An hour ago I was riding the bus home from my water aerobics class in Harvard Square. I saw a police car ahead of us, its lights flashing slowly, and then realized that in front of it was a line of cars carrying purple FUNERAL flags, led by another police car with slowly-flashing lights.
Oh dear, oh no no, another attack from an apparently-benign direction, and I started to cry, there in my seat on the bus.
Eight months ago next week, my precious child Alyson Marie Hopkins died, and I was in a tiny procession like the one ahead of me today. Only there were no police cars, and only the hearse carrying my daughter’s body was ahead of us in our car, my husband and me, and our older daughter Susannah. Put your lights on blinking, instructed the kindly man at the funeral home, and we will go ahead of you. Slowly the hearse drove in front of us, through red lights and around traffic circles, moving in a dignified and stately way. I took pictures, I guess to stretch out the time in which Alyson was somehow still here.
At Mount Auburn Cemetery, at the entrance to the crematory, we were greeted respectfully by people there who were going to see my child through. All of us helped to transfer her body into the anteroom. Inside the box she lay, or her body lay, wearing her favorite red nightie and covered with a soft red blanket, and surrounded by photographs of us, her family.
For many hours we waited in the adjacent chapel, talking, crying, remembering, laughing. Susannah went out and brought back lunch for us. It was a peaceful time. I knew Alyson was not afraid, and that she felt safe at a place that had meant so much to her, where she and I had spent many contented and happy hours doing our volunteer work amidst the monuments. Everybody was so kind!
When all was finished, and I received the mahogany box in my hands, it was still warm. It was still warm. I will never forget it, its warmth and weight.
I miss so many things. The silly game we played when we were in the car. “Punch car red, Alyson,” I would announce. (sighting a Volkswagen)
“Where?” she would say, looking around.
“Back there. I can’t help it if you aren’t looking.”
“What? You are accusing your Mother of cheating??!!”
“Well it’s cheating. Punch car black!”
“I am driving, Alyson. I can’t be expected to take my eyes off the road to look for punch cars, you know. I am responsible for your safety. Where is it? I don’t see it. I think you are cheating.” And on in this vein until we both guffawed.
Sometimes in the mornings, when I would call to wake her up, I would pretend that our cat was calling her cat, instead. “Mr. Cat calling for Miss Loulou. Will you hold for Mr. Cat?” We just loved to make each other laugh.
We had so much fun with this silliness.
It’s true what they say about a hole in your heart. I never knew that before. It’s as if there’s a big Alyson-shaped space in there, quite empty. A weird feeling.
In the past number of years Als had been using a cane and was in a lot of pain much of the time. We would always go and do our grocery shopping together, John and Als and I, on Saturdays, and when we got out of the car Als would lean heavily on my arm, to get across the parking lot. I would give anything to have her weight there again, holding my arm. When she gave me foot rubs, she would sit in the rocking chair and I in front of her, and she would take my whole foot, shoe and all, into her lap, carefully remove the shoe and then the sock, and then she would give me a wonderful foot massage. I would give anything to feel her loving and competent touch on my feet again.
She was so beautiful! Her eyebrows were sleek and elegant, and she had high cheekbones and a lovely mouth. Her eyes were green, or greenish, and after she returned to the white-blond of her childhood, she really was gorgeous. I used to think, “That’s my kid? Wow, how did that happen!” Her voice was melodious and expressive. The sound of it brought me joy—or sometimes worry, when I could tell she was not feeling well.
Some years back, she had somehow taken on the position of Christmas-stocking-assistant, you know, assistant to Santa. I don’t know how it happened, exactly, but Christmas morning the stockings were overflowing with tiny fun goodies. Even the cat’s stocking (yes, he has a stocking). Remarkably, this year, Alyson not here to assist Santa with the stockings, somehow there WERE stockings. This seems to have had to do with our older daughter (who lives in New Jersey) and some dear friends of hers who live locally. The local friends came to visit Christmas Eve Day and in some mysterious manner following their visit, the next morning on Christmas there were stockings. See, there is still a lot of mystery around Christmas.
Als got around mostly by public transportation, but now and then she called us hoping for a ride somewhere not easy to get to that way. If we weren’t able to help, she was always so gracious and cheerful about that. Always. How could she be so cheerful and calm? She had so many afflictions! She had had two back surgeries followed by one in which parts of her spine were fused, and that one never worked right and she ended up in almost constant pain. She had had a hip replacement for arthritis. She was cursed by mental illness which most of the time was under good control but the control involved bucketsful of medications, each one with side effects, including weight gain, which she hated. She was an alcoholic and had had problems with drugs too, but when she died she had been, as they say, clean and sober for 26 years.
When she turned forty, nine years ago, her sister treated her to a Day at the Spa, and I came along too. We had massages and shampoos and trims and facials and manicures and pedicures. In the middle of the lovely day we went across to a fancy hotel bar and I had wine and she had Coke and we had little snacks and flirtatious conversation with the barman. We loved doing things together. Our birthdays are one day apart, so we would always celebrate together. Often this involved going on a whale watch together out onto Stellwagen Bank. We often shared our stories about these whale watches, like the time the whale went right under the boat and up on the other side. She was a great story-teller. And she had an extraordinary vocabulary at her command.
Alyson just appreciated things so much.
Some months ago, she sat up here in my office and read my blog posts for an hour. She came downstairs and said, “My brain is full.” What a compliment. She always knew just exactly what was the right thing to say to a person. One time, while walking through Central Square in Cambridge, she came upon a woman who was in some kind of mental-health crisis. Alyson spoke with her and encouraged her to go to the emergency room at the hospital. When the woman said she didn’t think she could do that, Alyson said, “I will go with you. Here, let’s take this cab. I will stay with you.” And she did, until the woman had been seen to. How many of us would do the same?
Yes, a life of grace.
So I go through the days, hoping that nothing jumps out at me to make me cry. But these things are hidden in the most surprising places, like a ride home on the bus.
Punch car silver, Als.
Bo Fauth 02:27pm, 04/01/2015
I am so sorry for your very great loss, Hilary. Alyson indeed made the world a better place.