Bras, Sponge Baths, and Having Enough: Voices of the Crow
Many people believe that crows can be messengers—that they have the ability to interpret the view from above and beyond. I don’t doubt that. Sometimes I hear voices from those who are no longer here, bringing me messages.
Several years after my father died, I was sitting on the couch, holding my baby daughter. I was 50 and feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, what I’d thought I could do by taking on two adopted children as a single mother. I remember staring out the window and wondering if there was a place where my father dwelt, and how nice it could be to share a quiet and restful space with him. It was then that I heard the voice. I heard it inside my head and it said quite clearly, “Don’t be in a rush. You have everything you need now.” It was the voice of my father, a man who knew hard times during the depression, and throughout his life constantly worried that our family wouldn’t have enough. It seemed he now spoke like the crow, with a view from above and beyond.
Several years later I was standing in front of a mirror, getting ready to go to the funeral of a dear friend’s mother. I’d known this woman since I was young, from the time I played with her daughter in their house. She was always kind to me, always offered me food and drink, but she never seemed very happy. Those were the days when being a housewife and mother was what you dreamed about and if that role didn’t fit you, then your voice shouldn’t be heard. She did play the role well, however, with a house always beautifully decorated and clean, and she always dressed in clothes that might suit an afternoon tea with a ladies group more than fixing after school snacks. But I sometimes caught a glimpse of something else—an intelligence and wit not able to come out.
The day of her funeral was hot and sticky. I had picked out a summer dress, a navy blue print, but when I got it on, my bra straps showed. I could find another dress or maybe another bra that wouldn’t show. But what if I just didn’t wear one? No one would notice, though would it be disrespectful to this woman who surely never went without, who always was so proper in her demeanor and attire? As I stood there I heard a voice. And like the voice of my father, it was quite clear, “Oh, Ann, just go for it!” It felt like a gift from her, and it made me laugh. So I took off the bra, put the dress back on, and attended her funeral.
My Aunt Lee died recently. She was the wife of my mother’s brother. No one knew how she lived so long. She was a heavy smoker and on oxygen for years. In her last years she slipped back and forth from sanity to episodes of raving paranoia. I remember when I was a child how she liked it when I sat by her in my grandmother’s sun room. She asked me questions that showed she wanted to know me and never showed judgment with my answers. But later, I forgot about that and I tended to remember her as the aunt with racks of colored blouses. There were stories that when she found a blouse she liked, she would buy one of every color and that her closet was full of clothes not worn, the tags not even removed. I heard the words “addiction” and “depression” and “medication” coming from other aunts.
My mother, who now at 98 can remember the past with great clarity, spoke about Aunt Lee during our last visit. My mother always stood up for her sister-in-law and somehow managed to see beyond the craziness, the binge buying and hair stiff with too much hair spray, the fingers displaying more diamonds than seemed right or natural to the family’s frugal Swiss-German upbringing. She’d tried to write her once a week for years but stopped when writing became too hard, when she never heard back. She talked about how my aunt never believed she was worth much but how she had given her mother-in-law, my grandmother, sponge baths in the last few years of her aging life. How no one else took so much time, so much care when doing this. How my aunt knew what it was like to take care of people. How she’d had to take care of her younger sisters and brothers. How her father had told her that was her responsibility before shooting her mother and himself in front of her.
My Aunt Lee asked that her funeral be a very small memorial service. It was attended by my mother’s youngest brother and a scattering of her late husband’s nieces and nephews. I didn’t go—it was a full day’s trip, there and back, and I hadn’t seen her in years. But if I had gone to her funeral, I might have stood in front of my closest beforehand and pondered the appropriateness of wearing one of my brightly colored outfits, something I prefer to the cheerless dark dresses expected for such an event. And while standing there, she might have spoken to me. She might have said, like my friend’s mother, “Go for it!” And I hear her saying something else as well. It’s coming from a voice that’s above and beyond, the voice of the crow. She’s telling me to remember what’s important. To not remember her for the racks of colored blouses, but by the gentle touch of a sponge bath. And to always really care about what you ask of a child.
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