Come out little girl
It's time to shine your light.
No need to cower in the corner
Nor run in fright.
You are safe with us.
You hit 10 on the Richter scale
Sitting on the world's greatest fault line.
It's no fault of your own
So shine girl shine.
You are safe with us.
The battle is not over for you.
The white flag of surrender
Was your only choice.
Sad that it renders
Loss of hope
Loss of innocence
Shine girl shine.
You are safe with us.
Every year I go to Vermont to ski and snowshoe for a week. I take a hike up to the chapel in the woods and say a prayer for my parents. Nine months ago my mother passed away. These paintings I offer up to her as my prayer of remembrance and gratitude.
The first one was inspired by a painting. The second one was based on a photo I took while snowshoeing.
We are sitting at the dining room table overlooking the patio. The trees in front of us have the beautiful shades of autumn. We are eating two types of chowder and shrimp cocktail. This is the best meal, my father says. He is eating heartily. I’m glad. Trying to fatten you up, I tease. When we are finished we retire to the “living room” a few feet away. He looks around the room and says he is pleased and comfortable with the new apartment. We brought most of the furnishing minus a few geisha dolls and an array of angels and madonnas. The apartment has a more masculine feel. It feels uncluttered and relaxing. He looks more rested these days. I notice a quiet air about him. He is in deep thought. I still miss her a lot he says. He shakes his head. This time he is not laughing or smiling. He is no longer in the denial stage of the grief process. He has accepted that my mother, his wife is no longer living as we are. But where did she go?
Where does any living thing go after what we call life? Temple Grandin asked this same question. I recently viewed the HBO film about the well known woman with autism who went on to become a PhD graduate in science and animal rights advocate. I also went to hear her lecture on autism and was inspired enough to read her book on the subject. People “on the spectrum” are characteristically socially awkward. They have a neurological wiring that is different than the general population yet two scenes in the film touched on a universal theme. The first scene she witnessed a cherished horse’s death. But where did he go? The young Temple asks. In the second scene she is at a funeral for a beloved teacher and mentor. She is leaving the funeral and her mother tries to teach her the socially correct behavior. Temple says He’s not there. Where did he go?
I have asked my self this same question so many times. My Catholic upbringing told me that people go to heaven after life on earth. But where is that? What is that? Science tells me that matter cannot be created nor destroyed. So where does the spirit go? I sit with my father and talk about my mother. Her urn is bright and colorful so representative of her personality. The urn is set on the Asian themed curio in a prominent area of my father’s apartment. It holds the last physical matter of what we knew as my mother. The room is permeated by her spirit. In order to answer the question where do we go we must ask ourselves where are we now and what is our purpose? What is life? What is life after life. For now I just respond to my father, I miss her,too. Stay healthy,Dad. I need you around for awhile longer.
It was the first day of my summer vacation. I went downtown. To look for a job. No no no! That is the start of a Cheech and Chong skit from my childhood days. However, it was the first day of my summer vacation. I did go downtown but the purpose of my visit was the New Bedford Folk Festival. It was a family event with music, crafts, food, and a lot of good vibes. I grew up listening to folk music and still enjoy that it is the people’s music. While American History teaches what the rich and powerful are doing, folk music teaches us what the rest of the country is doing. It may be stereotyping but it seems the men lean towards broken romance, drinking, politics, and choosing sides during wartime while the women sing about ancestry, home, sisters, and mothers. All sing about love and unity and a sense of belonging. It was during one of the workshops that Anne Hills sang an adoption song that was about longing for a mother. I wept quietly in my seat. My father rubbed his face. We said nothing of this to each other. Kate Taylor sang of the loss of a friend and a red-tailed hawk that showed up everywhere. She felt the presence of her friend whenever the hawk presented itself. Garnet did a reading from his book about the difference between men and women folk singers and we all laughed in this strange fog of joy and somber. There is something about folk songs that expose the bittersweet elements of life. They talk of the joy of the return after the sorrow of being away. They talk of the wonders of life of a person that has passed away. They tell a story. They honor those who came before. They challenge us to do something for those who are to follow.
I returned home that evening feeling good after a day of song, reflection, fresh air, and time spent with my surviving parent. I sprawled out on the couch and reached for the remote. Being a bit of a tv geek I scrolled down the on demand documentary list. The Heart of a Dog. That sounds fairly light and breezy. NOT! The narrator, it turned out, was the wife of Lou Reed known for take a walk on the wild side. In the documentary she narrates the physical decline of her dog and her experience of losing her own mother. I was like oh boy I can’t do this, but I was so engrossed. I felt this woman was telling my story. It was like the Roberta Flack song when she sings, ” I was flushed with fever. Embarrassed by his song. I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud.” How did she know this about me? Why was she telling my story to the world? Because it was our story. It was the shared story, the scripted narrative of a daughter who lost her mother. That is why songs, and poems, and memoirs, and fiction resonate with us. The chords are the same even if the melody is different.
The story teller said she went to a monk for guidance. You can FEEL sad without BEING sad. OMG. That is exactly what I am experiencing. I don’t want to give up the experience of feeling sad about my mother. I just don’t want to be sad. It’s been about 10 weeks since my mother passed away. I think about her all the time. Most of the time the memories make me smile. I want that moment back. I want to tell her about my day. I want to cook her a favorite meal. Sometimes I just cry and tell her I miss her. I tell her I feel sad but because of her I won’t be sad. I look for her presence in all things joyful, on the wings of the birds, and every wave that washes to shore.
It was Christmas time when I opened the envelope. Inside was a gift certificate from a local spa called The Right Touch. ” I know you’ve been under a lot of stress. Thought you needed something for yourself.” I was happy to receive such a thoughtful gift and tentatively planned to go after the holiday season. For now there were more gifts to open.
Months went by. I was hesitant to make the appointment for spa day. I was helping my father get my mother to her doctors’ appointments. It took a village to get her anywhere. The act of getting her dressed was time consuming. Moving her from couch to walker to wheelchair was a challenge. Getting her into the car an Olympic feat. The scheduled appointments were enough to handle but then there were the unscheduled events. I would get the call that she was on the floor or couldn’t get out of bed to go to the bathroom. I was basically on-call to assist. My father would say, I didn’t want to bother you or I wasn’t going to call and I would remind him that I was “part of the team” and we would just laugh.
My hesitancy in going to the spa was twofold. First, I didn’t want to be unavailable to my parents if something came up. Second, I didn’t know if I could handle the quiet. I handle stress with activity. As long as I am in motion my energy flows in a predictable and manageable direction. It is in the moments of silence, the stillness of the pause that I feel the emotion stir, the flood gates lift,the memories creep in. Time marched on. My mother passed away in April. May passed by in a whir. June rolled along. I made the appointment.
The day of my facial was a beautiful summery day. I was led to a room with soft music and pleasing aromatherapy. The atmosphere was relaxing but I was afraid I might have an emotional moment. Happily the experience was moving but in a way I had not anticipated. I felt as though my spirit was transported back in time. I was conscious of my presence on the massage table but I felt such a closeness to my mother as I recalled past experiences. When the therapist put facial cream to my forehead and cheeks I was pulled back 50 years. My mother used to put noxema cream in little dollops on my face. I thought I looked like a clown and wanted to keep it that way. My mother would tell me to rub it in and would help me get the thick night cream to penetrate my skin. Noxema will always remind me of her. The therapist asked if she could massage my head. In my mind I was sitting in the bathtub. My mother was washing my hair, scrubbing the shampoo into my scalp. She would kneel by the tub and rinse my hair with a plastic pitcher. It wasn’t until my teenage years that we had a real shower. My mother’s touch was always so nurturing. I thought she was big and strong and beautiful.
I loved my mother’s arms, more specifically her upper arms. She always wore sleeveless tops in the summer. Her arms were bronzed from our summers on the beach. On a hot summer evening I would sit by her side on the couch. I would place my sunburned face against the cool of her arm. Air conditioning is so overrated! The coolness of her arm felt so good. It was exactly the size of my childish face according to my own recollection. My mother’s presence kept me safe,relaxed,nurtured, loved. It occurred to me that not many people touch our faces as adults. To be in such close proximity we must allow ourselves to become vulnerable to another person’s touch and to trust their intent. When that happens we must be open to our own feelings, memories,and the journey that ensues. I thought I was going for a facial on that summer day. Instead I went on a time travel journey to relax with my mother and to put my weary head on her big,cool arm.
I see you
in the empty Adirondack chair
in the passenger seat
in the reflection of my own eyes.
I hear you
in every song of loss
in the chirping of the birds
in the wind passing through the trees.
I feel you
in every yogic breath
in every steady step
in the warm rays of the sun on my face.
Stephen Hawkings theorizes that the universe expanded after the Big Bang. But I know that when some radiant Suns collapse upon themselves
All that remains is a Black Hole.
Life. Death.Living. Dead. Are these words with opposite meaning? Are these conditions end points on the same line? Are they different expressions of a human experience? In March of this year National Geographic published an article about the cultural attitudes towards death in a village in Indonesia. It stated that ” For Torajans, death isn’t the abrupt, final, severing event of the West. Instead, death is just one step in the long,gradually unfolding process.” The bodies of loved ones are often preserved for months or years with the loved one remaining part of the family. People continue to talk and bring food to the deceased. A month after reading this piece my own mother passed away. How would I deal with her passing? How would I embrace her spirit? Would I view her as a deceased body, a part of the past? Or would I keep her alive and present like the warmth of the sun or the gentle breeze of spring? As a daughter, to know my mother is to know myself. The more I evaluate and honor my mother the more I understand where I came from and where I am going. My life did not begin on the day I was born. My mother’s life did not end on the day she died.
” I don’t know when the right time will be to bury Ma’s ashes” my father says to me. He has my mother’s ashes in a beautiful urn my sister picked out. The urn is red and elegant and fits in nicely with the Asian theme in the guest room. My father goes into the tranquil room, touches the urn, says a prayer. He tells me he feels close to her. This is his nightly ritual. Each morning he says good morning to the framed picture he keeps on the dining room table. He loves her smile. ” I expect her to laugh or to say something to me.” He laughs and shakes his head. I know he thinks he is half crazy for thinking this way. I think it’s beautiful. I tell him of my own ritual. I look out the window each morning. I see the shrine of Mother Mary, the bird houses, the wind spinner, the trees, nature abounding. “Good morning, Ma!” I know she is there in spirit with the birds in the cool shade. My father tells me he doesn’t feel she is really gone. He tells me how he can’t be sad or sit around crying. ” I can’t believe I was married to the most beautiful woman for 64 years.” My father’s love of life and gratitude lift my spirit.
Last week was my mother’s birthday. We went out for lunch. We walked by the water. We, as always, talked about my mother. We laughed. We reminisced. I left a cupcake by my mother’s framed photograph. “Don’t forget to sing happy birthday to Ma” I reminded him. Like the Torajans, we continue to celebrate, to commemorate, to hold dear those we love. Whatever has a beginning has an end. Whatever has no beginning has no end.