Questions for my Mother Part 3: Where do they go?

Have you seen the movie Temple Grandin? It stars Claire Danes and is the true and wonderful story of an autistic animal behaviorist. There are a couple of scenes where Temple sees the dead body of an animal or a person and asks: Where do they go?

Since I've been thinking about death lately (not in a morose way, I just have a Day of the Dead obsession--that's all), this line of Temple's reminded me of seeing my mom's dead body.
[Note: growing up Catholic means that I saw all sorts of dead bodies at wakes, but the enbalming, kneeling, flowers and dark curtains make for an entirely different spooky experience.]
I took a red-eye across the country and arrived at my parents house in Rhode Island a few hours after my mom passed away.  As I came in the front door, my dad pointed me to the bedroom. The word 'lifeless' had a new significance after seeing my mom's body there without "her" in it.

So the question for my mother today is: Where do they go? 

I could muse about this for hours-- the science, the philosophy. Of course it's an age-old question, but it becomes poignant when you witness  the death of someone first-hand.

Here is something I wrote a couple of months later  (It's meant to be spoken rather than read):

My mother is dead.
I saw her body with my own eyes , An inanimate object , she lies on the bed. Empty.
Her suffering gone
Her smile gone
Her hair gone
Her laugh quiet
Her hands cold, and twisted
Her mouth slightly open
I can no longer resist it
My mother is dead.
So I just sit there on the bed, wishing I wasn’t there, wishing I could  talk to her one more time, let her hold me one more time
Wishing I’d been an easier child,
Wishing  I’d  been one of those girls with a mild, temperment
But this is permanent.
My mother is dead
I knew this would happen But not so soon There was part of me that
Felt immune . Felt like there would be some sort of miracle
Like she was really some sort of mythical character.   
A mother immortal
My mother is dead.  
And as I Look at her body, I see clearly that she is gone. That whatever life is, it’s been withdrawn . And whatever life means  is beyond me
You see, to me—it seems  impossible, and when I get philosophical i trip out on the question: who am I ? what is this? And I don’t mention it much because people don’t want to think about it.
We’re so wrapped up in our lives that we miss out on it. And I ask: what really matters anyway?
My mother is dead.
The men in suits walk into my parents house. The men in suits walk into her bedroom and carry her out in a black body bag.
A black. body. bag. The object removed.
The men in suits are polite standing with their hands folded behind their backs speaking in hushed tones.  Neighbors bring platters of little sandwiches on soft rolls. The bed where my mother has been lying for weeks for months, is empty.
My mother is dead.

photo by Terrence Gavan


  1. Colleen, that was so beautiful.

    Dead bodies are so weird. Like mushrooms if you ask me.

    I feel so far removed from death. Even when people close to me have gone I feel as if I stay in a constant state of denial. If you were to ask me your mom would be in the last place I saw her. Strange.

    Love you.

  2. I saw "Temple Grandin" and her question resonated with me too. When I saw my dad's body after he died all I could think is that it was just so bizarre that he wasn't in there anymore. You've captured this shock and wonder so well in this post...I got chills and shed a few tears too. Thank you for sharing. I love your writing!

  3. Beautiful words Colleen, I remember for months after my dad passed away I was haunted by that first image of him lying dead in his bed......its almost four years on now and from time to time the image pops up in my mind again and I think its mad to think he is gone :(

  4. Death is so hard to face head on like that. I think you described the emotions perfectly. I still get that punch in the gut when I think of my Dads being gone. I don't guess it ever really goes away. Those frozen moments of realization.

  5. Oh, Colleen. I didn't know we had this in common... I've never posted anything about the actual death (and the days after) of my mom, but you've inspired me to consider it. Thank you.

  6. Oof, this is powerful. I never saw my mother's dead body, and I spent years wondering if it had been a mean trick someone played on me. (Forgive me, I was 11 when she died.)

  7. thank you for this....i wish i could hear you read it out loud.


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