York Beach

A warm day in March
Walking the beach in Maine,
I remember bringing my mother here
The year before she died.

When I can't wait any longer
I take off my shoes and socks,
Stand right by the edge, and
Let the ocean cover my feet.
Colder than cold - and so good!
I stay a long time, watching
The waves rise and curl,
The crests drop and break.
Then the foam races forward
Fast, fast, slow, stopping just an inch
Beyond the last one.
My toes sink into wet grey sand.

Tide comes in; nothing can change it.
Tide goes out; we can't hold it back.
It's been four months since she's gone.
She liked the warmer beaches of Cape Cod,
I love this one, the Short Sands of York -
Sun, sky - freezing cold water!

January 2012 poem

Dark morning

It is finally winter here.
Snow covers the hemlocks,
Oak trees dark and almost bare.
My hands are rough and chapped,
skin itchy, hair erratic and wild.
I have been losing things, forgetting,
I crash into the door and cut my face,
I cannot clear my thoughts.

I crave sweets, hot drinks.
I get angry a lot.
I lie awake in the dark.
Music makes me cry.

It has only been two months -
Yes (since you asked)
I do miss my mother.

My mother

My mother died on November 10th, just after my last journal posting. It was very quiet, on a day when the rain fell and the skies were dark. At the end she seemed to fall into a sleep-like state, and just didn't wake up.

Sarah and I were sitting on either side of the bed, reading to her. I had a book of Robert Frost, and she had the Shakespeare. The room became quieter and quieter, and then we looked to see if she was still breathing - and she was gone. And we sat a while longer in the deep silence, saying goodbye.

Dream journeys revisited

After many months I was looked back at my journal entry "dream journeys" from last January.  It is quite amazing - over the year I did take care of Jim, to the best of my ability, while being constantly called to my mother. As in the dream, I was conflicted and pulled to both, with different voices telling me what to do. And as in the dream, help came when I asked for it, from my sisters and brother, my daughter, many friends from my neighborhood, work and Quaker community.

What is even more amazing; I got compassion and understanding from car mechanics, people standing in line at the grocery, the tough-looking cashier at a gas station - and many more. I feel that I can't express the gratitude really needed for all these gifts.

Now Jim is in his last week of almost a year of cancer treatment - large pink chemotherapy pills every morning and night. The end is in sight, and he is recovering from the disease and the treatment. My mother has been in hospice care for a month, and is declining rapidly. She moves from the bed to a couch & back, but more and more just stays in bed, sleeping a good deal.

Two weeks ago we moved her to my sister Terri's new house, which has a very beautiful setting on a small lake, right on the water. We can look out to bright autumn leaves over  traces of white, from an early snowfall. At night the moonlight on the water is lovely, and it's very quiet. There are pine trees near the house, but not too many - one can still see the stars.

So now we are just waiting for her life to run its course, taking one day, one moment at a time. Terri says 'I'm just playing it by ear.. sometime she calls me by someone else's name, but I think she knows who I am.."

I can't help hoping that she will just fall asleep, like falling gladly into the water, (no struggle, no pain) and sleep her way into death. My mother has lived 93 years in this world. She was never able to say this, but I think she is ready to go.

Early one morning (Puff the magic dragon)

A few days ago - it was a Wednesday - I turned on the radio at 7:30 am to WUML 91.5 FM, at the  U Mass campus in Lowell.

It came in loud and clear: "Puff the Magic Dragon" in Croatian! and I immediately knew who the DJ was that morning. Jimmy had got to Lowell early, no one else showed at the radio station - and he was having fun!

I sat by myself in the kitchen, laughing and crying. Kitty wandered by with his resigned "these humans really ARE crazy" look, refused to sit in my lap, and curled up near the warm wood stove. The sun had just risen: it promised to be a good day.

Dream journeys

Here's a dream I had recently:

I was traveling in another country with my mother, by car, and we came to a place where the road stopped. It was outside a house, on some kind of balcony, with deep water in front of us. She thought we could just drive through, on top of the water, but I knew that wouldn't work.

A group of people came past, swimming in the water, and my mother jumped in with them. I was annoyed because that meant I'd have to go in too, and I was wearing a long skirt. But I jumped into the cold water, and helped Ma to get safely back to land. We were both cold and wet.

A woman came out of the house with blankets, and I asked her about getting back to the road.

She spoke in a heavy accent, "Well, can be done - but is not easy. Maybe the son of Theodore can help. Car has to go up very steep cliff. He is good mechanic, can take it apart and put back together. But why you want to go? Stay here and take care of Jim."

I realized that Jim was somewhere close by, and I wanted to stay.

I woke up. The whole dream was very vivid, and her last sentence was in my ears.

Another dream:

I was in a public place, some kind of shop or laundromat, and I found a wallet that I recognized as Jim's. It had a special design, something colorful and ethnic, and I was glad and thought how happy he'd be. Then I opened a drawer and there was another one, with the same pattern. Did he lose two? Or could it belong to someone else? I looked inside and it was full of coins. I decided to show them both to him, and he would know what to do.

I woke up feeling happy:  "What was lost has been found".


A country funeral

This morning I went to a funeral service at the Mason Congregational Church, in the tiny town of Mason, New Hampshire. I have worked in the public library there for over 14 years, and Charlotte, who died last week, was the retired town Tax Collector. She was also an avid reader, and belonged to the Noon Book Club, which has met every month at the library for the last 10 years.

Charlotte came to our October meeting looking pale and thin, but as usual she had read the whole book, and gave her opinion without hesitation. By November she had learned that she had an inoperable cancer. She arranged to move from her apartment to a son's house, and her family gathered there last week for Thanksgiving.

The family included one daughter, four sons, their spouses, grandchildren, and the first great-grandson. Charlotte held the new baby. Everyone knew that this was the last time they would all be together. The next day, Friday, she said she was tired and went to bed early - and that was the end. She died in her sleep that night.

I was not close to Charlotte - she was extremely gruff and forthright, and so deaf in the last few years that she couldn't hear me unless I shouted, but the story of her death made me cry. It still makes me shiver.

Charlotte was blunt, plain-spoken and very active in this church. One of the best stories about her was from the young, curly-haired minister. "She told me, long before we were well-acquainted, "you need a haircut". It got so that I would look in the mirror on Sunday mornings, and think "I'm OK!" or "Oh no, it's too long!" and then I'd take preemptive action - "Hi Charlotte, I know, I have an appointment this week".

After the funeral I was talking to Barbara, who had worked with Charlotte for years in the town offices. She told me that there had originally been six children, but one died young. "It was very sad - he was what you'd call the prodigal son. He argued with his father, he disagreed on religion, and he went off to be a missionary somewhere - was it Indonesia? and then he was drowned. So young, and they never reconciled, and she didn't talk about it, she just kept going."

Yet Charlotte came to her death, if not able to show feelings, at least able to put her affairs in order, and say good-bye. She held that baby and greeted the next generation, and then she fell asleep. What more can any of us ask? It still makes me hold my breath.

Poem for November

This is a poem I wrote about a year ago, at this time of year - when the days seem very short, and the approaching winter long. One of the ways to get through the hard times is the memory of something good.

November afternoon

From my house in the woods
I can't see the western sky,
But if I walk down the dirt road
And straight up Darling Hill,
I reach a point where the trees stop
And there it is--sun setting in the hills.

And yesterday I got there just in time
To see the sky all purple, glowing, red,
Bars of black spilling molten rays.
And then I had to stand and breathe,
Try to breathe in the heavens, try to hold
Impossible! that changing swirl of gold.

I had to stand so still, to fix
The colors in my mind, to let
My heart embrace the moment.
Before the coming rain and fog and cold,
Just breathe and get it right
Before the long, long early-winter night.