In her final years, my mother underwent a continuous and undeniable physical decline. All of us, including she herself, could see what was happening. Consequently, I had months and years to prepare myself emotionally for what the end of her life might be like. Nonetheless, when that time finally came, I was surprised by both the intensity of my feelings at times and by the odd numbness I experienced at other times. Balancing these more painful feelings, I have also been pleased, and even deeply moved, by the way my family has come together since her death.
So much has happened in these past few weeks, and I did not want my memories of this events to slowly vanish into the haze of the past. It became clear that I needed to write down as much as I could about everything that has happened. My usual approach to writing anything is to turn it into an opus magnum, giving full rein to my long-winded tendencies. Fortunately, I realized that this time I did not need to write a novel-length treatment that would take weeks and months to finish. Instead, I saw that I (and any possible readers) would be better served by my approaching this writing as a blog. Using this format would let me write about individual feelings or memories as they came to me, without worrying about trying to organize them all into a coherent whole.
The particular trigger for re-starting my blog was an emotional jolt that hit me two days ago. I received an email from one of the "family service counselors" at the cemetery where we buried my mother. There was something in that email I had not expected, although in hindsight I perhaps should have.
When my father died back in 1985, the memorial headstone over his grave had been engraved with both of my parents' names, their birth years, and the year of my father's death. However, for the last 27 years the stone has remained incomplete. All that was missing was the year of my mother's death.
The image I received two days ago in that email message showed that the stone's inscription is now complete.
When I first opened the email, it took me several seconds to recognize what I was looking at. But then I felt an almost-electric shock when I realized it was a picture of my parent's memorial headstone. As I stared at the image, I experienced a peculiar emotion that is difficult to articulate. It was the feeling you might get when you are by yourself at night, and you try to walk across a very large unlit room, such as a church sanctuary. It was the feeling you get when you hear the dark, hollow sounds of a big place that had once been bustling and full of life, but that is now abandoned. It was the feeling that a night watchman in a big museum must feel every night.
I am in no way despairing over the loss of my mother. She was more than ready to go, and I am convinced that she is even more full of life now than ever. After someone's death, people often glibly say "She is in a better place now." The fact that this statement seems glib makes it no less true. On the other hand, my mother has in fact moved on now, and she has left a very large and very empty place behind her.
The above is a serious, and heart-felt record of a startling and moving experience. However, I must confess something else about the experience that shows what a nerd I am. The feeling I described above was not the absolute first thing I felt when I saw the headstone image. Rather, in an amazing leap of irrelevant free association, the very first thing I thought of when I saw the picture of the memorial stone was that the dry red soil of north Texas looks a lot like the surface of Mars. As the old saying has it, the problem with free association is that you get what you pay for.