I like to draw parallels between we humans and the natural environment that surrounds us. This poem was inspired by my recent trip to S. Arizona…
The scavengers come from near and far
reaping the benefits from the death of another
facilitating their survival
in this harsh desert environment
You’ve got to get there early, one resident explains to me
a hint of excitement in her voice
People show up before they open, often forming a line down the block
It’s a weekend past-time around here, says another. Great deals to be had
If you can wait until the second day everything is 50% off
I’m hoping for those lampshades she indicates with a lean of her head.
Even at Walmart lampshades are expensive
We walk almost reverently through the house
that is no longer a home
The contents of every cupboard are exposed on the counters and tables
like the innards of roadkill on the side of the road.
Glassware, dishes, appliances, knickknacks, furnishings.
My thoughts turn to my mother’s home
soon be open to strangers
there to snatch up her cherished things I must leave
all at bargain prices
She would be aghast but she is gone
The jay waits
the crow spies
the coyote lurks
the vulture circles
the beetle crawls
the packrat scuttles
waiting to feast on what is left
to circulate among the living
In September of this year, I took up the task of writing my mother’s obituary. She passed away on June 28 from complications due to advanced Alzheimer’s at the age of 94. Previously I had never written an obituary .
An obituary announces the passing of a person’s death as a public notice in a newspaper, church bulletin, or the like. Usually, there is a brief biography and a photo, but everything else is up to the writer’s interpretation. An obituary can be solemn, funny, traditional, or even in poetic form. Writing Mom’s obituary begged the question ”What should be said about a loved one when they pass?” What was their essence? What was their legacy?
I didn’t like the idea of writing the 3rd person like a detached narrator so I made it clear this was from the viewpoint of her surviving adult children. I had to keep in mind that obituaries can be very expensive in major newspapers. Ultimately, my mother’s average-sized obituary at approximately 1000 words cost over $1000 in the San Fransico Chronicle for one run. Her local paper for the same obituary cost $300 with 4 courtesy copies thrown in with the deal. (non were included with the Chronicle). So yes, a lot of money but hey, you only die once and everyone deserves memorialization. In most cases, like in my mother’s, the deceased estate covers it.
It was therapeutic for me, the author, to cut through all my mother’s foibles as we had our differences and honor her- her accomplishments and her legacy, I also decided to mention some of her hardships growing up. Hardship is a pivotal force in a person’s life. I could see how her challenges as a child reflected in her parenting. In her last years with her memory loss, all that friction washed away like dust in the first rain of fall. It was an honor to summarize her life for all to see.
As for the picture? Rather than one from her youth, I chose one that was taken on her 80th birthday looking radiant with the celebration.
Having written my mother’s obituary, I wonder about my own. What would be written when all is said and done? I have considered writing my own and leaving it in my will giving me some authorship. I should include such things as
She liked to start her day with a steaming up of tea in her hand sitting up in bed with her pens & journal with a clear view of the bird feeder.
Felt complete with a dog and or a cat at her side
Liked to take adventures in the wilds, as well as in art, writing, and music
I’d like the picture of me taken by my friend Deb we were out on the Zumwalt Prairie in 2021. Then I would choose one of my doodles to be included.
Now I may be tasked with writing my step-daughter, Heather who recently passed. For this, I would solicit the help of her many friends to contribute their thoughts for a young woman who lived very large for her 38 years. This is a challenge I would be honored to take up.
As I think of the many people that have passed from my life this year, I also think of the other beings, favorite trees, dogs, cats, and the like that have crossed the rainbow bridge that I could memorialize. They certainly are deserving of an obituary as well, at least in my personal writing. I’m inspired by this worthy genre.
This morning on the way to the Portland airport my husband turned to me and said “I can’t do this.” He was about ready to catch a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii to be with his daughter that was just been diagnosed with stage 4 heart and lung cancer, a very rare occurrence. Heather, a non-smoker, at age 38 was in the prime of her life. She and her husband were building their dream on property in the highlands of the Big Island when she collapsed after dealing with what her doctor thought was a severe case of bronchitis. Her husband rushed her to the hospital. Now, she cannot leave the hospital in Honolulu as she needs oxygen to survive.
I replied to him- “yes you can. “Be a bulldog, don’t run away. Go head-on.”
“This isn’t about what you can deal with, it’s about supporting her to get through this whatever the outcome with your full love and support. She chose chemotherapy. Be fully there for her.”
I’ve had some experience with this. My darling newborn son, Gareth, contracted a life-threatening infection at 10 days old. I kept hoping to wake up from that nightmare. I didn’t. My beautiful baby was full of tubes. His little body was all swollen, hair shaved off one side of his head. Worse, we couldn’t hold him.
We were told such things as:
If he makes it, he will be brain damaged or live in a hospital for the rest of his life
Kids don’t live through this
You will need a LARGE miracle
I fully embraced option 3. They allowed me to live at the hospital while he was in the NICU. My husband at the time had a hard time dealing with the situation at all. Meanwhile, I pumped breast milk at 3-hour intervals round the clock so he could have my breast milk when he once again could eat. I rose in the middle of the night to sing and talk to him. I prayed.
Ultimately my actions saved me. Did they help save him? Well, Gareth just celebrated his 35th birthday and he is as awesome as ever! (FYI, his name in Gaelic means strength).
We want to run from these situations since it is not only painful to see the ones we love suffer, we are frightened of our own mortality.
Last week was difficult. I had to put down my almost 14-year-old Golden Retriever, and the little stray cat, Lizzie that adopted us last year died due to complications due to feline leukemia. Dougie was a devoted companion for years, Lizzie a bright spot in our lives her sweet face peaking in our screen door requesting a meal.
It got me to thinking that these creatures we love are just borrowed souls- and I do believe animals have souls. Our pets connect us to our best selves. Their lives are far briefer than ours but add so much. Theirs is a language of the eyes, of touch actions and acceptance. Now the grief has subsided, I am filled with gratitude I had the privilege of borrowing their sweet souls on their short stays on planet earth.
The following poem speaks to all the dogs that have shared my life’s journey…..
IN MY GOOD DEATH
by Dalia Sheven
I will find myself waist deep in hight summer grass. The humming
shock of the golden light. And I will hear them before I see
them and know right away who is bounding across the field to meet
me. All my good dogs will come then, their wet noses
bumping against my palms, their hot panting, their rough faithful
tongues. Their eyes young and shiny again. The wiry scruff of
their fur, the unspeakable softness of their bellies, their velvet ears
against my cheeks. I will bend to them, my face covered with
their kisses, my hands full of them. In the grass I will let them knock
Mary Oliver, the great poet is now no more in physical form on this earth as of January 17,2019. She leaves a huge void but in her wake is a monument of poetry and prose of her making. I never used to care for poetry. Poetry was presented to me in school like nematodes to be dissected in biology. I ran from them Then years later her poem, “Wild Geese” brought me to my knees. I was converted. Years later I am writing poetry. What power words can have!
Mary Oliver was a sage who connected the dots with spirituality and the natural world. The long walks she often took in the woods near her home provided much of the inspiration for her poetry. Those poems became the vessels of profound observations, questions, and ponderings and blessed the lives of many, including myself. She did far more than just visit this world. It is a better place because of her.
When researching quotes for “Memories of Trees,” my last post, I came upon this poem by Maya Angelou, one of my favorite poets. Her words contain such strength, power, & truth. When reading this, I thought about this same tree in my poem and my father who past away this last May.
WHEN GREAT TREES FALL
by Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance, fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
― Maya Angelou
Please do not apologize to me for your physical state as you leave this world. Yours is not an enviable path, your body rigid from Parkinson’s, your lungs compromised from the pneumonia that finally will be the demise of your 91 year life.
Yes, I am bearing witness to your diminished body, reliant on the hands of others. But my memories of you will be fonder ones. You were a man of great stature and heart, a man who took the time to read me my favorite Dr. Suess books over and over and over again when I was a little girl. Perhaps that’s where I got my quirky imagination? You were the one who tucked me in, put me on the handle bars of rented bicycles in Yosemite. All those family camping trips? Those led to my love of nature & the outdoors & for that I am so grateful . You helped move me from college and helped me pack for my new life in Alaska. I looked forward to those care packages from you. When I needed comfort in a far off place, yours was the voice I could count on.
Thank you for your generous spirit that manifested itself in many ways . Thank you for not criticising my numerous stupid decisions in life, preferring to be my cheerleader. Thank you for being a good grandpa to my son.
I am grateful that you found your true love, that you lived life large and got to travel to exotic places. You are leaving this life with more friends that I can count. There’s a bright mark you left on the world and we will feel a void when you depart. Leave it to you that in the end you can still crack a good joke.
I am grateful for morphine and hospice care.
It is me that wants to apologize to you. I am sorry that you have to end your long life in such an uncomfotable manner. But lets just skip all those apologies. May you leave this life knowing that you were loved and admired by many, including myself. Congratulations on a life well lived.