My Mother passed away just over two weeks ago. Her funeral was on May 8th, the day before Mother’s day. This post is not about grief, its process of sorrow, and sadness. My Mother was 91 years old and had an extraordinarily long run of living and loving. Her funeral, for me, was a celebration of all of that and more. It was healing.
The first part of this story, actually started before the funeral. My nephew had been asked to give the Tribute (eulogy) before the funeral services. He had sent out a request that his cousins please email him with a word that came into their minds when they thought of their grandmother and the reason why that one word was a constant. He received some stories, one from my youngest daughter that I had not been aware of, or had never heard before. He read it to me when he came over for help in writing what he most deeply wanted to say.
It seems, when my daughter was no more than four or five, and we would travel here, to visit my Mother, she would take my daughter into her bedroom and paint her fingernails with her favorite pearl nail polish. My daughter always associated the color with her grandmother. But, one time, we came, and my daughter realized that Grandma had some ugly red color on her nails. Being five, she asked her grandmother why she would wear that instead of the pretty pearl polish.
My Mother took my daughter’s hand and led her into the bedroom. Then sat her down and explained, “Well, honey, there wasn’t a whole lot left of the pearl polish and I knew you were coming, so I saved it for you.” Then proceeded to polish her nails. As my older sister said on hearing this, “Nice save, Mom.”
Meanwhile, my three siblings and I had been to the Funeral Parlor to make the final arrangements. In the course of that meeting, my older sister mentioned that she had always done Mom’s nails for her over the last few years, and my younger sister, being a beautician had always done Mom’s hair. She wanted to know if they could do that one last time before the funeral. I was reminded of the trips they had taken with Mom, one to a salon for a manicure and pedicure, which were some of the photos I had included in the Memorial Montage for the public viewing. For various reasons I had not been included on those adventures.
Two days before the funeral, while I was enmeshed in finishing the Memorial booklet and had to get those pages into the printer, my sister called to say they were going to the Funeral Home to do Mom’s hair and nails and did I want to come along. I very much wanted to but had the printer’s deadline for that afternoon and I was still putting the pages together. They went and afterward, decided to celebrate by going in search of a manicure and pedicure in honor of Mom and the rich memories we had all inherited.
Again, they called me to include me in on this spontaneous venture, but I was at the printer’s and never got the message until it was too late to respond. The next morning, we met at Mom’s apartment, with the priest who would officiate at the Funeral Mass. After an hour of chatting with us, he left to prepare a warm and wonderful service that ended with his own funny story about my Mother. One that had the whole church erupting in laughter before we dispersed to lunch.
After the priest left, my younger sister pulled out a pair of scissors and the drape cloth she used on her customers. She sat me down in Mom’s kitchen and started cutting and styling my hair. I looked up at my older sister and started wiggling my fingers. Surprised, she laughingly got out her small bag of manicure supplies, asking me which shade I preferred. I chose the lightest color, which just happened to be Mom’s favorite pearl. She not only did my fingernails, but my toenails as well.
We laughed and chatted and I am fairly certain that my Mother was there, in spirit, watching and laughing right along with us. Later, that afternoon, my youngest daughter arrived with my two oldest granddaughters. My daughter listened as I told her how I had heard of her story about Grandma and the pearl polish. When I was finished, she made a comment about my own freshly polished nails and the fact that they were done with that same pearl polish.
I immediately asked her if she’d like me to do her nails. She said no, but then after a few minutes of thought, said she would like that. I sent my two granddaughters over to collect the manicure equipment, and we, all four of us, sat around my dining room table, laughing and chatting as I polished my daughter’s nails, with the pearl polish of course, and my oldest granddaughter did the same for her younger sister.
It was one of those moments. The kind that deeply effect whatever outcome is in the offing. I cherish those moments of laughter and teasing with my daughter and granddaughters. And was profoundly moved by the thought of how my Mother had brought us all together to celebrate such an ordinary experience. I was aware of the healing that was being offered in those moments, and knew that the woman I have defined as a stubborn old French woman, was also the Mother of us all, sharing her love of life and pearl polish in moments, I doubt, any of us will ever forget.
My Mother had four children, 11 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, 3 great-great grandchildren, with another great grandchild on the way. She leaves a rich legacy and so much more. She has left us with the opportunity and the possibilities of healing. Thanks Mom, another nice save.
I have posted the Eulogy Poem I wrote for the Memorial Booklet at:
and there will be more to come, I am sure. Stories begin when we choose to make note of them. And stories are about the stuff of life, putting a polish on our own experiences. They are also healing.
The nail polish story was so touching. It also reminded me of my dear mom, Lillian,Helen’s sister, who also died at age 91. I loved her and still do,so very much. Every Saturday night I would go upstairs by her and do her “pills and bills”. It was a ritual that we had tea to go with it. Towards the end she would sit there and watch me to make sure I didn’t make a mistake and put an extra pill in the wrong slot!She also started to want to watch “The Titanic” almost every week. It was fun, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
thanks for coming and reading. I too, had an evening ritual with Mom and now find those hours hard to deal with. But, I love the stories and may post even more of them. Polishing memories is only one way to learn how to be without her. Glad you enjoyed and hope we can talk soon.
What a beautiful story. I’m sorry to hear about your loss and I find inspiration in the way you and your family chose to remember and honor your mother during that time.
Hi Farah, it’s been a while, but so glad to see you and read your comments. It’s been a rough few weeks, but things are finally beginning to settle. Now all I have to do is try to remember what Normal looks like, right? Thanks so much for stopping by and also would like to hear what you’ve been up to.
I was drawn by the title of your post and am glad I came to read. Beautiful pearl nail polish story.
Thank you again, Irene. I particularly like the story because it incorporates four generations of women, joined together in a normal, but intimate experience, that of family.