Madonna & The Mask

During Megan Carle’s three decades at Nike, she held various positions across Footwear, Apparel, Equipment and Golf. In 2016, after leaving Nike, Megan started writing and founded Carle Consulting LLC which provides strategic marketing advice to consumer products companies in need of cross functional partnership. Her writing led to a book about how she confronted corporate bullying with the unexpected tools of grief, loss and love. It is currently in the hands of a literary agent who is shopping it for publication.

The funeral is held at the St Aloysius Catholic church on Gonzaga University’s campus. Flower arrangements cover the steps to the front altar. Mom’s friends speak about her.

And then it is Neil’s turn. I take his hand and we make our way to the pulpit. Our triad now two. He pulls out a letter, saying, “This is a letter written by our Grandpa Neil. He died before it ever reached Spokane. I’m told Jackie saw it but didn’t want to open it until she got stronger.”

He pauses, takes a breath as I hold tight to his hand, two empty vessels staring out from the pulpit. “Well, she never got stronger. Anyhow, it’s a beautiful piece of writing by an eighty-seven-year-old man to a forty-five-year-old woman whom he loved dearly. I’d really like to share it with you.”

Jackie dear,

            I am so glad to hear from you. I know now that you have the mental capacity to endure, the physical stamina to overcome. The best of medical care, the prayers of the many who love you added to your will to live will win the battle.

            Broken necks: One of the nice things about that and other unexpected and painful experiences is that you can’t relive them.

            Memories, the ability to recall, are God given gifts that make life easier to live.

            We all have, and have only, the present conscious moment. Get all you can of each fleeting hour and do not plan on the “somedays.”

            I’ll give Neil and Megan all that my love and intelligence can muster.

            Jackie, what I can add is so little in comparison with what you have done for them. They will never disappoint us.

            All my love. Dad

With a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 people in the church, my brother’s deep, melodic voice triggers sniffles and sobs of those who love this lovely woman, many of them her students, past and present. They listen as Neil recites—somehow, without breaking down—the beautiful love letter, full of such heart and wisdom, to the daughter-in-law our Grandpa Neil so adored and admired. I look out at the congregation and see our family and friends. I cannot believe the catastrophic disaster that has led us to this point and think to myself, There’s no way we’re up here, doing this.

I know with certainty that I will never get over this loss. I see all of these people who love Mom and I listen to their stories about her and I know they will move on. They’ll get over this loss but I never will. This certainty will lead me through all the sympathy cards and all the well-intended, most brutal comments people make to me, like, “She’s in a better place”; He only takes the best of us”; “Time heals”; “everything happens for a reason,” and, my all-time favorite, “at least she didn’t suffer.”

This last one makes me realize that people really don’t want to see suffering, of any kind. They don’t want to see the raw pain that comes with loss. It hits me like an errant ball to the head—the only way I will have a shot at making it through my own suffering, my own pain, my own grief, anger and shock is to shield it from myself and from everyone else. Wear the mask. Permanently. It will protect me from feeling anything and hide me from others. The mask will allow me to behave in the way expected of me and keep others out.

And then the service is over and I am at the front door in my Madonna-inspired outfit – straight black skirt, oversized white blouse and sling belt resting on my hips. I had been so proud of that belt purchase, completed just a week prior on one of our Trojan student trips to Westwood. I had no business spending money on anything, much less a fancy belt. Yet, it’s now resting on hips that stand at the front of a church where I’ve just said goodbye to the one person who would have been the most tickled to see me in it. Mask firmly in place, I receive those who love Mom, so they can shake my hand, hug me and touch me in some way. As if by touching me, they are somehow touching her.

“She was my favorite teacher,” a student says to me, sobbing.

Mine too.

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