VIOLA - Feeling like a fish caught on a hook, I flipped onto my back, wiggled, and squirmed onto my side. Never still, I struggled to even out my breath, to relax, let go, and sink into the comfort of my mattress.
About the time, I slipped into a dreamless sleep, Ruben, my puppy, started rubbing his soft head against my side. One tired arm fought its way out of my cozy covers to pet his silky ears. That was all the encouragement Ruben needed to pounce on top of me, smothering me with his early morning exuberance, and licking my face any chance he could get. I was awake.
It was the day of Mom’s burial at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee. The stress of teaching a morning class and driving almost four hours to be on time for the 2 p.m. ceremony had made it hard to sleep. The military has stringent rules. I couldn't be late.
On a Saturday evening two weeks earlier, my family held an intimate service for Mom. We listened to her infamous phone messages, shared a few of her clever quips, and reminisced while looking at pictures of her life. The day after the service, Dane and I drove home with the sun shining and Mom (yes, her ashes, but it’s still her, I think)in the backseat. Since burials at Wood Cemetery only take place Monday through Friday, we had to schedule a time to come back.
My stress had been mounting all week to near panic. I canceled my afternoon work, but I wanted—no, needed—to teach my morning exercise class. Starting my Mom’s last day with a group of women who shared a common goal of aging with more flexibility, agility, and strength appealed to me.
After all, Mom lived alone longer than she was married, just shy of 40 years since Dad died. She was an avid golfer and swimmer until her mid-eighties. Only this year, after a fall that damaged her dominant arm, did she go kicking and screaming into assisted living. Mom was a strong, independent woman.
I left home for class earlier than usual, so there was plenty of time to greet each participant. The workout was well attended, including women of a range of ages, from those in their forties to Franny, 83 years young. It was a group diverse in background, race, belief, and religion, who nevertheless moved as one.
At the end of the workout, our foreheads glistening and hearts drumming, my shoulders finally fell away from my ears and my chest muscles relaxed. Inside the circle of women, I rose from the mat and stood with hands clasped in prayer, head bowed.
“Thank you for joining me today. I’m off now for Mom’s burial. I’ve been agonizing over not making it to Milwaukee by the appointed time. But halfway through our workout, it dawned on me that they couldn’t start without me. I couldn't be late. Mom is in my car.”
The women softly cheered as I left the building. I picked up Dane and secured Mom in the backseat for her last ride.The sun was beaming, the sky pale blue.