I recently lost my mother at age 85 after so many levels of illness in her life: decades of chronic conditions and surgeries, the lung cancer ten years ago that weakened and eventually put her in personal care, the beginnings of dementia two years ago, the move to skilled nursing a year ago, the weight loss and greater need for care all leading to the last few months of decline.
She was in the hospital with the last bout of congestive heart failure when she died. The night she died my brother and I went to her room at the nursing home to take the few possessions she had left there; I didn’t want to go back there if I didn’t need to, and I knew the next few days would be very busy. I was holding back sobs as we walked in, but words were forming in my head and when we entered I took a small scrap of paper and wrote a few of them down. That was enough to ease my heart for the moment, setting the intent, enough to get me through that and back home.
After several phone calls, a visit from a friend and more calls, I had my time alone and was up quite late. As I sat in the quiet of the night outside watching the snow gently fill the air and fall in a soft blanket on the ground, the poem came to me in nearly one complete piece. I carefully went inside and tiptoed to my desk, wrote it down slowly, line for line, all as if I was afraid I’d scare it away, all the beautiful words I’d been thinking, or maybe I’d break it, like a bubble. I changed very little in a rewrite. I had decided I would go through with my poetry reading, just two days after my mother died, because it was an opportunity to share her with others, and to read the new poem, and that I would also read it at the little service we’d have for her at the funeral home.
I could never encapsulate 85 years of a life into one blog post or one photo or one poem, so I won’t even try, but I want to share this. The photo above is the one we placed in our mother’s casket, her wedding photo from 1946 when she was 21 years old. The little scrap of red in the lower left corner is the shirt she wore, the one she loved best, and I knew she’d want to be remembered in it; our mother was one who could wear a red chiffon blouse in her casket and be proud.
I’ve also written a post over on The Creative Cat about this process of loss.
Without further ado, here is the poem.
About My Mother
Regardless of the many outstanding qualities any person may have
we are essentially remembered for only one of them.
In my mother, all would agree
this one would be her remarkable beauty.
All through her life the compliments trailed her
as she carefully maintained “the look”, her look, so glamorous,
from tailored suits to taffeta dresses to palazzo pants,
hair perfectly styled, nails manicured and painted
a collar set just so, cuffs casually turned back,
hair worn long past the age of 50,
a dark, even tan and shorts into her 80s,
lipstick always perfectly applied,
and even at 84
people marveled on her perfect skin,
dark curly hair,
and big bright smile.
I see that smile
when I see my sister smile,
and I see my mother’s active, athletic bearing
when I look at my brother,
and her gray eyes are mine.
In each of her grandchildren
I see her round face,
graceful hands, pert nose,
proud upright posture
and a million other of her features and habits
and in all of us
her wild curly hair
is part of her legacy to us.
When we look at each other from now on
we will see the part of her she gave to each of us,
this little cluster of people who came from her
and who were her greatest treasure,
and when she looks at us from wherever she is
she will know that
she cannot be forgotten.