Ketchup Bottle Holy Water

Going through my mom’s stuff is weird. My stuff? My mom’s stuff.

I don’t know, but I’m going through a lot of stuff, and it’s weird. Mostly because I have to hold up every item and think to myself, “Do I want this?” It feels like I’m looting her. I hold up a necklace, look in the mirror. If I like it, I keep it. If I don’t (and it’s not significant in some other way), I try to determine if it’s valuable and worth selling. Luckily my uncle was helping me last time, and his biggest help was repeating “It’s definitely not weird” over and over every time I started to feel gross about pilfering the jewelry drawer.

There are a couple nice family heirlooms that I’m pleased have come to me. One of them I’m giving to my aunt, though, because I think it will have more significance for her: It’s my grandmother’s ring that has one stone for each of her children. As far as family heirlooms go, it’s wonderful and beautiful, but if that’s the only reason I’d be keeping it, I’d just as soon have it go to someone who could hold it closer to their heart.

I found a small bag that had my father’s dog tags and a couple of his rings, including (I think) his wedding ring. That was a special find.

There’s a lot besides jewelry to go through, of course. I also started going through clothing drawers. We were the same size, after all. The weirdest find, however, was in one of her bedside drawers: It was a ketchup bottle. One of those little ones that are maybe two inches tall. It had no label, but it was definitely a tiny ketchup bottle. It was about half full with what looked like water, and in the middle of the white blank lid was a black cross in marker.

“Is this a ketchup bottle of holy water?” I asked my uncle.

He looked at it. “It is.”

“What…is it for?”

He shrugged. Well all right then. I asked what I was supposed to do with it, and luckily his priesthood came in handy, because he was able to supply the answer. “Go pour it in the garden. From the earth, back to the earth. All that.”

So that’s what I did—with that and the two other bottles of holy water I found stashed around her room. Because who doesn’t have extra holy water lying around?

What the hell, Mom? I mean, really.



Speaking of weird things that borderline freak me out (weren’t we?), let’s talk about something that has had me wigged since the day my mother died: the idea that she might appear to me.

It’s stupid. It’s completely stupid, and I know that. But still…

A little backstory: One of the things that Mom and I used to do when I came down to California to visit over Christmas was watch the ghost hunting shows on TV. There were a couple we would watch: one we really liked and one we really liked to hate (with the guy who is JUST! SO! EXCITED!). Mom was super into the idea of ghosts and haunted places and psychics and all that. I don’t actively believe in ghosts, but I don’t actively disbelieve in them either. I leave room for the possibility of them. In any case, when we got together we liked to watch these shows and talk about these kinds of things. When we went to Boston together, in fact, we went on a couple ghost-hunting tours that were pretty bogus but still a lot of fun.

The point is: If anyone is motivated enough to appear to me from the Great Beyond, she is. Rationally, I know this isn’t going to happen, and I’ve known it from day one. Even so, the day she died, I had a terrible time falling asleep for fear that I’d open my eyes and she’d be there, looming. I’d only just let her go. Even if it was possible, I wasn’t ready to catch up again just yet. I had to sleep with a TV show on my tablet just to give the room more light. I finally had to feed myself some weird nonsense logic like, You know, if she has the power to appear to you, she has the power to know you aren’t ready for that shit, and she won’t do it.

On the other side of the coin, though, is something really unpleasant. Something that is absolutely a result of the horrible things I saw her go through in her final days in the hospital: I go to open a door, and before I do, my mind shows me her on the other side, but she’s mangled. Her face is twisted with death and blood, her eyes are cloudy, her body is hunched and crumpled, and it’s horrible, horrible, horrible. If I need something from her room at night, I first debate how badly I need it. Can it wait until morning?

Once I manage to assure myself that some American Horror Story version of my mom is not on the other side of the door, the next worst thing comes to mind: what she actually looked like each of the three times I saw her really look like a corpse. (Spoilers: She was only actually dead on two of those occasions.) All three terrible, and all three seared into my brain forever, they play through one by one just as soon as I clear out the zombie imagery.

I don’t know how long this will last. I’m looking forward to remembering the awesome times we spent together instead of the shitty hospital times. I know it’s coming, because it came eventually after my father died. My memories of him are now primarily his laugh, his joyful spirit, and the way he would clap and say, “Auty-graph, auty-graph, we want your auty-graph!” anytime I did something awesome.

After he died, I prayed and prayed that he would appear to me, but he never did come.

The Funeral

“Do you want to start a pool?”

My uncle paused his video game and looked up at me. “What?”

It was Monday, November 7, 2016, and my mother’s funeral was that afternoon. I wasn’t really looking forward to it. For one thing, I’d written three different eulogies and thrown them all out. For another, I don’t like hugging strangers, and every person there was going to hug me while they told me how sorry they were. Since my mom wasn’t married at the time of her death, there was no husband to soak up any of the attention, and that was going to make me the “star” of the funeral. Hurray.

Even more than that, though, I just knew that everyone was going to come up to me and say, “At least she’s with Eldon now.” Eldon was my father, and he died when I was a teenager. I really didn’t want to hear that all day long, so the only thing that made sense was to manipulate the situation so that I’d think of something else instead. Something funny. Like a bet.

“Do you want to start a pool?” I repeated. “For how many times we hear she’s with Eldon now?” By my estimation, there was about a 50 percent chance he’d say no and a 25 percent chance he’d think that was too inappropriate—he’s a Roman Catholic priest, after all, and would in fact be officiating my mother’s (his sister’s) funeral. So when the look of consideration turned to one of approval, I admit I was a little surprised.

“Yeah. We’ll probably hear that a lot.”

“I bet around ten.”

“I’ll go under.”

“Should we include Uncle Mark?”

“Yeah, get him.”

I called him upstairs, and of course he wanted in, too. We established a set of rules (obviously it can’t count if one of us says it) and agreed to keep it among just the three of us—partly because other people knowing could affect the outcome and partly because it was just a deeply inappropriate game to be playing in the first place. Alive-mom would have disapproved, but I have a feeling that after-death-mom has loosened up a bit. None of us caught fire, anyway.

Family slowly started showing up and we made our way to the church, where I was immediately accosted by this little white-haired lady. “You wouldn’t happen to be [my first and last name], would you?” I could immediately tell by her…enthusiasm…that I would soon wish very hard that I wasn’t. She had all these questions and statements and it all seemed like stuff that should have been figured out already. “And you’re sure the Father (my uncle) knows you’re giving the eulogy?”


“You’re sure?”

“He’s my uncle…so yes.” I did not like this woman. Not one bit. Thankfully, she finally wandered away to irritate someone else.

No sooner did she walk away, though, than another lady appeared. “We need your approval to open the casket.” It’s very uncommon for a Catholic funeral to have an open casket, and we weren’t going to keep it open for the whole ceremony, but we did arrange to have it open for about half an hour before the service as a viewing. I gave her approval. She opened it. I immediately regretted giving her approval.

She looked…wrong. There was a lot of fluid in her body when she died and it…showed. Her makeup was perfect, they’d painted her nails, they’d adjusted her outfit to cover as much as they could, but there was clearly only so much they could do. Her face…everything was in the right place, but it looked like the skin had sort of pooled down around her neck (an area my mother felt particularly sensitive about). It looked nothing like her, and this became the third time in two weeks that my mother looked like a corpse to me. I added it to the other unsettling images that have seared themselves into my brain.

I stared down into the casket, and I could almost actually hear her telling me, “You close that right now!” The lady who opened it asked if I’d like her to change anything. I voiced my only concern while acknowledging that there wasn’t much to be done. She helpfully tried to fluff the pillow a bit more to maybe cover the neck area, but it didn’t do much.

My family and I briefly discussed whether or not to leave it open. Part of me felt like we had to because we said we would, and what if people wanted to say goodbye to her and get closure? But…I mean, if that’s what you were hoping for, you were going to be disappointed either way, because this wasn’t her. We finally decide to close it after all. I felt a little guilty, but I think I would have felt worse leaving that as the last image in a lot of friends’ and family’s minds.

I was grateful that not too many people came up to see her while we were standing there deciding what to do. Apparently the family huddled up, looking into the casket with furrowed brows and panicked whispers is universally acknowledged code for “there’s probably something wrong with the body; maybe give that a minute to resolve.”

For my eulogy, I ended up just talking about how I’d written three eulogies and thrown them all out. Everyone told me it was very nice.

The bet? No one said it! All three of us lost! No one bet on zero.

But since the whole point was that I didn’t want to hear it at all, I’m still counting myself as the winner.

A Little Princess

At some point shortly after my father died, I came across the move A Little Princess. Her father dies, leaving her an orphan, and I watched it so many times. So, so many times. It bore no other resemblances to my life except that she was losing her father, too. (Spoiler alert: In the end, he turns out to actually be alive. Watching the movie was half cathartic and half wishing for an alternate reality where that could happen for me, too.)

Ever since the day my mother died, one specific scene—one specific line—has been playing over and over in my head. The little girl is learning that her father is dead. The words seem unreal, and rather than giving the news her full attention, she turns to one of the balloons that had filled the room for her birthday party.

The woman who runs the orphanage is trying to get her attention, but the little girl doesn’t look away. “Sarah,” the woman says, “Can you hear me? You are alone in the world.” And the balloon pops. I hear that every day. Multiple times a day.

I know I have friends that are basically family, and I even have a lot of family, but my immediate family—the people I spent every day of my childhood with, the people who worked hard and sacrificed for me, the people who were unequivocally my heroes and my role models—they’re gone forever.


You are alone in the world.

You are alone in the world.

You are alone in the world.


The Tiny Escape Artist

The first thing I hear when I answer the phone is, “Did Animal Control call you?”

It’s my cousin. I think back over the day. I did miss a call from some random number in Indiana, but that was unlikely to be Orange County Animal Control. I tell him no.

“Okay. Then I wonder how they got my number? Um, so Kaylee got out…”

Kaylee is my mother’s sweet little shih tzu, who is four years old even though she’s the size of a puppy. My cousin and his wife adopted her when my mom passed. I considered taking her, and part of me really wanted to, but in the end this little dog just takes so much work. Keeping up with her grooming alone was a daunting prospect.

If I couldn’t take her, though, I was ecstatic that she would be going with family. I’d still get to see her some holidays and more often over Facebook. Plus, I would have the peace of mind knowing that this little creature that was so much a part of my mother’s life would be cared for by someone who really understood how important she was: my cousin, who had apparently just lost her.

“Oh no! How?” She’d slipped through the gate, of course. She really is a tiny dog. “If you’d called me, I’d have gladly helped you look for her!”

“Oh, I didn’t want to bother you. I know you’ve got a lot going on right now.” I took this to mean I didn’t want to tell you that I lost your late mother’s precious dog after just a few days of caring for her, so I didn’t press. (He could have also been referring to the fact that my mother’s funeral had been only two days earlier.) Animal Control had picked her up anyway, and he was on the way to go get her. They updated her chip information while they were there.

I reminded him that we’d brought over her playpen that they could set up inside if they wanted (yes, the dog has a playpen; the dog had more possessions in this house than I do), and we hung up.

I haven’t heard that she got out again, but it’s only been two days. Give her some time.

This Infernal Week

My mother died on October 29, 2016.
Donald Trump was elected to be president of the United States the day after her funeral.

When you lose someone you love, you often feel out of sync with the rest of the world. I do, anyway. I often look around and wonder how everything and everyone can go on like nothing’s wrong when to me, the whole world seems to have fallen away.

By that same token, though, looking toward that normalcy can give you an idea about what you can someday be again, what you can aspire to. If you fall in step with the normal daily life around you, it becomes easier to recover. “Fake it ’til you make it” and all that. It gives you hope that you might someday feel like you again.

When you lose someone you love, you feel like the world should be falling apart with you. It doesn’t seem right that somehow everything around you is just business as usual. Still, I never expected the world to actually fall apart with me.

Scrolling through social media the last few days leaves me at a loss. There is no normalcy right now. Not for anyone. So tell me this: If everything is madness, exactly what am I to look to for hope of integrating back into the world? There’s not yet normalcy in my house or my heart. Everything inside of me is chaos, and I’m desperately looking to the rest of the world to show me, remind me that I’ll be okay. That there is hope. That there’s something to sync back up to.

But all that’s out there is terror and anger and hopelessness.

That’s the same thing I have in here.