The hand we held dear.
What Wade’s mom’s passing would mean ambushed me weeks before the fact as I reached around a blind corner of our kitchen cupboards and pulled out an assortment of food containers that had been passed back and forth among family members to carry home leftovers from Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners which Roberta Glenn Miller Jones either hosted or contributed to as a guest.
I realized she would be absent when next we gathered for those holiday meals, and I lost it.
Roberta sold Tupperware in her day, but more recently had a retirement job as one of those Costco ladies offering tasty treats to shoppers. Yet she had another job more central to her character and from which she could never retire: mom. Even death cannot diminish that role. I know, because my mother continues to nurture, support, and teach me two decades after her passing. She lives on in me. As Wade is quick to say, though she died the year before we met, he sees my mom in me.
And I see Roberta in Wade. Even their body types are similar. I’ve laughingly told friends that Roberta is an older version of Wade in drag. And that similarity made me mindful—as we and other family members sat by her bedside in her personal care home, holding her hand, watching her get smaller and smaller as inactivity and inability to eat took its toll—that this could be Wade in the future.
During the stressful weeks prior to her gentle passing in the early morning hours last Tuesday, I’ve been asking our Google speaker to play jazz while I fixed breakfast. I couldn’t quite handle listening to the repeatedly troubling news on NPR, my usual choice, and I like the way jazz often takes the listener to unexpected places.
When asked to construct her obituary for the paper, I learned her middle name for the first time, Glenn, which, combined with her maiden name, Miller, prompted thoughts about the Big Band era of swing jazz. I forgot to ask her older sister, who came for the memorial service Sunday, if that was intentional on their parents’ part or if that was just a family name.
Roberta’s service in the beautiful sanctuary of Mountain Park United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, GA, was very well attended, surprisingly for an 83-year-old who outlives so many family and friends. Her large Sunday school class, people around her age, attended en masse, as did members of the women’s circles, including her own. Relatives came from all over the country, joining local friends and colleagues of her sons, as well as the owner and manager of her personal care home.
I began looking forward to the service when her delightfully spirited pastor, Rev. Ellynda Lipsey, met with the family to prepare the service and her eulogy and message. She, other members, and the congregation’s Stephen’s Ministry had visited her, sung to her, sent her cards and brought her flowers.
When I first met Roberta as Wade’s “friend,” I knew I was in safe space when I saw a reproduction of John F. Kennedy’s presidential portrait hanging in her living room. That is the one keepsake I requested upon her passing. I had had the same portrait in my bedroom as a teenager. As I write this, I’m wondering who will get her Barack Obama campaign button attached to her wall calendar.
How we really got to know each other was sitting together in hospital waiting rooms during two of Wade’s surgeries. We had each brought reading material, but hardly looked at it as we enjoyed prolonged conversations by which I learned about her youth and Wade’s upbringing in Oaktown, Indiana, which then had a population of 600, a town I will finally visit when we bring her ashes home. She and her husband, Gary, had married in the United Methodist Church there, reared three boys, and finally retired to the Atlanta area when all three sons settled here after college. Though she was known for her reticence, we seemed to have no problem chatting away. Long before, I came to know Gary when I interviewed the family to write his eulogy, at Wade’s request.
With other family members, she happily attended our very small wedding the year the Supreme Court decision legalized same-gender marriage. She gave us two throws that we use when watching something on our flat screen. These sacramentals will continue to keep us warm in the years to come, even as her Tupperware will make the rounds of ours and other households.
Wade selected this poem to be read for his mother’s memorial service:
Donations in thanksgiving for Roberta Jones may be made to the Stephen’s Ministry of Mountain Park UMC or Homestead Hospice.
Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.