Barely Breathing

It was her signature.  Such a simple, innocuous thing.  Her name, in her inimitable penmanship – which I always thought was wonderful for its illegibility and graceful European quality.

The government of Austria had requested documentation pertaining to her death.  I made copies from the material sent to me from the lawyer who navigated my sister and I through the maze of trusts and estates.  Walking upstairs to retrieve the documents from the printer tray, what was I thinking?  Probably how not to trip on twelve paws racing between and around one’s legs.

I had to look at the copies to make sure they were complete.  Death certificate, medical reasons which belied the possibility that she had just begun to feel lost in her days without my dad and it depleted her too quickly.  More legal documents; a last will and testament.  And her name, in her hand.

Suddenly, there wasn’t enough air in the house, in the world for me to breathe.  Andy looked at me and all I could do was show him the papers in my hand before my gasping turned into a sob that came from a place in me – a waiting room for sobs I think.  Deep, primal.  Nine years already?  And still.  Her name, in her hand.  I lost my footing; I wasn’t ready.  I will never be ready.

My friend doesn’t believe that there is something after this life.  I believe it, but don’t really know what it is I’m believing.  In an interview on NPR, Mary Roach rhetorically asks, who is better off?  The believer or the non-believer?  We agreed, that one with faith – in all that one can’t see – is arguably better off.  But there was little doubt that sometimes pain can take your breath away regardless of your position.

“It’s so curious:  one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief.  But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer…and everything collapses.” — Colette

I drove to the post office with one hand on the envelope, rubbing the spot where I thought her signature might be.  The postmaster commented about the address “Headin’ to Vienna, Austria, right?  And here we are in Vienna, Virginia – funny, huh?”  I think I smiled.  I wanted to tell him that he was holding my mom’s name.  In her hand.  And that it was briefly in mine.

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