In May of 1993, my mother died of cancer at 67. She died at home, as she had wished to do, and her body was still in the house when the word got around and friends began to stop by, bringing the strangest things, probably grabbed right out of their own freezers. I remember an old friend turning up with a half-gallon of ice cream, and I thought how strange that seemed.
My mother’s friends from Bridge Club and Garden Club drew up a list and volunteered to come and answer the door for the next few days, to shield us from visitors when we weren’t up to seeing them, to receive flowers and casseroles, to answer the phone. I think it also gave them something to do, and that was consoling. I watched them as the women at the tomb came to watch the guards.
The days went by and we marveled at the food that filled the refrigerator. Among it was some of the best-tasting chicken salad I had ever eaten. It was a small sign of life that I even noticed. One morning, our dear friend Shippy came to be the doorperson; she was one of those friends so close to my parents that I called her “aunt.” Aunt Shippy was in her mid-70’s than and had been undergoing radiation treatments for a tumor near her right ear. One of the results of the radiation was a rather frightening loss of appetite that weakened her and was a concern for her family. Nothing tasted right, she said. Her husband and daughter urged her to drink cans of Ensure, and she was dutiful about the drinking, but it was still a worry.
On the day that Shippy came to help, I had been in the living room, receiving a visitor, and then went back to the kitchen to get some lunch. I sat down at the table with her, and watched her take a little bite out of a quarter of a sandwich made with that incredible chicken salad. She looked up at me, surpised, and said, “Why, that tastes good!” I sat delighted as she finished the whole thing. It was a sign of life. It was a resurrection moment. That tomb did not remain sealed. I was sad and Shippy was ill, but we were certainly living as we sat and ate together. She will be 90 this year.