I am writing this because you died today and dad died yesterday. Actually, as you know, he died 54 years ago and for you it has been 10. But the days are still right next to each other for me to go through without both of you.
I have been numb for both days. Until tonight.
I just got out of the shower and was thinking about you mother and how much I wish to feel something for you today. But I could not. And I don’t like feeling numb, as much as grief is no fun either because I know it comes out, eventually.
So I began to recall the day that you died. You were 88 years old. A shrunken version of your vital self. In that smelly nursing home, where your best friend told me last summer that when she visited you there and walked up to the desk to say, “I am here to see Phyllis Bunn,” she recounted that they pointed to a woman in a chair in the hall there, saying that was you and she said, “That is not Phyllis.” Because it was not the you that she knew and loved. Who was forbidden from touching her kitchen cabinets because your hands were always sticky from chocolate or candy. The you that when you were my current age of 61, you were a vital, stunning, vibrant, dynamic woman in the fashion world and community of Tulsa, OK.
You got a late start “getting it right” as a parent. Something I always held compassion for. I am referring to the fact that you started a 12 step recovery program for the family members of alcoholics and became a born again Christian seemingly all at once at that latter part of life. You often said how bad you felt for our family that you did not seek the support of this recovery group as it was recommended to you some 30 or 40 years earlier. I get that today. As I have just begun a new support group too. This one dealing with the issues of growing up with an alcoholic or dysfunctional family system. And as a mother myself of a daughter of two very dysfunctional parents, I even have empathy for what you said you felt about regretting not starting to find that solution when your children were still children.
I went on there, standing in the bathroom, thinking how earlier today I spoke of you to a friend I was painting with, sharing that when you were taking your last breath, we were singing you out. With “Jesus Loves Me” I think. They say the hearing is the last to go.
I went on to think about how you would have been there for me when my marriage of 24 years ended, abruptly to me, just six years ago. That is when the feelings came. I began to cry, missing you, knowing that as I comfort my daughter in tough times like no one else could because I know what trials she has had her entire life, the same comfort came to me from you in those last 20 some years. You weren’t perfect. But you tried to make things right.
You were supportive during my many struggles with depression and anxiety. You did what you could when I could not care for Abby due to postpartum depression so severe that I was forced to leave her at 3 weeks to be hospitalized. You attended the support groups of NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to learn how you could best be there for me.You were there as much as you could be when I had breast cancer. And this was what made the feelings come stronger. I began to talk to you, as I stood there in my robe, wet hair, body aching and heart a little too.
“I miss you mom. You would have comforted me when my marriage ended. You would have been sad and angry that more challenges were coming my way. You would have held me.” And the tears came, so I decided to write, fearing that I would otherwise distract myself. With something outside of myself. A movie, a cookie, a man. And while writing does delay the feelings of sitting to read until I am done writing, at least it has a healthy motivation. So here I am, typing away.
And now, as I continue to go through growing pains in life, particularly dealing with the year long imposed isolation as an extrovert living alone during a global pandemic, if you were here and still independent, I feel sure I would have come to your house, and laid on your couch where you would have rubbed my neck or tickled my scalp.
Your ashes are part of my stand up routine, something you would also approve of. Because you were there that first night I got up on stage over thirty years ago. Sitting in the back. Sounding like you were up front. Rooting for me. I referred to you as “my mother, the one in the back with the 88 teeth.” Because that was how big your beautiful smile was.
Here is how you were a part of the act. What I would do is go up on stage, and say nothing. Then, I would take out the cute little french provincial chair that your ashes sit on today, with a picture of you as a young ingenue, alongside a long strand of knotted pearls, your signature accessory. I would have added your infamous black high top Converse, but that would have been cumbersome.
After setting this up, I would take the microphone and begin my routine. “This is my mom. She died 8 years ago. Her ashes have been in my closet for 8 years. She was homophobic, so I decided it was time to get her out of the closet.” Some of the laughs were out loud, some were on the inside. But you were laughing the loudest. I would continue, referring to the ugly burgundy drawstring bag that houses the box with your ashes in it. “She would never be caught dead in this color. “ That killed. Pun intended.
This morning, when I walked into the bathroom, I had a surprise from my cat. He had taken the little diva character that I keep with your pictures in the living room, and dragged you into the bathroom.
Below are the pictures, followed by the text I sent out to friends who would appreciate my dark humor today, when I walked into the bathroom to discover the scene of his crime, along with the pictures: FYI-My cat’s name is Atlas. He has one eye, a scrunched up ear, a bit of an attitude and all of my heart. And while you weren’t much of a cat person, you would have loved him. Because he’s orange, the same as your old jumpsuit and orange flip lipstick and because he is mine. And by the way, a text is something people do on their phones because they forgot how to actually make a phone call.
(Text message) “So now Atlas has decided to play The Clue game.
(Please note dark humor to follow.) As you know, today marks 11 years since my mom died.
The little character you see resembles her as a stylish fashionista and is normally sitting in front of a photograph of her.
I’m guessing it was Atlas in the Bathroom with the Claw. I win.”
I just put on Diana Krall and set a thirty minute timer so I could give this proper time and be sure to get up and stretch. I bet you really hated the aging process. I am not a huge fan myself.
I’d like to add some pictures now and post it on my blog. I think you’d be proud of me today. Since you were a journalism major and our whole family has some expertise in writing, I never thought I had any talent mother. It was a lot to be the youngest by a stretch of years, surrounded by the stage performance, news celebrity, Emmy and Peabody award winning talents of my older siblings in my formative years. But I know that I do have it. And I intend to use it. To share my stories with others. In the hope that they are moved, inspired, encouraged or perhaps all three. I hope to be a published author one day.
I am glad I have taken this time to reach out. I was numb to dad’s death for most of the fifty years I did not have him. That letter got written last year. And boy, did those musty tears flow. All over the Village Inn on South Yale in Tulsa. They have closed since then. I’m guessing it was water damage.
I love you mother. And I miss you.
Here are just a few of the faces of Phyllis.