It’s my mother-in-law’s birthday. How old is she? I don’t really know. We are certain that upon coming to the US, she altered her birth certificate to make herself younger. Her brother says she knocked nine years off her age. Nine years! That’s almost a decade and the kind of ballsy move I would expect from her. I think we should all just subtract nine years from our own ages in honor of her.
And because she is a thorough person–and clearly had no fear of God or the Roman Catholic Church, she also altered the Record of her Baptism to reflect her new age. You couldn’t have been baptized in 1924 if you weren’t born until 1933, right? It makes sense to me!
Yesterday, she was quite lucid and talkative. I mentioned that today is her birthday, and she said, “Yes, I know.” So, I asked, “How old are you, Mom? Want to tell me?” “No. N-O. No.”
So, her age has remained a carefully guarded secret since she arrived in the US more than sixty years ago. We don’t know if my late father-in-law even knew, and that’s okay. I’m sure he didn’t mind not knowing or keeping her secret—which ever the case was. They were great friends and I can see this being a bit of a game for them, one of those special things that makes a couple a couple.
I don’t think we did much to celebrate individual birthdays last year. I remember that we—my mother-in-law, my husband, our children and I went to a Japanese steakhouse in honor of our January birthdays. Yep, three-fifths of the birthdays in our household happen in January. The staff at the restaurant sang to all of us, and they treated my mother-in-law like a queen, and perhaps this is a rant/blog entry for another time, but in general, I’ve noticed that people from other cultures are more likely to address her directly than white folks are. Just sayin’. She said very little, ate even less, and mostly looked perturbed throughout our hibachi dining experience.
The other thing that I remember about her birthday last year is that I was at the mall—looking for a gift for her—and I found myself looking at dresses for me, and at some point, I began having an internal argument over whether I should buy myself a particular dress.
Practical Me said, “Oh, look at this! Black! We need a black dress for her funeral.”
Sentimental Me answered, “Put it down. We are not buying a dress to wear to her funeral on her birthday! That is sick, morbid, and TERRIBLE for you to even think that, so put the black dress down, and look for happy clothes. Happy, happy, happy. Pretend we are going on a cruise or something.”
Practical Me said, “Get a grip, girly! It’s in our size and it’s 70% off! Like it or not, we need to be funeral-ready. You wanna go ‘grief-shopping’ the day before a funeral? That’s never a pleasant experience, is it?”
Then, Practical Me dragged Sentimental Me into the dressing room, and I eventually left the mall with two black dresses. One is a long-sleeved wool blend and the other is sleeveless and light. I am funeral-ready, and I have been for a full year.
Practical Me was right in the sense that I did know people who died last year and I did attend funerals—just not my mother-in-law’s. I still haven’t worn either of those dresses I bought a year ago, however. I wore my gray suit to one funeral and a black linen shirt dress to another. Perhaps the Sentimental Me is subconsciously saving the new dresses for my mother-in-law’s funeral because we know how she loved and appreciated new clothes. That gray suit is at least ten years old, and I don’t even remember when I bought the shirt dress! I’m a little shocked both still fit me.
And now as I am writing about funeral clothes, I think everyone should just have some—or perhaps we should all have them after we have reached a certain age. It’s that ecclesiastic seasons of life sort of thing—a time and a season for all things, a purpose under Heaven. When I was in my early twenties until I entered my late-thirties, my social calendar was filled with weddings, events surrounding weddings, and baby showers, and I had clothes for those occasions. How is stocking my closet with black any different now days? My peers aren’t yet dying off, but their parents are. So are former, older co-workers. It’s just a fact of life.
And the Optimistic Me who has been surprisingly quiet up until now—she’s usually very chatty—says that these black dresses will be worn more places than just funerals. The sleeveless, light one has a classy, classic Audrey Hepburn quality to it and would be perfect for a cocktail party. Yes, I vaguely remember cocktail parties in my more glamorous, previous life, but have I gone to one lately? Ha! The wool-blend one is good for church provided I wear it with a scarf or some other accessory that makes it look less funeral-y.
But here’s the interesting thing: A year ago, I really did believe that my mother-in-law would die soon and we would, of course, be having a funeral. Honestly, that is what I was thinking on her birthday last year when I bought two black dresses. Now, I think she could be around for another decade, and when she does go, I really don’t know that we will have a funeral. At this point, so many people have already mourned her, and I now understand why families sometimes choose to hold a private memorial service. I may not even need to think about what to wear.
So, I’m going with what the Optimistic Me says. I’m wearing the wool-blend to church on Sunday, and at some point this year, I will find some fancy-schmancy event just so I can wear the Audrey Hepburn dress. I may have to crash a party, but hey, I am feeling up to it.