An excerpt from my memoir in progress, The Body Is A Storehouse, p. 118 (See excerpt entitled “A Beating” for a fuller treatment):
What remains of my grandmother lies beneath a flat, two foot by two foot grave marker covered with an engraved plaque that reads:
Rev. Barbara J. Buse
Beloved wife and mother
Dec. 18, 1932 – Sept. 24, 1991
Osceola, Indiana, Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens, Veteran’s Garden, plot 78A. I drove three hours from my home in Ohio to look at it. I didn’t really want to visit it the way most people seem to want to visit the graves of deceased family. I didn’t want to stand over it to mourn or think of her. I really only wanted to see what it looked like. Since she died, I’d never seen the grave. Perhaps more curious than anything, I wanted to get a sense of the marker’s height, weight, and position; I wanted to get a feel for the scope of it—and what was written on it. “Beloved wife and mother.” This made me laugh out loud.
The plaque is scuffed, a scrape over the very center of it, as if someone tried to cross something out. At some point, the groundskeeper likely ran over it with the lawn mower. A woman who works at the cemetery and funeral home and who stood looking at the grave with me told me they could have it replaced. I said not to worry about it, that the scuff wasn’t a big deal. Certainly no one had complained about it before now and it didn’t bother me.
I was sixteen when my grandmother died of cancer in 1991, and I watched my mother grieve for her–the woman who had beaten her and made her feel worthless. Barbara Buse was her mother, after all. Their mother. She, her brother, and her sister were now anchorless in the world, the umbilical forever severed. Mom said she felt alone, as if a piece of her were now gone and irretrievable. This, she’d said, was like nothing she’d ever felt before.
At the time I didn’t understand. I was a restless teenager who couldn’t see past the fact that the woman who had terrorized my mother and the rest of our family was now gone, and I, too, was happy for it. For my mother, her mother’s death evoked feelings far larger than grief. It was a loss far more severe than even she could explain to her self-centered daughter. Now, twenty years later, I see it. It was the lost chance to live in the presence of her mother, to never know her own mother’s love, to never be comforted by that woman, to never be at peace with her. For those who have never known the love of their mother, the physical loss of that mother is much worse than not being able to miss what you never had—a trite notion. Rather, it is a fundamental loss of a piece of yourself, a piece of who you could have been if you had been taught what love is supposed to look like.