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For Mother’s Day

I don’t remember your voice,
Or what would make you laugh
I don’t remember your hands,
Not really, not enough to count
I don’t remember the last time
I saw you healthy, rather my last memories
are as you live ill and dying,
not what either of us want
I know there were times before
when you insisted on going out
and seeking hidden places
of import to you and dragging us along
Times when we yelled and laughed and cried
but today, 16 years and two months since you died,
what I remember most isn’t what I remember
most clearly or what has faded best
or even all the things I wish I knew
Today I remember that you love me
Which is what I believe you wanted to last
Written May 7, 2011


I have moved and am now into the slow process of unpacking.  The slow process of unpacking.  But there is also joy in the unpacking.  The joy of finally seeing my things spread out in my space.  The joy of seeing things that have been packed away years (about six years).    The joy of beginning to settle into my own home.  And the joy of unpacking these:

My Great-grandmother would have left her glassware and china to my mother, except my mother died a few months before my great-grandmother.  So the glassware and the china came to me instead.  And they have been waiting in boxes in my family’s garage for the last 15 years.   Until I started unpacking those boxes yesterday.  Until I was amazed at the beauty of these dishes yesterday.

What a beautiful reminder of my family’s legacy.

I usually have a great system for keeping track of what I’ve written, what I’ve written and posted, and what I don’t intend to post.  This is one area where I’ve been quite good at staying organized.  Except for a glitch last week.  I’d written about this event, saved the poem, and then when I went to find it to post it, it wasn’t there.  The file was, but none of the words.  So I’ll always wonder if this rewriting is as good as the original.  But the evening was better than I can express.

it had been a long day
followed by a long voyage
and a short walk to a dark empty room
because the event I thought was that
night wasn’t, or so I was told after a
short phone call. but instead of
turning around to face another
long voyage home to an empty room
I was invited up to a room with books
all around and supper simmering
on the stove, in to conversation,
to fellowship, before returning to
my place and a good night’s sleep
I experienced hospitality

written (again) 3-16-09

Everyone should have people willing to do this for them in their lives. I am better because I have.

What I will remember most clearly is not the sensation of needles sliding under my skin; the universal smells of hospitals; the stress of the waiting room; the awkward fit of the gown; the noise of the machines; the kindness of the nurses; or the fear of what this procedure means. Those things belong more to other memories.

What I will remember this time is my father keeping watch beside my bed. Sometimes bent over book or magazine, but always aware.  Aware of when I flinch in pain, or am waiting for a nurse, or am almost due for another dose of medicine.

This isn’t his first time either, after all. I have lain in other hospital beds. And before me there was my mother’s, and earlier yet his parents’ bedsides to keep watch beside.

This time I remember watching his vigil, once again, and thinking, “Too much.”

I was reading today about how there’s a Hawaiian term ‘ohana’ which means family in the broad sense–relatives, best friends, everybody who loves you, and you love.   I am a fan of broad sensibilities and I am a particular fan of broad understandings of family.  Something that I think can be difficult for some of my immediate family from time to time. 

Not however, when I have just had brain surgery and they live 2,000+some odd miles away.  My parents came out for over a week (a huge thing given they’ve never been out to visit me here before and they did it at the last moment with much rearranging of lives) and part of what shocked them was how many people here are trying to take care of me.  There is the couple who invited my parents into their home, the friends who fed all of us and visited me in the hospital, the friend with whom I’m staying as I recover, and so many other people.  The people they couldn’t see because they don’t live here, or were away, or because they only know me on the internet.  All of whom are family. 

And this is what I was thinking about while writing.

you were my first family,
your arms the first to cradle me,
you the first to love me,
despite the tantrums,
the sulking, the pouting
Which made you the first to forgive
you the first to encourage
you who cherished me
you, who are to me, Family

But you are not the last or only
I have found others,
others who hold, and love, and forgive
others who seem to cherish me,
just as I try to cherish them
family I love better for having you first
as my family

Still there was one other
One more than family,
the First to Love
one whose arms go unseen
whose smile must be believed
whose presence must be trusted
one who shows us all that
we are all Family, that
Love is even greater                
written 3/16/08

And I knew I was feeling better when I was writing poetry again. 

More on how the week has been Friday or Saturday. You know, after the week is over.

Over the last 6 and a half years I’ve slowly begun that process of not necessarily being at home for holidays. It was the 4th of July, and then Easter, an odd New Year’s away, then Thanksgiving, and this year it will be Christmas. This isn’t because I don’t love my family–I do. I even enjoy spending time with them and genuinely like their company. Admittedly there’s a two to three week limit on this, but I think that’s pretty good.
No, I’ve missed holidays at home because of realities in my life–realities of money and time. Practical realities. And this is something that is only going to happen more often. My life, the one I chose, includes a fairly demanding schedule and certain inflexible areas which often fall around holidays.
And I’m okay with that. Partly because I knew this when I made my choice. But also because my family is not one of those families which has a dozen Christmas traditions. I wish that was different. Which is also why this is strange. I know I would make the same choice and I would still not be going home for Christmas this year. And I know that this would make being away from home more difficult. But it would also give me something of Christmastime at Home to create here. It would help me feel connected to my family, even over hundreds of miles and really practical realities.
And all of that makes me a little sad. Because I will miss my family. Because of the story of why we don’t have many Christmas traditions. Because I don’t know where we will all be next year or what we will be doing.
I don’t see an easy solution to this. For a lot of practical reasons neither my family nor I are ever likely to find it easy to travel for Holidays.
Which is, well, not fine, but part of life and something we’ll work through.
Right now, though, I wonder what traditions I want to start building for my own life and if and how or when I could invite my family into those traditions.

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