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LOSING MOM - Part 27

Peggy2Oct 4, 2019, 9:45:34 PM

The days that followed are mostly blurred in my memory, blending together as they did one into the next. For hours at a time my sisters and I would sit in Mom’s room scattered around her bed, together but apart, each of us trying to find our own way through another day of waiting.

Perhaps we would read a book or quietly check our email, maybe even take a little nap if it was our turn to sit in the recliner, the only comfortable chair. Despite the gurgling of the oxygen humidifier and the ticking of the large, round wall clock, a stillness permeated the room, a heavy hush that filled every corner, at once as comforting as it was stifling.

One afternoon a soft, steady snow began to fall outside the window, blanketing us even more deeply in the quiet stillness of the room. Libby was painting, her movements slow and mindful as she tried to capture the image of a vase of flowers on her watercolor paper. Sal was writing in her journal, her concentration intent on the pages before her. Mom was sleeping.

Like Sal, I was also attempting to put my feelings down in writing, but although I’d kept a journal on and off since I was in 7th grade, sometimes I found that writing a poem was actually more therapeutic. I’d discovered early on in my life that I have a bit of a knack for rhyme, and often have more luck expressing myself through a few good lyrical verses than through any number of pages of prose.

Over the years I’ve written poems for wedding and birthday toasts, eulogies, even a children’s book...and what I’ve found is that once I have a thought in my mind about what I want to convey, whether it’s a memory, a feeling, or a story, there’s just no turning back until I’ve gotten it out of my head and onto the written page.

And until the words on that page say exactly what I want them to, I keep at it. Like a dog with a bone, I’ll keep gnawing and gnawing at what I’ve written until I’m satisfied.

Usually my poems begin to take form when I become aware of a certain phrase running through my mind over and over and, more often than not, it turns out to be the first line to what will, eventually, follow. And even though I have no idea what will actually follow, once I notice the phrase in my head it’s hard for me to do anything else but figure out what comes next.

Earlier that morning I’d woken up with just such a phrase tapping at my sleepy consciousness. Over and over, like a mantra, the same 12 words kept repeating themselves:

Time is such a fragile thing and hard at times to grasp

Hmmm, I wondered, what’s this? The 12 words wouldn’t leave me alone, following me as I crawled out of bed and tiptoed quietly out of the room so as not to wake Lib, who was still asleep in the other twin bed. They followed me into the shower, relentless in their tenacity until finally, thankfully, I became aware of some new words forming behind them:

Flashing by so quickly when I most want it to last

The two lines overwhelmed my thoughts, repeating themselves incessantly as I dried my hair and got dressed. Finally, sitting down with a cup of coffee, I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote them down, sensing immediately when I saw them on the page that there would be more to come.

Something was definitely trying to find its way through me, and I felt a quick surge of adrenaline as I anticipated the day ahead as I allowed whatever it was to emerge.

Because, honestly, there’s just not much more I like to do than write a new poem. Finding the right word to rhyme is like finding the right piece to a puzzle...I know the piece is there, it’s just a matter of searching through all of them until I find the one that fits.

So as soon as I got myself settled at Hospice later that morning, I pulled out my laptop and typed in those first two lines. Then, despite a couple of false starts and stops, slowly but surely the next few lines worked their way up and out, appearing on the screen as if by magic.

My heart quickened as I began to see that what they were saying was exactly how I was feeling:

Time is such a fragile thing and hard at times to grasp

Flashing by so quickly when I most want it to last

Then slowing down to nothing during times I wish would pass

But spiraling ever forward, whether going slow or fast.

A moment lasts forever if it’s etched in memory

Or disappears without a trace into eternity.

I sit and wait and hope that these moments here with her

Will be the kind that always last, though now they’re all a blur.

Her spark of light is dimming and it’s hard to watch it fade

It’s been a guiding force for me, and always shown the way.

It flickers in the shadows and I watch it carefully

Scared to take my eyes away should she decide to leave.

Unfortunately, as effortlessly as the words had flowed that morning, they suddenly sputtered to a standstill later that day as I contemplated what to say next. Because even though I was scared of losing Mom’s spark of light, I also had complete faith that it wouldn’t totally disappear. That a part of her would always be with me and around me, even though I wouldn’t be able to see her anymore.

But how do I say that? I mused, staring out the window at the gently falling snow. How do I explain something I can hardly explain to myself?

Pondering how best to convey this innate faith I felt deep inside, my gaze wandered away from the window to the array of framed family pictures spread out on the tray table in front of Mom. A kind nurse had recently moved them there so they’d be closer for Mom to see, telling us, ‘This way, if she wakes up scared, she’ll remember she’s not alone.”

There was my dad, his blue eyes still twinkling out at me, even though he’d been gone for more than 20 years. There were the grandchildren, all seven caught in a moment of time, sitting on the steps in Maine. And there was Mom with the three of us, standing in front of some monument or other a few years before on one of our many trips together to New York City.

My gaze shifted from the family pictures over to my sisters, Sal still intent on her writing, Lib looking pensively at the vase of flowers she was painting, and I smiled to myself as it suddenly dawned on me what I was trying to say.

Yes, Mom was dying. And yes, it was really, really sad...I was scared to let her go. But what I realized that afternoon as I sat with my sisters and dying mother, cocooned as we were in this room we really didn’t want to be in, was that Mom could never really be gone. How could she? There were pieces of her everywhere I looked, and as long as I remembered to shift my perspective just a little, I’d always be able see them.

Excited by this revelation I turned back to my computer, the words that had been stuck inside me finding their way onto the screen as quickly as I could type them:

But then I see the pictures of our family by her side

And I know this spark that we all love can never really die.

Her eyes may dim, her voice may fade, as she slowly slips away

But a simple shift in focus and her spark is bright as day.

For I see it in my sisters’ smiles, and in our children’s eyes

I see it in her friends who have come to say goodbye

And though I fear the moment when my mother passes on

I know that she’ll leave pieces here, so she won’t be really gone.

I probably read the whole thing over about a hundred times, changing a word here and there, until I finally felt ready to share it with Sal and Lib. Feeling a bit self-conscious, though, I decided to send it to them in an email rather than just reading it then and there. I pushed the send button before I could change my mind, then quickly stood up, mumbling to no one in particular that I was going to get some air.

Here’s the thing about me. As much as I profess that I really only write for myself, that I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I am actually a glutton for positive feedback. I crave it the same way a junkie might crave his next fix...telling myself I don’t need it, while at the same time knowing deep down that I really do.

So of course I was pretty happy to get back to the room a little while later and have both Sal and Lib jump to their feet to hug me and tell me how wonderful my poem was. That Mom would really love it, too, so I should read it to her.

“You really think so?” I asked, looking skeptically over at our sleeping mother who’d hardly moved all day. “I’m not sure she’ll hear me. And what if it makes her sad?”

“It won’t make her sad!” Sal and Lib said, practically in unison.

“She loves your poems.” Lib added. “And she’ll love that she’s leaving pieces with us.”

Mom had always been my biggest fan, and was actually the reason I finally wrote my children’s story. Every summer up in Maine we would see this one loon swimming all by himself, and we would make up stories about why he was always alone. Mom kept pushing me to write about him, and finally, after struggling with it for years, I made myself sit down and get it finished. Mom’s 84th birthday was coming up, and because she’d had a stroke a few months earlier, I decided I just didn’t have time to waste.

I guess all I really needed was a deadline because, amazingly, I finished the story, illustrated it, and was able to get a printed copy made in time to give it to her as a birthday gift. The Lonely Loon was probably the best present I’ve actually ever given.

So despite my hesitancy, we gathered round Mom’s bed, Sal leaning over and whispering, "Mom? Are you awake? Peg wrote something we think you’ll really like.”

Mom’s eyes blinked opened, and seeing us all peering down at her, tried to give us a small smile.

“You did?” she asked, looking at each of our faces in turn until she focused in on me. Her voice was weak, but I thought I heard maybe a trace of her old enthusiasm.

“I did,” I told her, “It’s called Pieces of My Mom”. Swallowing hard, I took a deep breath, and began to read.

I’ll never know for sure if Mom understood what I was trying to say in my poem,  but I like to believe my words brought her the same comfort that day they had brought me. That even though she was dying, she knew parts of her would stay with us, no matter what, so we didn't need to be scared.

*Note to Reader: This is a story in progress, so I am sharing it as I write it, as a way to spur me on. If you're interested in following along, you'll find Parts 1-26 on my channel page. Thanks!