December 03, 1992|By COLBY RODOWSKY

In the days after my mother-in-law died we were busy in the way that people are after a death. There were arrangements to be taken care of -- a funeral home to be contacted, a mass to be scheduled.

There were phone calls to be made, with more calls coming into the house almost as soon as the receiver was back in place. There were plans to be made for our children coming from out of town, beds to be juggled, and baby sitters found for their children. There was food to be ordered so that all of my mother-in-law's large and extended family could come to the house for lunch after the funeral.

Sometime in those early days one of my daughters said, ''Is this what it's like when someone dies, with everybody so busy doing things that there's not even time to remember?''

''Well, yes, I guess,'' I said. ''Mostly in the beginning it's doing what you have to do. but then -- and afterward --''

Afterward we were still caught up in doing what we had to do. There was an apartment to be dismantled, clothes to be taken to a shelter, bureau drawers to be emptied. There were personal effects to be distributed: some bits of jewelry to one granddaughter, dishes to another, the desk to the older grandson. There were pictures to be taken off the walls and papers to be sorted through.

My mother-in-law was old, and she was not well, so in a way we were prepared. But we were not prepared. Her sons have gaps in their lives, and in their weekends, when they would ordinarily have gone to visit, or taken her to lunch. There were times, during the recent election, when I caught myself from asking my husband, ''What'd your mother think of this -- of that?'' And the other night I was thinking about cakes for Christmas, about red icing and green, only suddenly I couldn't remember what flavoring went into the green icing. ''Not to worry,'' I assured myself. ''I'll just call Frances. She'll tell me.'' That's when I think it finally hit me.

My husband is nobody's son now. I'm nobody daughter-in-law. Our children have lost their grandparent, our grandchildren their great-grandmother.

Things go along and we remember in all the expected moments, and in the unexpected ones. And I sure we'll draw closer around the table this Christmas. Though we all know that there are some spaces that can never be filled.

Colby Rodowsky writes from Baltimore.

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