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Florence in Words

Mariam Chamberlain’s Death, One Year Later

I dreaded the day, but April 2 passed, with two emails from Mary Rubin, and my two back to her, and one from Heidi Hartmann. It was a day like any other, since I think of Mariam often, many time in a single day, since there is much around me to remind me of her, and I have been confined mainly to my apartment for more than three months.

The painting called “Woman Reading,” which used to hang over Mariam’s bed, now hangs in a prominent position in my living room, near the Kaethe Kollwitz, which I’ve owned for almost 40 years, and the Picasso print which used to hang in Mariam’s dining room. And there are photos of Mariam in various places along my bookcases and on top of my desk in the study, where there is a photo-cluster of dead friends. That’s probably enough, but my friends, Don Thomas and Jorge Cao, persuaded me to replace my own walnut bookcases in the bedroom with four of Mariam’s bookcase units that used to stand in her living room.

So, yes, in every room, Mariam’s photos, furniture, and art work testify to her presence. And as if that were not enough, there are odd pieces of glass on a shelf in the kitchen, or on the dining room table.

Mariam was not a plant-person, though she enjoyed cut flowers and a blooming plant if she didn’t have to take care of it. And on the last day of cleaning out her apartment, I had to decide about a sad-looking plant with yellowing leaves that I could have tossed out. But I took it home, sprayed it, and it decided to live once I found the perfect spot for it. Today it has three blossoms and it is another reminder of Mariam.

Does all of this sadden me? Not in excess of the regret I have felt all year. Regret for her death, and a refusal to accept her age as comfort. Yes, I know: she could probably not have lived even for another year, given the aortal valve she needed, and of course I don’t need reminding that I would have been sad whenever her death occurred.

Perhaps death for those who lose a dear person is bound to be a long goodbye. Even when there seems to be closure—in the form of a burial, for example—there really is none. And I write today thinking of all those people around the world who, for two months, have not had the kind of word they can accept about the fate of their sons, daughters, mother, fathers, and other relatives who were on a huge plane flying from Malaysia to China. No comfort for them, I know, to say that, even when the person you care about has been placed in a casket and buried before your eyes, that act is also no comfort.

There is no comfort in death.

There is no relief.

There is no release.

There is memory and there is grief.
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