Whoosh! I’m Dead   Leave a comment

McCaulay Culkin from the popular movie “Home Alone” turned 30 years old a few weeks ago. You may remember him as the little boy who slapped aftershave on his cheeks and yelled out from the sting of it. If that is not enough to make you feel the passage of time, try putting a parent in the nursing home.

It is my father’s third week in the nursing home, and he is receiving excellent care. I visited him today. My plan for this column was an article about the visual artist Marcel Duchamp, but my visit with my father refused to leave my mind and Mr. Duchamp can wait.

My own mortality has been pressed to the forefront as never before with one parent deceased and the other in a nursing home. After the death of my mother and my pain at her absence, I reminded myself of all the minutes, so many minutes that I’d had with her, so many minutes she also experienced with others and alone in the solitude she treasured. Hers was a full life filled with glorious, sad, important, difficult and beautiful minutes. It helped me to think of her time this way, and made her life seem much longer when I considered all those minutes – her life as a young girl, young wife and mother – and how many times I’d watched her laugh at Dean Martin on his weekly show, or make her famous sloppy joes for a crowd of people. The many garage sales we rose early to catch, and the number of cookies, homemade bread and cinnamon rolls that melted in my mouth that were baked by her capable hands. The number of books she read, the paintings she completed, the afghan blankets she crocheted, and the seemingly endless supply of babies she rocked through the years. And this was all her in spare time when she was not at her 40 hour a week job. The memory of my mother helps me to remember to pay attention to all my many minutes, because there are a lot of them and I need to be fully present in each and every one.  My poem, which was on the small printed funeral information that is handed to each attendee, describes my mother.

It Doesn’t Have To Be a Goodbye Poem

Because every time

my sister, brothers and I see a dark-haired woman

with straight black eyelashes tug the cap over a child’s ears

on a cold day

we will remember her

braiding hair

kneading bread

patting baby cheeks

It doesn’t have to be a goodbye poem

because every time

we see an open book

we’ll remember her reading stories

of prairie dogs in green checked jackets and matching tams

or reading to herself

word after word      book after book

and we will remember those eyes

guiding her artist’s brush

catching light    catching shadow

marking a canvas       marking a day

It doesn’t have to be a goodbye poem

because we’ll remember

that courage and conviction come in the size of  our mother’s hands

the shape of our mother’s back

humility in the shadow of her down-turned face

It doesn’t have to be a goodbye poem

because every time

we offer a walking person a ride on a cold day

every time we return change to a mistaken clerk

every time we question our motives

yearn to do right

this won’t be a goodbye poem

Our mother’s love

deep and still and wild and real

cannot leave her children

or their children

or their children…

Today, I entered the nursing home feeling good that my dad is doing better than when he was admitted three weeks ago, and my conversation the day before with my sister reiterated that fact, so I went in with a positive feeling, but then, there he was an old man asleep in a recliner with other old people in the room. Yes, a normal nursing home sitting room, but this was my physically strong dad, my old dad who wasn’t old like this just a month ago. I woke him and it took him a minute to get his bearings. He looked pale. I asked him a few questions and he told me that there are good things and bad things.

“What’s a good thing, dad?”

“Well, you know the bib things that snap when we eat in the dining room. I cannot ever get the snaps to work, but a lady at my table helps me.”

“That is a good thing.”

I ate dinner with him. He dines with two very nice ladies at every meal.  He has told me several times of another lady who wants to marry him.  My dad has been in a wheelchair the past three weeks. He said, “I wished I’d had this much attention when I could walk and then I would be enjoying myself.”

I waited while the staff helped my dad into his room. I looked at the VCR tapes with music called Golden Memories, and considered the music of elders who love hard rock or the soon to be nursing home residents who will want rap music, maybe nursing homes will be much louder, soon. Like other nursing homes, this one has a nice wooden and glass case that holds colorful little finches.  I watched the lovely little birds in their boxed home, captured, and darting from one wall to another in the short flying distance of their home. I reminded myself not to fear taking risks.

“I’m going home now, dad.”

“Don’t forget I’m here.”

“I won’t ever forget that you are here.”

“I thought you did last week.”

“I won’t forget, and I promise that I’ll see you soon.”


Posted September 11, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Have a Chair

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