When I got the call that my teacher-girlfriend had died suddenly, my shrimp salad sandwich turned to sand in my mouth. As I hung up my cellphone, a fog welled up around me and I careened into auto pilot mode. A group of fifth graders were waiting for my performance, so I performed for them, stunned and distracted.  I needed to drive from upstate New York to her home in Bowie, MD so I got in my car and drove. About ten minutes into the grueling, surreal trek, my phone started blowing up. Everyone had heard the news (her horrific car accident was ON the news) so I became absorbed in call after call, condolence after condolence. Detail after blood-soaked detail. The she-just-died-this-morning fog was thick but it allowed me to function and do what had to be done. Then I arrived at her home. Pulled into her small driveway where she used to park her car. Rang the doorbell, stepped inside her polished foyer it’s 12 foot ceiling looming, and saw her mother. I expected her to be distraught and encased in her own fog but that’s not what I saw. Quite the contrary, she looked composed and strong and busy. Within minutes she informed me that the memorial service was planned and the only thing left undecided was who would sing Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace? The program was done? What???!!! This woman had just lost her only daughter and all she needs is the soloist?Unbelievable. All I could do was hang my sad head and take the long walk upstairs  to her bedroom to take it all in. But lo! Mama had already cleared the fog up there too. The queen sized bed was made. The bathroom sink rinsed and dried. Her daughter’s flowered dresses pretty hung or folded. What the heck was going on? What I’ve since learned is that after someone dies, the survivors go through a process where the brain protects them from the initial shock of the death. This allows them to survive the loss and get things done. Tasks like planning the memorial service and selecting the caterer become doable because the part of the brain that processes emotion shuts down and the business brain goes into action. Isn’t that wonderful? I mean, I was actually angry with my girlfriend’s mom for many years then I learned about the marvelous brain and how it protects us and I wasn’t as mad with her anymore. I still wonder how she got it all done so fast. And I wonder why she selected the worst caterer in Maryland and why Amazing Grace. And the soloist, well I don’t even remember her but she must’ve gotten through it. And so did I but barely. At the cemetery I wrapped my arms around her shiny gold casket and cried until my husband said we had to leave. Her mother left before me and somehow this made me feel good. Like I had loved her all the way to the end even after Mama left and the last chicken wing had been eaten. I guess my good old brain had placed a gate up to protect me, too.
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