Adapt and Adopt

by Joan Oshatz on March 13, 2010 in A Bad Marriage Is Fattening

adapt and adopt

Throughout my life my mother had always been the one person I would turn to when I needed emotional guidance. Even as a grown woman with a family of my own, it was Mother I called when I wanted advice.

In the months following my mother’s death I had no one to call when I needed advice. I would find myself thinking about Mother’s quintessential words for covering every one of life’s challenges, “Adapt and adopt.”

Mother used to say, “If the dinosaurs could adapt and adopt they would still be alive today.” Mother would then point out that since the dinosaurs couldn’t adapt to changes in their environment and adopt a new lifestyle they were now extinct.

I learned a powerful lesson about adapting and adopting when Mother was arranging her own funeral. Not wanting to burden her children, Mother insisted on taking care of every detail of her funeral while she was alive.

One wintery morning in February 1999, Mother told me that she had called the cemetery where she and my father were to be buried. My maternal grandmother had purchased four grave sites when my grandfather had died in 1960. To Mother’s dismay, she discovered that thirty-nine years later the cemetery had no record of the purchase of the two extra grave sites. Instead they had buried two other people in Mother’s and Dad’s grave sites. They said if they could find the record, Mother could have the bodies evicted.

I expected Mother to be disappointed because she had wanted to be laid to rest next to her parents, but she said, “Even if they found the record, I don’t want the plots.” Some acts were unacceptable to her, like evicting dead people from their graves. So Mother adapted and adopted by starting afresh and accepting that she would not be buried next to her parents.

That afternoon it was raining when Mother and I visited the funeral home. There were some luxurious coffins with cushiony satin interiors that gave the subliminal message one would be slumbering permanently on a cloud. Mother chose a simple pine coffin, and then announced she would be buried in her wedding gown. After all the details for her funeral had been arranged, Mother told the funeral director that they would be doing the exact same funeral for her husband, “But he won’t be wearing a dress.”

When Mother and I walked out of the funeral home the rain had stopped. In the distance we saw the most beautiful arc of colors in the sky, a rainbow. Mother turned to me and said, “I have to order new upholstery for my chair in the bedroom and we need to go shopping for new drapes for the living room. Life goes on until it’s over.”

That evening I got a phone call from Mother telling me that she didn’t want to be buried after all. “You decided you’re not going to die?” I asked her.

“No,” Mother explained, “I’ve decided that I want to be cremated.”

It seemed that since Mother no longer had the grave sites next to her parents, she wanted her ashes to be scattered in her favorite lake.

I could not adapt and adopt to my mother being ashes. As if Mother could read my thoughts she said, “Don’t think of me as ashes, think of me swimming towards you on a beautiful summer’s day with a big smile on my face. Think of me every time you see a sunset.”

Not a day has gone by since Mother died that I do not think of her. So many times throughout the years I had found myself absentmindedly reaching for the phone and dialing her number to ask her, “Mother, how should I handle this?” only to be drawn back into reality and remember she’s not here anymore. It is at these times that I remember Mother’s quintessential words for handling any one of life’s challenges: Adapt and adopt.

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