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Will the Circle Be Unbroken

The night Mama died, she was at home. She had gone into a coma which the doctor said would be the final stage. I had been with her for the last few weeks of her life. Once she knew nothing more could be done for her, she seemed to want to get it all over. She was rushing to meet death. That night, a nurse staying at the house asked me and my cousin Jeanette to go buy aspirin suppositories because Mama had a fever. It was after 9 pm and we couldn’t find an open drugstore. Desperate, we drove to the pharmacist’s house (this was a small North Carolina town where this was possible). By the time we returned, Mama had died. 

I was upset I hadn’t been there with her when she died. Because she died so soon after we drove away, I suspected the need for aspirin suppositories was something the nurse dreamed up to get me out of the house. The nurse recognized signs I couldn’t so she knew Mama was close to death. Maybe she thought Mama wouldn’t let go if I were in the house. Maybe she was trying to spare me from seeing Mama actually die. I don’t know but I’ve never forgiven her. Had I been less stressed I would’ve refused to leave the house.

The preacher was the first person to arrive. He and I stood by Mama’s bed. I was sobbing. He told me that if I lived my life in Christ, I would see her again. Those words were no comfort to me.

Close to midnight, the funeral home people came to pick up Mama’s body. I saw them come in the front door and walk to the where I was standing. Their dark suits and somber expressions freaked me out. I said to Jeanette, “My God, they look like undertakers!” She looked at me in an odd way and said gently as though I were in need of being carefully handled, ‘well, of course, they are.’

I still didn’t understand, had not yet accepted reality. I asked the men if they could leave and come back in the morning for Mama. Did they have to take her so soon, I asked. Jeanette, the preacher, the men in the dark suits with the somber expressions seemed embarrassed for me. Then I realized that something incredibly final had happened. Of course, Mama couldn’t stay until morning.

I was unprepared for the depth and intensity of my grief after her death. It was a daily assault. I had no tools for handling it. I didn’t know how to express it, how to move beyond it, how to live with it. One song got me through this time: Will the Circle Be Unbroken. I had a version by the Sisters of Glory that I love, and I played it over and over. I marched around the room singing, crying, and beating on my tambourine. I sang loudly. Maybe I even wailed. And I didn’t just do this once and my grief was gone. It became my daily ritual. Sometimes still, 29 years later, I still repeat this ritual of grief.Lois 1960