Do you know where the picture is? The one from above the fireplace in the sunroom?

I think that it’s probably in storage.

You and your sister didn’t throw it out did you? You threw out most of my life when I moved into town.

No, Mom. I’m pretty sure that it’s in storage. We kept all of the important pieces. It’s an important piece. It’ll be there.

It’d better be.

She glowers, trusting that I feel the full weight of her near-sightless eyes.

We have done this dance many times before today. We have done it countless times for far too many years. We did it again. We did it again after that. Some of the treasure really is in storage. Some of it is not. Today, however, I am too tired to join the fight. On other days, if I am uncertain whether the priceless antique is gone, is no more, or has been gifted away, I obfuscate. I maneuver. I deflect.

I’m not sure.

It might be there.

I’ll check.

How about next time we go for a drive, we have a look?

Okay. We’ll do that.

But this time, on this day in mid December, the picture really is there. Still, I already know that there will be no more drives. She is breaking. I am breaking. I am certain that for Mom’s sake I will arrive at the end in one piece, but I am crumbling, slowly, inevitably. I am carrying something that nobody knows how to carry. I have lifted a burden that nobody knows how to put down. Strained beyond measure, I am unraveling, one sunset at a time.

I let the words echo in the silent, burnt-wood valley of my soul: next time we go for a drive…

But I already know. We will have no more drives, not like the ones now tucked away forever in recently turned pages of our calendar.

There will be one ride in an non-emergency ambulance, accompanied by four skilled hands to keep her warm and safe.

There will be one more ride after that, zipped gently, carefully, lovingly into a night-black body bag – one of my last kindnesses for Lois – placed by my hands on a gurney and then in a hearse, driven by a kind hearted soul named Tran.

And at last, there will be one final journey in a simple cardboard box of the style she chose – ashes to ashes – to rest with Alan in a peaceful, whispering, towering pine corner of the village from which they eloped.

In the end, Lois will rest two short blocks from the sunroom with the fireplace, two tree-lined streets from where the picture once presided over well loved rocking chairs.

But we will not look for that particular frame on our next drive. The ambulance will not stop there.

I am weary to my bones. I am splintering, but I chuckle. I laugh a little at Lois, at my son’s Granny, at myself. There are some skirmishes that I win. There are some that I lose. There are even some through which I duck and cover. I must remember to remind myself that she is a veteran of these wars.

And these wars are real. They are more real than we might imagine. They are fraught with loss, with fear, with resignation, confusion, with tears, and then with compassion for those who will look deep into another’s soul.

But no matter the road we have traveled to get here, we will not look for that picture on our next drive. The ambulance will not stop there.


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