Mother died on a Tuesday in late December. The call came early Friday morning because the hospital did not have my current number on file and had to use legal measures to find me. Tracing me through two states, a name change, and miles and miles of emotional distance. I had said my goodbyes 10 years earlier and moved on with my life. I was 13 then. I had a new family. New aspirations and dreams. I left her alone with her voices—Margolis and Sebastian. Hallucinations. The illness that had torn our family apart, depositing in each of us an insatiable quest for peace, clarity.
The phone rang at 5:12 am. I jumped up, sleepily making my way from under layers of warm, furry blankets. Icy cold air settled on my skin like tiny needles, sending shivers down my spine.
“Hello?” My mouth struggled around the two syllables.
“Good morning, this is Geneva Martin; am I speaking with Juniper Hensley?” her voice high-pitched and cheery.
“Uh…” I almost dropped the phone. “Yeah…sure…what is this about?”
“Hi there,” she started, her tone shrinking in cheer. “I’m calling from Meadowview State Hospital…”
“I don’t go by Hensley anymore,” I interrupted. “It’s Price.”
“I see…I will make a note of that,” Geneva shuffled her papers. “I’m calling because…well, we’ve been searching for a relative of Marcy Hensley, and…”
“I’m the only one left,” I nudged her along. “So what’s this call about?”
“Are you her daughter? Niece?”
“Oh, I see…well, I’m sorry to have to tell you this over the phone, but your mother passed away this week.”
Questions flowed in the place off tears: How, where, when, why? They had found her in the bathroom. Hanged. She used a bedsheet, not her own apparently because they were still on her bed untouched. The reason was unclear; I didn’t expect it to be any other way.
“So what happens next?” I said, wanting to get the whole thing over with.
“You’ll need to make arrangements for the body, and tend to her affairs…”
“I want her cremated,” I blurted.
“Yes, that’s fine. You will have to arrange that with one of our local funeral homes. Right now her body is at…”
“I don’t want a funeral.”
Her body was cremated Friday afternoon. I flew in Monday morning for a short service of one. My parents, Rachael and John, waited in the car while I said goodbye. The funeral director encouraged me to give my own eulogy, something from the heart.
“I have nothing,” I told him.
“Look a little deeper,” he said. “She was your mother. Surely you can find something to say.”
After a few minutes of silence, I found that something:
“I wish I could tell you how much I hate you,” the director cleared his throat. “But that would not be the truth. Despite all the misery you caused, my heart still aches for your touch,” this time I cleared my throat, trying to swallow the growing lump.
“Tiny rips still bleed, a lifelong infection that has no real cure. Ours is a love story gone wrong. A DNA we share coded with strife,” the director looked on as I ran my fingers along the sides of the urn.
“Delusion. I wait for the voices to erupt and steal my soul as they did yours. I know there entangled in confusion is my story, slippery, frail, too complex to understand. Layers of love and hate, shelter and shame blurred until one. A space where you found safety, hope, clarity. A place where I fall again and again without reprieve, even in the wake of your death.” I wanted to be done. Somehow I felt the words, though flowing, could never be exact.
“I wish you peace. I really do.” I nodded at the director, a sign I was finished.
“Okay then,” he gathered a stack of papers and slipped them into a big envelope. “Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words.” He handed me that envelope and the urn. “Good luck, miss.”
I decided to spread her ashes between the clusters of Juniper trees she loved so much. This is, after all, where she found me.