“My first inkling of my mother’s new way of thinking about death came on the heels of a shocking phone call that came into my home office one morning in the late ‘90s. It was from the younger daughter of Arlene, one of my mother’s few life-long soul mates. It was horrible news, she said tearfully: Her mom had died, would we please come to Madison for the funeral?
“I was petrified: How could I possibly break this to my own mother? She would be devastated!
“The news was too awful to deliver over the phone. I set aside my work and dragged myself over to the nursing home, trying desperately to think of the best way to tell her.
“’Brace yourself’ sounded about right; it had worked for Mr. Evans, after all, when he told me about my father. And then, quickly: ‘Arlene has died.’
“But it didn’t play out at all the way I had envisioned.
“I found my mother in her bathroom combing her hair, getting ready to head down to the dining room. She was surprised to see me – and not a little frightened once she saw my expression.
“’What’s wrong?’ she asked in that quick, quiet tone we use when we fear the worst.
“Whereupon I knelt down next to her wheelchair and burst into tears, making it awfully difficult for me to give her the news about Arlene. But give it, I did.
“Mom’s reaction shocked me into silence.
“’Oh, I’m so happy for her,’ she said, smiling and gazing dreamily at the ceiling. ‘Dear Arlene – home with George at last.’
“I was speechless.
“I don’t know if we sat there like this for five seconds or five minutes, but finally she noticed me.
“’Oh, sweet Kitty,’ she said, touching my cheek with one soft hand, ‘you’ll understand one day. At least I hope you will.’
“Understand what?” I said crossly. ‘Your friend dies and you’re happy? What is wrong with you?’
“She sighed and shook her head. ‘There’s not much left for us here – of course, there are our children and grandchildren, but you all have your own lives. I honestly can’t wait –‘
“’Don’t you dare say that’ I hissed. ‘I will not listen!’ And I left, still in tears, not even willing to give this cruel mother of mine a ride to the dining room, waiting until our phone call later that night to apologize and make plans for taking her to Arlene’s funeral.
“Her attitude did not change in the months that followed, as the daughters of other old friends called me, one after another, to announce their own mothers’ deaths. Invariably, they said they were calling me instead of my mother because they thought I should deliver the news myself, in person, to soften the blow.
“I did not tell any of them that my mother would most likely greet the news with joy.” (Heaven Without Her, pp 151-152)