in opposition to hagiography.

i’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that we lack agency in posthoumously appointing a biographer, a theme prevalent in the work of carol shields, insomuch as the women’s lives detailed in her novels could appear mundane from one vantage point, but remarkable and heroic from another. obviously she thought about how one doesn’t have to pass a test in order to write (or speak) about the deceased, how we are all limited by certain biases and experiences, and how these cannot help but color our retelling.

back in october, when death became omnipresent, i told my mom that i planned to document the remainder of her life and its impact on us. i felt obligated, as i’ve touched on in a previous post, to present the facts unedited, to express the pain and joy in honest — and believable — amounts.

a week or so before her death, we met with a minister, the only time, during her stay at beacon place when at least one of the three of us wasn’t at her side. as part of my mother’s service, the minister was giving a speech about her hobbies (drinking tea, gardening, reading, traveling with my dad). she asked us questions and took her own impressions from them, eventually weaving bible verses in with her prose.

it felt odd, and i didn’t offer much even when prompted. after all, i was planning my own eulogy and didn’t want someone who had never even heard my mother’s voice stealing my good lines. more than this small concern, however, my reticence was caused by the fact that her presence was superfluous. none of us are typical religious believers: my sister follows, in mind if not always in practice, various eastern flavor-of-the-month teachings; my dad oscillates for fear of being wrong when it counts (when asked, during our meeting, if he had a prayer he preferred, he stumbled, you know, um, the lord is my shepherd, that’s always a good one, yeah). my mom lived, not because of rewards guaranteed in a potential afterlife, but because she liked to make people smile, she wanted to help others realize their best.

the pious tend to become sanctimonious when people are dying. we began to hear often that it was part of god’s plan that we were not made to understand, as if that should provide solace to any rational person. on the day my mother died an elderly man told my father that god wanted her more. if my dad hadn’t been so weak from mourning his loss, he would have guaranteed that god also wanted that elderly man more.

in her speech, the minister detailed my mother’s work with the mentally retarded: managing group homes in canada; finding advocates, raising awareness, and educating the community here in the united states. she summed this section up by referring to her actions as dare i say, christ-like.

i don’t understand the rampant desire to misrepresent someone once they have passed away, when they are cherished abundantly for their actual biography. while my mother and jesus have the same initials, they are not the same person. in fact, legend says that one died for the other’s sins a few millennia ago.

a more valid appreciation for the way my mother touched lives could be found later when those in the audience were invited to say a few words on her behalf. a neighbor spoke of how she would watch her in the backyard, tending to her flowerbed, and was now struck with a gaping void. she beseeched us to get to know those around us before it was too late, before we made the same mistake she had. her words were delivered with such vitriol that one would believe if they didn’t introduce themselves to their neighbors that very afternoon they would have to deal with this wild-haired woman’s admonishment in their dreams.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: