Two days later on January 30, 1997, at approximately 6:45 A.M., I received a phone call from Claude telling me with a cracked voice that my mother’s heart had stopped beating at approximately 6:40 A.M. This was Sylvia’s third and final death. Although this phone call was expected, Carline and I still felt the aftershocks of her passing. Later that day, Claude met me in the lobby of the hospital after I had gone to retrieve my mother’s belongings. We sat together not saying much, just letting the reality of Sylvia’s passing sink in. I’m beginning to recognize some of the terrain even through my foggy windshield. Thankfully, the rain appears to be lifting and I think I see a landmark. There’s the entrance to the subway that I had noticed a year ago. Yes, the ground is starting to look more familiar.
Unless I’m mistaken, the grave must be in that direction. I park my car where I remember several cars had parked last year and step out, reaching for the small bouquet of flowers in the back seat. I bought two “fire and ice” roses for my mother. They represent Carline and me. I close the car door and head toward where I think the gravesite should be. It is only drizzling now so I leave my umbrella in the car. I can feel the softness of the ground give in to my weight as I walk on the wet grass. I make an unsuccessful effort to avoid the grassless muddy parts. I walk up a little hill and I think I should have arrived at the gravesite already but I can’t find it. I pass a number of plaques and read several of their dedications.
So far I don’t see my mother’s plaque. I feel my anxiety and I’m surprised at my emotional reaction. I’m becoming very annoyed and I can feel my anger rising. I mean for the love of God, I can’t find her remains! I’m out here trying to avoid walking in mud on a lousy rainy day looking for my mother’s grave and I can‘t find it! Suddenly my anxiety bursts into a powerful awareness of her absence over the past year and I fear losing her all over again. A cool wind begins to blow the drizzle against my face and I walk down the hill and head west, not knowing if I am going in the right direction but feeling that I have to keep moving.
I remember the last time I saw my mother’s body. It was at her wake. My mother’s wake was held for one night, on Friday, February 7, 1997, in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn. The week before the wake was spent choosing a coffin and the dress that my mother would be buried in. My aunt Jeanette provided the dress. The funeral home had several rooms, which were all very neat and inviting. We were given a spacious room due to the fact that we anticipated many people coming to the wake. My mother had helped many people in various ways throughout her life and made countless friends. These individuals, including members from both my parents’ families, were expected to attend the only night of the wake. Her body was kept at the far end of the room in a partially opened casket chosen several days before.
The body in the casket looked like my mother, and then again, it didn’t. It resembled a bloated caricature of the beautiful woman Sylvia was. The only thing that was natural about it was the hair. Whoever had arranged her hair did a decent job and the texture was the same as I remembered it. I didn’t spend much time near the body. I stayed in the front, near the entrance, greeting both family and friends. My father stayed near the entrance too, holding lighthearted and friendly conversation with relatives.