important to display the memories she shared with her father.
On the day of the funeral, one of the hardest days of my life, I stood alongside my grandfather’s casket with my head held high. I knew that many of family and friends in the room had mixed feeling about me, but I tried not to focus on that. This day was not about me or them. It was about rejoicing in the memory of a truly wonderful man and partaking in the morning of this great loss. Up until the day of the funeral, I had no idea whether my mother would be attending, but a part of me hoped that she would be there. Not for me, but for her. She was in prison when her mother passed and was never able to say goodbye to her properly. Regardless of what my mother had done, she should not have to go through that again with her father.
I was standing alongside my godparents when she walked in the door.
She was dressed in all black with a matching hat and an attached vale that covered her face. Boy could she play the part! The entire room came to a halt. Most of these people had not seen my mother in over fifteen years and with the news of her arrest on the day before, none of them expected to see her now. The scene was right out of a movie – All eyes were on her as she walked up to the casket and lifted her vale. As she stared at her father, she began to cry hysterically until her cousin pulled her away and took her to the back of the room to console her. Once there, the eyes that had been locked so intently on her turned to me. I am not sure what reaction they were looking for from me, but I’m pretty sure they did not get the one they expected. I did not go to console her. In fact, I didn’t even make eye contact with her. I was barely holding it together as it was and I knew that showing her the slightest bit of comfort would result in my demise. Instead, I turned to my godfather for the support I knew he would readily have waiting for me. Shaking, I clutched my arms around his waist, buried my head in his chest and muttered, “I don’t know what I am supposed to do”. He squeezed me tightly, kissed my head and told me everything would be ok. He told me later that he had approached my mother (he had not seen her since my car accident 16 years ago) before we left for the cemetery. He gave her a big hug and said “I want you to know that I forgive you and I love you”. She thanked him and told him she loved him too. His reasoning? As he put it, “love and forgiveness are very freeing!”
As my godfather and I embraced, the music started to play and the funeral director began to make his way to the front of the room. The pastor followed behind him and they both motioned to me that it was time to begin. As I went to be seated, I glanced in the direction of my mother who was no longer blubbering, but staring directly at me. I gave her what I hoped was an ‘I love you, but I fear you’ type of look, but from her glaring response I don’t think it was clear what I was trying to convey. I immediately looked away and continued on my path.
Surrounded by my small collection of allies in the room, I was able to maintain my composure throughout most of the service. That was until the song, “I Believe” by Brooks and Dunn came on. My boyfriend’s step father had helped me pick out this song and it was perfect. He had only met my grandfather once, but they were kindred spirits. Which is most likely the reason he and I have grown so close in the years that followed. If you have never heard this version of the song, it is beautiful! It talks about a man (“Ole Man Wrigley”), much like my grandfather who had a great impact on the lives of many in his time on earth and how his faith has allowed him to carry on no matter what the circumstances were. To this day I cannot hear this song without tearing up. After the service, one of my cousins (Edwina’s brother), whom I thought had sided with the enemy, came up to me to express how fitting he felt the song was. With tears still in his eyes, he thanked me for picking that song. He told me that it described the relationship he had with my grandfather perfectly and that it meant a great deal to him to have it played. There were a lot of people who felt this way about my grandfather and it gave me joy to know that I was able to touch on this as we all said our goodbyes to him.
My grandfather was in the military, so once the formal service was competed, we all headed to the Roscoe Cemetery for the burial ceremony with the traditional military gun salute and folding of the flag. It was the middle of winter, but I don’t remember being cold. All I remember was the muffled sound of the pastor’s voice as he gave his final sermon. I am not sure if my mother was there, I never looked up to check. As the gun salute commenced, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes more and more as each shot rang out. I told myself that if I could hold it together just a little bit longer it would all be over soon. As they folded the flag and presented it to me, thanking me for my grandfather’s service, it was all I could do not to cry. I looked up at the officer as he handed me the neatly folded memorial of my grandfather and managed to force out a very soft, “thank you”. Clutching to the last memories of this wonderful man, I could hold it in no longer. Through tear-filled eyes, I stood up to face the surrounding attendees and nodded to the group as if to confirm that is was all over.
At the Repass, my mother stayed in the car and had her cousin bring her a plate of food that she ate while he mingled with family and friends. We had the gathering at the local VFW, where I promptly ordered a gin and tonic and tried my best to put on a good face. Surprisingly no one asked me about my mother. They probably figured that I had more than I could take that day and I appreciated that they avoided the subject. I have not seen or spoken to her since.
*Please note: Some of the names used in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.