Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"your eyes have their silence"

Her eyes. That was all that was left of her at the end. Green, like the waters of the Gulf in late April. Alert. Present.

Up until the last few hours of her life, she was there. Unmistakably sharp and aware. But she was so weak it was all she could do to say even just a few words. I often found myself interpreting for her to her delight but not to her surprise. We had a sort of shorthand. You see, I'm the youngest of 5, Julie, my sister, being the oldest, and 4 boys. Al, the second youngest, is 4 and 1/2 years older than I am. So when he went off to college, I was, for all intents and purposes, an only child.

When I think about just how frustrating that must have been for her at the end, having so much to say, to ask, to want to share, and yet unable to to her own satisfaction, or to ours, I'm unmanned. When I think about the indignity, the humiliation of her circumstances that fate bestowed upon the most dignified person I've ever known, it takes every last bit of will power not to sob uncontrollably.

So I just go ahead and do anyway.

I told her it was okay to go, that everything would work out just fine, that I'd be just fine. But you know what? I'm not so sure I was being completely honest with her. All I seem to have these days is a deafening silence, and I've never felt more alone, more abandoned ever in my life.

Courtesy of a very dear Irish friend of mine named John:

In Memory Of My Mother



I do not think of you lying in the wet clay

Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see

You walking down a lane among the poplars

On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday -

You meet me and you say:

'Don't forget to see about the cattle - '

Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland

Of green oats in June,

So full of repose, so rich with life -

And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after

The bargains are all made and we can walk

Together through the shops and stalls and markets

Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,

For it is a harvest evening now and we

Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight

And you smile up at us - eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh


Schmutzie said...

Back in '99 I held his hand as my dad drew his last breath. I imagined his spirit leaving his busted up body, as I looked around at the fucking tubes, and the fucking ventilator, and the fucking machine that monitored everything.

The indignity of the whole thing made me want to just trash the entire ICU. I felt like throwing that machine out the window.

I recall the first months after my dad passed away. That emptiness. The quiet. The realization that I can't ask his advice on anything, ever again. There were days when someone would say something that reminded me of him, and I'd have to excuse myself.

Only the passage of time eased the grief a bit, nothing anyone could say could possibly help. I'm sure my friends felt as helpless, and as at a loss for words as I feel typing this to you.

The dignity that your mother carried with her for her entire life was not taken from her in her last moments on our little rock here. That final image may be the thing clearest in your mind right now, but in time it will be replaced by fonder memories of her. Memories that will keep her spirit alive, in you, for the rest of your life.

switters said...

Time. And my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. But they've all got their own families. Mom and Dad were my family. It's all very isolating.

The world was indeed a far, far better place with her in it. But it was also a far safer world. It feels less safe. And I'm scared. Can you believe it? I'm a 41-year old guy who's afraid because his mom's gone.

Schmutzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
twif said...

i don't try to say the right thing, because unless you say the right thing at the right time, it's the wrong thing to say. i haven't felt a loss like this: mine have either been self-inflicted (divorce) or kept further from the bone by a generational remove. so what the fuck do i know?

a well-intentioned silence (okay, so this is a rather wordy silence. shut up) is all i have to offer, so offer it i will. i'll listen; it's the best i can do.

LentenStuffe said...

Agree you must be let be inconsolable, for there's nothing to say.

That's why I wrote this, because I too have nothing to say:

"À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu"

Bruised, battered and beaten by grief,
hungered out to waste, famined
in the fields where your plow once sank
into rock but never dulled the blade
of husbandry. No grazing once winter thawed,
and no shelter when it still hadn't:
for certain straits you must harrow alone —
like the birth and death of a world.

Lay your weary head on the pillow
of your memories and dream back
the life you lived and loved and lost —
sleep, if only between then and now.
What was that sound as you crawled
back to life? It was your mother again,
at the back door of some distant dusk,
calling your name across the fields and sky
till it echoed into what lured you home?
Can you say now at the close of loss
that her voice wasn't the happiest,
most lovely sound in all your world?
And will you ever know home again
from the rhythms of her curfew voice?

LentenStuffe said...


The last line should read:

"From the rhythms of her curfew call?"


switters said...

twif: really really great to see you. There may or may not be any atheists in foxholes, but I dare to think that there aren't any at a mother's funeral. Listening would be great. Better than great. Thank you.

John: that was... extraordinary. I don't know what to say, other than to thank you ever so much for your beautiful and kind words. Extraordinary.

Isonomist said...

How much our lives are mirrors. It's easier to be the one who goes, and yet I can't imagine my own son facing what you and I and Schmutzie and others like us go through when we're orphaned -- even as an adult, the loss is worlds. As long as I can put off giving him that final wound parents leave on their children. I wonder how much he realizes I'm here because of him. I wonder if I even know, myself.

switters said...

I can't imagine your loss, Iso. Doesn't seem fair.

She died on a Monday. The Sunday before, we all sang some of her favorite hymns. Jack brought his guitar and we sang songs we used to sing for dad. At one point she tried to clap for us; she waved her hands but they missed each other. We all laughed/cried.

I'm in awe of your strength, and ashamed of my own weakness.

TenaciousK said...

Hello, Switters.
I don't know what I can offer you for comfort, except to say my heart goes out to you. I saw the movie "Up" last night and it made me cry, thinking about my dad. And mom. It pains me greatly to think of you succumbing to despair. I hope you can keep it at bay, in your grief.