Poem : The Memory of You.

Recent past eclipses healthy memories,
those days when your smile and skin glowed happy,
what do we remember from before?
all of us were young and unaware of a soon and threatening after,
of a life later,
when the living room is empty of you,
when sad, silent objects sit in your void.

Tears come, a slow tide of grief in the dark,
or in a swell surrounded by a sea of strangers,
an angry rock of grief grows in my throat as I flee
to bathroom, closet, closed door.
I drive apologetic and repentant all the way to work each morning,
all the way home at night, mascara running along the road with me.

And when I think that faith has failed me,
Take a deep breath,” you say.
The sun glows bright against glistening pavement,
a sparrow flies fast and free above me,

I breathe.

Until I see you again,”
I whisper,
Beatific, wholly holy, alive and well.”

Prodigal : “Facing Grief and Finding Faith”

This article was originally published on ProdigalMagazine.com.
I stepped quietly into the room where my mother lay sleeping and walked to her bedside. I took her hand, thin and bony, and held it to my face. Struggling not to cry, I leaned down and kissed her forehead.“Mom,” I whispered, “The nurses are going to put a tube through your nose and into your stomach to drain it. It will help you not feel nauseous anymore, okay? So don’t panic. They’re here to help you and as long as you hold still, it won’t hurt.”

At first she didn’t respond. I didn’t think she could hear me, but then she opened her eyes and turned to me and smiled. “I just saw Jesus,” she said. “He told me…”

Whatever insight Jesus had made my mother privy to, it was lost in a garble of sleepy syllables, but her thin hands arched above her as she tried to explain. She laughed quietly and smiled at me, happier than I’d seen her in days.Then, for reasons I still cannot articulate, I felt moved to sing to her our favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee…”

I made it through the first line before tears choked my voice, but she, who had barely talked in days, smiled at the sound, and proceeded to sing the rest of the verse and the first chorus back to me. Her voice was clear and unhindered, the way it used to be when she sang solos at church. She was even mostly on key.

And this thought popped into my head, “I’m closer than you think.”

And along with those words an image : Jesus, gently and patiently and lovingly coaxing my mother away from this world and into the next. In that moment, a peace and a joy descended on me, something that I had not felt in more than a year.

She died five days later.

After 14 years of fighting against breast cancer, her body had had enough. I watched her vomit several times a day for months before that, watched her abdomen distend not with fat but with fluid, while the rest of her body withered until she was Auschwitz thin.

Forgive my graphic description. There’s something about terminal illness that strips us of our preferred pretenses, the things we wish we didn’t know.

And there is something about watching the people we love die that kind of death that shifts our perspectives on life, on the eternal. It’s an experience akin to staring, nose-to-paper at a stereogram until suddenly, Bugs Bunny’s giant face emerges three-dimensional from empty, chaotic design.

I had always had faith. I had always believed in Christ and proclaimed Him as my Savior. I had always believed in Heaven as a real place, a place I would go to someday. But I believed in Heaven the way that I believe in the quadratic formula; it exists somehow, but I just didn’t get the logistics. I believed in Heaven the way that I believe in six figure incomes; some people have arrived, others are on their way, some are working their asses off to make it, some claim they’re ambivalent, and others just don’t have what it takes.

How foolish I was, how flat and empty and selective was my concept of God’s grace.

In the days before and the days immediately following my mother’s death, life took on a distinct and urgent spirituality. The gap between where I placed God and Heaven and the spiritual world and where I lived my every day life, down here on this tiny planet earth, grew smaller and smaller as I listened to that still, small voice, “I’m closer than you think.”

It didn’t ease the grief of our goodbye. However, my hatred for life, my distrust of God, my self-perpetuated isolation from His Spirit was not something I clung to anymore.

I wasn’t ready to be motherless, but I was finally ready and able to pray that impossible prayer, God, Please take her Home.

Writing Therapy.

“And even though their son will always be alive in their hearts, like Pammy and my dad will be alive in mine- and maybe this is the only way we ever really have anyone-there is still something to be said for painting portraits of the people we have loved, for trying to express those moments that seem so inexpressibly beautiful, the ones that change us and deepen us.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I found the poem I shared yesterday written on the back side of a scrap of watercolor paper, a painting I had begun that I destroyed entirely with too much of the wrong color. On Sunday evening I finally decided to clean out a bag full of things I had taken home with me that week before Christmas, when I knew that this was my last journey home to her. So many things were in that bag. Christmas cards, sympathy cards, receipts from the hospital cafe, a copy of mom’s obituary, a Vogue that I flipped through mindlessly because I couldn’t bring myself to read the novel I brought, scraps of paintings that never turned out, scraps of writings from spare moments when fairly cohesive thoughts broke through my sadness.
Two months later, I don’t even remember writing that poem. Was I in the hospital? Was I at home? Late at night or early in the day? Before or after she slipped and fell and hit her head on the cold bathroom tile and all the nurses came rushing in at once and I cried, but she didn’t?
I left all of that out, but the emotion is there.
I’ve found bits and pieces of these experiences all over the place, scribbled on napkins and receipts and work notes. Like finding all the outer edges of a 500-piece puzzle I’ve been gathering them, trying to fit them together to keep the memories alive. Because sometimes, yes, I have to ask,

Did that really happen?

It did.
And she’s gone.
But she’s still with me.
Reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has been very much like going to see my therapist, except that Lamott is like the therapist for my writing psyche. She tells me to write thoughts as they come to me on index cards or in a notebook. I think for a long moment about all of my notebooks and scraps of paper.
“Oh yeah… I guess that’s what I’ve been doing, in a way.”
“Good,” she smiles. “That’s normal for a writer, whatever that means.”

Poem : Ebb and Flow.

The complex fairness of it, and its paradox.
Fair, because she doted on me my whole life :
Swaddled, nourished, comforted, encouraged.
It’s her turn now.

But how unfair, that she should be weakened, helpless.
Her strength ebbs away, just out of reach for her,
for any of us, to grasp.
It’s the thing I cannot give her.

Where is the dignity?
All our lives we’ve struggled to find it.
It will be snatched away.
It will leave her lifeless in her child’s arms,
our world turned backwards.

The ebb and flow,
of fair and unfair,
of grief and joy,
of life and death,
of strange and familiar,
wears me down to nothing,
a smooth round stone for throwing.

[Written : 12.20.11]

Goals for 2012.

It’s been a month. One month without mom. Without her voice, her touch, her face, her thoughts. I expected to be immovable, stranded on an island of grief and away from the world that I understand. But grief defies expectations, and so does faith. When the two interact, we often find ourselves in unfamiliar territory; rough, but not impossible.

This is where I find myself, one month into this new chapter of life, this new year where nothing and everything is different. The thing is, for me, the girl that moved away from home nearly seven years ago ne’er to return, my life looks the same in so many ways. But it feels different on the deepest levels.
And so when I started working through the idea of change, writing this post a couple of weeks ago prompted me to think about tangible ways to embrace that change. I’m not one to make resolutions; I’m usually one to break them. When I have made new year resolutions, February usually marks the end of effort and there’s a celebratory burning of the resolution list. I can be just that rebellious against myself.
But this February is different. I am different.
Maybe it seems inappropriately belated to share a resolution list in February. But life is short. And in one of the last conversations my mom had, she told one of our family members, with clarity and conviction and absolute love, “It’s never too late.”
If we’re not intentional, time rushes past and most of it is wasted. So I’m sharing with you the goals I have for 2012, the ones that will help me embrace change. Next week I’ll share another goal list, my 30 Before 30. Tell me, do you have any goals for 2012? Or goals before you turn a certain age? Now that it’s February, how would you rate your progress with those goals?
P E R S O N A L : 
- get a physical (for the first time in 2 years)
- visit the optometrist and get a new pair of glasses (for the first time in 5 years)
- visit the dentist (for the first time in 5 years)
- take a bubble bath once per week (this one is going VERY well, I should mention.)
– give myself a weekly manicure (this one has also been a success!)
- read at least 12 books (an average of one per month, but I don’t have to finish each one within 30 days)
P R O F E S S I O N A L : 
- redesign blog and/or convert to WordPress
- double my blog readership
- contribute 11 guest posts for other blogs (average of one per month from February to December)
- write and share at least one new poem per month on my blog
- get one article or poem published in an online or print magazine
- create writing portfolio for graduate school and job interviews
- get business cards for my writiting, editing, and art
- create and sell at least 100 paintings through my Etsy shop
- get up early enough to eat breakfast and write for 30 minutes each morning (working on this one, but not quite there yet)
[Image via]