In Bronze
Elsa García
(For my mother: Ethel M. Stubbs)
I t happened because he was dead . . . and because she was still living. "If you can call this living," she says, testily. "I never thought that, at 95, I'd be living like this. Alone. In four walls. What do they call this place? Tell me, where is everybody?"

When she says "everybody," we know she means him, our father. We don’t answer. "It happened in December, didn't it?" she almost whispers. Somehow she holds onto this single, terrible fact: He has been dead since the winter. The memory of their adventures, their travels, captured in her carefully kept journals, helps her through the zero that is her present: "My birthday, 1940: George was so thoughtful, so affectionate, so loving. I have never been happier in my life." Now there are only complaints about boredom, the people she repeatedly has never met, the place where she arrived just yesterday, months of yesterdays ago.

My sister and I meet to order a bronze grave marker in time for Yahrzeit, the first anniversary of our father's death, the end of mourning. We argue about the words to have engraved. Every phrase sounds hollow, cold, cliché. Though we are reluctant to stir her sadness, we approach our mother: Would she mind . . . ? What would she want? Without hesitation, without tears, she replies: Write this:

"Married 58 years, and it wasn't enough"

First published: May 1998