The grass slowly grows back as the approaching summer heat dries up the surrounding California chaparral. Still no marker to tell the passerby what happened there, it is unmistakable that a coffin was once lowered into this earth, that bones, remnants, the physical vestige of a human being lies six feet below.
She has a new neighbor. Was he old? Was she young? Do they get along?
I do not know.
But there, on that partially regrown earth, atop the patches of whispery grass, sits a dying pink plant brought a week ago for Mothers Day, some more flowers perhaps a few weeks old, and a program from the graduation ceremony she never attended. All monuments to a woman we cannot yet say goodbye to.
It seems that the whole of the land cries out in testament to the horrors of the year that has passed. There is the bed where my mom should be lying, smiling, so happy to see me and give me a hug. There is the grocery store where she should be shopping, wearing old grey sweatpants and a black waffle tee. There is the hospital where I was brought into life and where she, thirty years later, was brought out of it.
But that walkway, I remember it! She’s standing there smiling, with her husband, on their anniversary, going in for Day 2 of chemo. This won’t be that bad. We can get through this!
And that sanctuary, where nine new rabbis are about to be ordained, isn’t she sitting there, beaming, as her son enters the rabbinate?
We congregate outside my sister’s graduation hall. The family has another Doctor Singer. My mom’s girlfriends file out. One. Another. Another. She’ll be just behind them, tears in her eyes.
But she’s not.
I sit down on the couch one night, and say to my girlfriend, “I want you to meet my mom.” And then we press play on the DVD. She looks more alive than anything, so few short months ago, but she’s stuck behind the glass of the television screen. I can’t get her out. What happened happened.
The monuments haunt me. I close my eyes and I still see them all.
But the worst one, the one that hurts the most, is the Shabbat table filled with a patchwork of family, a man, his wife, his ex-wife’s widdower, the family that she built, that she brought, she forced together, the testament to her life’s work. It hurts not because she’s not there, not because of the empty seat to my right, the loud silence devoid of her annoying persistence – “What are you doing tomorrow? At 10? At 11? At 12”; “Did you call your grandparents? Call them again. Do you love them? Do they love me?” – but because the obvious reality manifest in the love shared at this meal is that her life did have meaning, despite ending early, that she got all she wanted, even if we couldn’t fully appreciate it until she died.
The tragedy of a death too soon and too fast is not the dead part. We all die. There’s no escaping that without not being born.
The tragedy is coming to terms with the fact that all you’re left with is monuments, an earth filled with stone pillars attesting to what was someone you love’s life, and all you can do is try to forget all the monuments to pain so that all that fills the landscape are statues, fountains, and little pink flower beds of love.