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November 20, 2008
For the first few words of her greeting, the woman's voice was calm and businesslike until she got to the reason for her call. Then her voice broke. The first few times you must use the word "died" to talk about your own mother are usually that way. It's hard to get the words out. Hard to speak the new reality out loud.

This is true even if you've not lived at home for years and years. Even if it has been decades since you needed your mother for any concrete help. Even if, as was the case for my caller, it is your mother who has been the one in need of help for some time now. Even if, as was the case for my caller, your mother has long since ceased to be the woman who raised you, long ago lost her mooring in time and place.

"The unthinkable," is how my friend BIll described it. I could hear the unthinkable in my caller's voice, too, and I remember it well. How can my mother be dead? How can that word have anything to do with her? I remember feeling as if the world could not go on if she were not in it.

It does, of course. Sooner or later, the world goes on without all of us. It even becomes beloved again, beloved and loving -- although we find ourselves charged with a more central role in making it so. When our mothers die, we must mother ourselves.

When our parents die, we must sweep together all of our history, look carefully all around to make sure not a scrap of it is lost. People become interested in geneaology, often, at this moment in their lives, casting back into the memory of the wider world to find the succession of birth, love and loss that brought them to the place where they are now privileged to sojourn. It has not seemed particularly important before. But then, life seemed longer before. Now, the living link to the past is gone.

Ah, me. How many times has this utterly normal sorrow has come through my door, after all these years -- utterly normal, but so unexpectedly cataclysmic? How many families? How many mothers and so many grown children, stunned and orphaned, surprised at how orphaned they feel?

The funeral will be at three this afternoon -- very soon after her death, as the Italians do not embalm, and so the dead must be buried quickly. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory. There will be no one like her, ever again.
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