When you lose your mother but you inherit a headache. My thoughts on grief and “things” in a flash essay appears in Variety Pack, Issue 1: http://www.Varietypack.net
Before my mother died from a long cancer struggle she had many infirm months to reckon the future of family heirlooms. My husband and I traveled across the country to Colorado for the last goodbye, and after Mom’s memorial we had to solve getting our assigned heirlooms home to Rhode Island…. https://varietypack.net/issue-i/
Today, August 26th, I am celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday. Marilyn Schopfer Brown died about a month ago. She wanted to live long enough to see eighty and to see the Downtown Abbey movie. She didn’t make it to either, but she’s with me in every idea I write, every moral decision I make, and everything I goof up too.
I always wondered who writes the obituary when someone in the family dies. Among my brothers and sisters, the job fell to me. But first I’m also posting the text of the remembrance I gave at my mother’s memorial service. I’m really proud of it, and I hope I captured her view of the world.
Last winter I called my mother on a Saturday morning, she was busy listening to the soundtrack of Johnny Appleseed, that’s a Disney musical movie from 1948. She was alone, tethered to a walker and an oxygen machine, dying of cancer, and she was having a great life. Johnny Appleseed is the story of a 19th Century apple farmer who is sent on a mission by an angel to travel across America planting apple seeds and preaching the Gospel. He wears a tin-pot hat, befriends a skunk, and sings a ceaselessly optimistic song proclaiming: The Lord’s been good to me. There was a lot of Johnny Appleseed in my mother. She believed in a benevolent and nondenominational God, she loved unlovable animals, and would likely have sung showtunes with a tin-pot on her head if someone had asked her too. But I’d like to make another point about Marilyn’s Appleseedian optimism. It isn’t hard, even for cynics like me, to grasp that some unique people wake up everyday with an optimistic outlook on life and see the positivity they project fulfilled. In her life, my mother came west and planted seeds of optimism among her family and grandchildren, her friends, her co-workers, her students, her church congregations, her clubs–elevating every flagging person and feral cat she met, everywhere she went. I get it–life is grand if you make it that way. What I struggled with on the telephone that Saturday morning was understanding my mother’s ability to translate her harmonious optimism into a joyful noise about dying. My mother told me that her terminal illness was a gift, not because she wanted to die, but because death comes to all and in knowing the end she saw an opportunity a lot of people don’t get. She was glad to have the time to reflect on the happy things about her life, past and present. Besides, my mother was 99% sure that God was waiting for her on the other side. And if she was wrong all this time, she was prepared to pass into oblivion grateful for a life that gave all the things she needed, and that her apple trees would still be there. I still don’t get it, but I like it. I admire it. And today my mother inspires me. In the last scene of Johnny Appleseed, after years of walking barefoot over hundreds of miles while planting seeds all along the way, Johnny rests under an apple tree. His angel appears and says that Johnny’s mission on Earth is at its end. At first Johnny doesn’t want to go to the resting place, believing that the work isn’t done yet. The angel tells Johnny that where they’re headed is low on apple trees and that there’s still a lot of work to do. So Johnny picks up his apple seed bag, his Bible, puts the tin-pot on his head and happily goes. May we all go as optimistically as my mother in the sun and rain of life, and in the looming shadow of death, without complaints, or resentment, or fear, as happy as we’re willing to be.
Marilyn (Schopfer) BrownBrown MARILYN (SCHOPFER) BROWN 08/26/1939 – 07/21/2019 Marilyn Schopfer Brown died peacefully, after a long illness, in the company of her children and grandchildren in Grand Junction, Colorado on July 21st, 2019. Born August 26th, 1939 in Syracuse New York, her parents were Irving F Schopfer and Marion Schopfer Cabrey. A graduate of North Syracuse High School and SUNY Oneonta, in her professional life she was a teacher of home economics, and worked for the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado for over twenty years before becoming a freelance trainer for the city. In 2000, she retired to life in Tempe, Arizona and Grand Junction, Colorado. In her personal life, Marilyn loved babies and being a mother. She was proud of being the “best grandma ever”-her grandchildren told her so. Blessed with many loyal, caring, and fun-loving friends, she returned those qualities to the world around her in many ways. Marilyn is survived by her siblings Suzanne and Thomas (Carol deceased); her children and their spouses Steven, JoAnn, Christopher and Rachel, Richard and Colin; her grandchildren Christopher, Brennan, Briony, and Braewyn, and by her four feral cats. Marilyn requested no flowers, but asked memorial contributions be made to Campus Ministries at University Lutheran Church of Tempe, Arizona and “She Has A Name” at Heart of Junction Church, Grand Junction, Colorado. A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 27, 11a.m., at Heart of Junction Church, 755 N 4th St., Grand Junction, Colorado, 81501.
(cinema) We Need to Talk About Kevin, d. Lynne Ramsay, 2011. The IMDB entry for this movie says: The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions. I lived in Colorado at the time of the Columbine High School murders and I’ve thought a lot about what life must be like for a parent whose kid has does something so awful. It’s an intriguing script idea but it doesn’t happen to be what Kevin is actually about. The high school mass murders here are a sort of foregone conclusion to the story of a mother who is emotionally terrorized by her son, beginning when he is an infant. This is a unique piece in that the story is told in non-linear flashbacks and the cinematography is experimental. Yet the story to me plays closer in genre to horror than to a psychological drama you might see at the arthouse. I can recommend this movie if it’s only on the multiplex at the mall level. Otherwise we’re looking at something that it is on the edge of camp. Witness the
Ezra Miller as Kevin
scene where the mother tries to explain reproduction to her little boy via the Mama Bear and Papa Bear and the boy interrupts, “Is this about fuckin’?” If it isn’t highbrow horror Kevin is just Mommy Dearest with the abuse roles switched around. Did you want the gays to love your movie like that? ๏๏๏… Afterschool, d. Antonio Campos, 2008. The actor who plays the
Miller in Afterschool
sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin was in this earlier movie where he also plays a disturbed kid but with a bit more subtlety. Ezra Miller is great actor in addition to have grown up to be pretty hot. Anyway, in Afterschool, Miller is a nobody kid at a prep school who accidentally videotapes two popular girls die overdosing on tainted cocaine. As the school goes into damage control trying to shake out all the drugs, Miller starts to act erratically believing he is under surveillance. Surveillance, public image and acts of watching are huge themes in movie. Apparently a lot of people don’t care for the slow pace of the story and static camera scenes. I could write a book on why every shot matters. I think it’s brilliant.๏๏๏๏๏
Addendum: If you want to a see an excellent movie about the psychology behind school shootings I recommend Zero Day, from 2003. Both Afterschool and Zero Day stream on Netflix.
A young couple moves into a new apartment and find themselves overwhelmed by peculiar neighbors and unsettling coincidences. When the wife becomes pregnant, she also becomes paranoid that the neighbors are witches and that the coincidences are parts of a plot to kidnap her unborn child for use in Satanic rituals.
Considered by many to be a horror classic, and even a cinema classic, I like the movie but find it disappointing on two levels. The first is a fault in the construction of the film in that it seems to have no middle part. It’s more than 2 hours of anxious build-up with a rather silly payoff in the last few minutes. The second disappointment I suspect stems from being sui generous and controversial in its time. But it’s been imitated so much that now that it comes off as trite. I suspect people at the time of the movie’s release found it an indicting treatment of the upper-middle class and bourgeois professionals. It just doesn’t seem shocking now.