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Adele Elliott: The silence of sorrow


Adele Elliott



Why does death always come as a surprise? We expect it throughout our entire life. It is the logical bookend to birth, the soul''s escape. 


We lost my mother last week. The family (my brother, sister and I) had been on death watch for months now. The only real wonder was that she held on this long. 


Yet, "that" phone call still stuns. My sister''s voice (I know it so well) had a forced calm, a brittle edge, on the verge of shattering. 


"Mother is gone," she tries to sound composed. I am not fooled. "About 10 minutes ago. I''ll call you later." 


"Alright," I say. "Later" turns into three very long hours. 


 This column is not her eulogy, too soon to write that one. We are still in the business, the busyness, mode, taking care of bank accounts, bills, notifying friends. 


There is an apartment to clean out, and a storage locker, 80 years of possessions to divide. I requested a tiny antique chest, a folk-art painting and some dishes. My sister wants a wrought iron table with a glass top, and our grandmother''s piano stool. 


We will share the silver. Victoria and I each have our own pattern, our taste so different from Mother''s. Her pattern was too ornate, too formal for our styles. Now, it is rich with patina and memory, etched by many years of everyday use. I look forward to seeing it on my table. 


I spoke to Mother a few days before her death. She sent love to my Columbus friends, especially Jyl and John. "I''m ready to go," she told me, something I did not believe. "I''m not in pain." She repeated this, trying to give me comfort. "I''m not in pain." 


In the end, I have few regrets about what I said, but so many about what was not said. The sorrow, the guilt, is in sins of omission. 


It''s been an icy week in Columbus. I saw a few snowflakes glide across my windshield, and a bit of frost on the dry leaves in my yard. I suppose that it is this coldness making my chest feel empty and heavy at the same time. 


This chill seems to have affected my voice, as if my breath has settled at the bottom of my lungs, too weak to propel words into the air. The moment has past now to say one more thing, have one more conversation. Surprisingly, silence is my burden, and the manifestation of my grief.


Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment DWAINE MITCHELL commented at 1/11/2010 10:05:00 AM:

Sorry about your mother, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I live in Columbus Ohio, my sister Tammy lives in Columbus Mississippi (she owns Ivy Cottage Florist} so I try to keep up on the news down that way, and I enjoy your column every week.


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