Every now and then I am reminded that I’m Portuguese and Catholic. My mother’s funeral was one of those times.
On the flight home I worried that with Mom gone, the gloves would come off and my already estranged siblings would tell me exactly what they thought of my being a big homo.
Those fears quickly evaporated when my sister rubbed my jelly belly and asked, “What happened here?”
The nurse opened the door to Mom’s room for my brother and I and said eerily, “She’s been waiting for you.”
There were no tubes or machines as I had expected. I took Mom’s hand and looked into her eyes. It was like coming face to face with a whale at the aquarium; they see you, but have no way of communicating.
My sisters fussed with the rosary in Mom’s hand and moved the saints where she could see them. Mom had a charm around her neck that promised she would not see the flames of hell.
“By whose authority?” I wanted to ask.
We took turns holding her hand, stroking her hair. We looked into each other’s eyes again, and for the first time in years, it felt like she actually saw me. Then her breathing stopped… ugh… and started again.
There was a slideshow of family pictures at the funeral home. I secretly counted how many were of Mom with my cousin the priest — and nemesis — and me. Only I would have to compete for the title of favourite gay son.
The women my mom used to gossip with on the phone paraded by us offering their condolences. It’s no secret that I’m gay, and having lived with my mother, news of shaking hands with one would certainly go viral on the Portuguese gossip mill.
I fumbled my way through mass, trying to remember when to kneel and cross myself, or whether to take the Heavenly Host in my mouth or hands. Reality didn’t set in until the wake, when my siblings gathered with their families at separate tables while I was stuck with in-laws.
That evening my sisters reminisced about their voyage from Portugal to Canada in the 1960s. My mother and seven siblings waited for a week at the airport for an airplane with enough space for them.
I forgot how hard they struggled before I came along. I realized the differences between us had less to do with my sexuality and more to do with their shared struggle to become Canadians.
Our family photo from the 1970s hung on the wall where Mom could see it from her bed. It was nice to know that in a small way, I was there.
And then I packed it away with her things.