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I had the strangest phone call a month ago.

A cousin phoned ... I hadn’t heard from him in years ... to tell me that a woman I’d never met had found my mother’s headstone under weeds in her garden.  The woman (Carol) had gone through the telephone book looking for anyone with the surname Roche so she could return the stone to someone who knew the person commemorated on it.

Mum ... Pamela Joan Roche died in 1976, leaving 10, 12 and 14 year old daughters. Her ashes were buried in a cemetery fifty kilometres from Carol’s house. As far as I knew, her grave had not been violated.

A funny thing, while it was just a headstone it felt like a piece of my mother. My sisters and I have no material keepsakes of mum. She is in us in varying degrees. My sister Tracey has her ability to see the good in everyone, to forgive and forget. Shelley looks physically the most like mum, who left nothing but her genes to us. No letters, few photographs. No clothes, furniture, house, vehicles. No jewellery, no books. I am not much like her at all, except in a reckless early life and a tendency to try all the things I was warned away from at least once. These corporeal reminders are all we have.  On her death she was otherwise effectively erased from the physical world.

And now this, a concrete reminder, something to hold onto, was found in a stranger’s garden. Bizarre…

I phoned Carol. Some detective work showed the headstone hadn’t been stolen, but forgotten by mum’s sister who had it removed and a new, less weathered version made. When she moved house she forgot to take the old headstone with her, and it remained, lost in the overgrowth till a gardener found it and tracked down someone who would retrieve it and love it again.

Now I have something tangible, solid, which has both my mother’s, sisters’ and my name on it. It will sit for a while in my garden and then travel to stay with each of my sisters in turn.

Long bereft we will have something solid, tangible that brings her back, in the smallest and strangest of ways to us.