Posted in Ancestors, Apprenticeship with my own passing, Lanscape of Loss, Lila Stories, Losing a friend, Markers, My Bonnie

Where to die?

Sea Mandala, by Pengosekan

This morning I noticed that the faucet in the hotel room shower reminded me of those cow skulls you see from places like Arizona.

“I’m afraid of places like that,” I say to myself, as water pours over me. “They’re too dry.”

The more I age, the more I need water nearby.

And then I think about the sea vs. lakes and streams, and I consider where I want to live at the end of my life and where I want to die.

My mind flashes to the space where my Mom lived out her last days–in a hospital bed in her living room, surrounded by windows, a block from the bay.

“I want to die there,” I think, which is absurd because I never lived in that house and my mother’s estranged husband lives there now–with his girlfriend and her kids. (I would call him my stepfather but we went to highschool together. He was my boyfriend’s best friend.)

“Do you mind if I die here, Dan?”

It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen in my family. My father, the surgeon, was the one to pronounce my mother dead in the livingroom of the home she shared with the man with whom she left him.

I left them all a quarter of a century ago for the mountains which is where I now live on a canopied road that runs alongside a brook.

My house sits above a pond belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception where I celebrated my 50th birthday 5 years ago next week.

A good friend from highschool came up from the shore for that weekend; it was her first time in Vermont; and last month, her husband came up with their oldest son to spread some of her ashes on the water here.

If I were to die like my mother, with time to consider such things, I suppose I’d welcome a view of the Atlantic. I was born beside that sea.

Mine was a December arrival, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is funny because my parents got pregnant out of wedlock like Mary and Joseph, and my father was a Jew (His grandfather was anyway) which is why the Catholic Church refused to marry them even though my mother was a Catholic born on Christmas Day.

Hate hides in so many places, fed by fear and superiority as if “All Men Are Created Equal” is not self-evident but something that has to be, in each generation, proven.

The Sisters of Mercy tended my mother’s labor at their hospital across from the beach in Sea Isle City so if not the beach, then maybe I could die in some house of Mary, like the one across the pond from me in the Green Mountains–the summer camp belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

Some find my absorption with death maudlin or worse—premature—as if there is the promise of tomorrow for any of us.

My sister died beside a pool. My grandmother on a bridge. My mother beside the bay windows. All in their 50’s. The first two by total surprise; the last with two months warning.

I suppose if I outlive the lot of them, I’ll be reborn. Last week I took the ferry across the Delaware Bay to visit my great-aunt ahead of her 92nd birthday.

Her mother, my great-grandmother lived into her nineties too.
“I’m ready to go,” she’d say when I’d come to sit beside her as she woke from her afternoon nap.

I massaged her legs under the blankets in a hospital near the sea in the days leading up to her death.

Born a Jefferson, my great-grandmother’s people go back to the 1700s in Delaware and Virginia. I imagine she never questioned belonging, though being born female in 1898 meant she wasn’t considered equal in any way–not with regard to property, opportunity, representation or even bodily autonomy.

Some things haven’t changed.

Belonging seems essential to living and dying, doesn’t it?

I suppose no matter where I die, I’ll carry the sea with me inside.

Posted in Apprenticeship with my own passing, Lanscape of Loss, Loss & our nation, Voices

Faces go to God


Like the flowers & the season & the light & even many loves, everything, including me, passes.

And doesn’t that make it hard to breathe?

On Wednesdays, I used to say to my children (and myself): “Don’t say, no, go with the flow,” which is perhaps why, in the absence of their presence, I wake on a quiet Wednesday morning to a spontaneous meditation of letting go.

Loved ones. Precious times. Personal highs (and lows.) Resentment. Bitterness. Dreams. Teeth. Muscle tone. Heartache.

There was a time when if I didn’t hold on tight, it would all be gone. Much like I ask the leaves to do when a strong wind comes too soon.

“Hold on!” I say, “Hold on!” not wanting a single leaf to leave before it’s reached its peak; before I’ve had every opportunity to savor its color as if such a thing is due.

How did I come upon such entitlement? Is it American? White? Middle class? Does such a subscription simply accompany each incarnation?

What if instead, I offered to the leaves and my heartbreak: “Let go! Let go! Let go!”

My stomach clenches at the thought like it did that September morning at the shore when they came to take my mother and carried her out in a bag right past her tomato plants, still ripening on the vine.

Didn’t she love her tomatoes. With salt. Don’t I still. 4 remain on my counter, the last of summer’s gifts.

And didn’t I feel, after she took her last breath, after we opened the bay window above her dead head–the whoosh of love. The freeing of energy. The opening of the door to heaven, whatever heaven may be.

To everything, there is a season, and sometimes the season is too short.

It’s this lack of certainty that unnerves me. Do I have 2 years left like her? Or will I be taken this year, suddenly, like my grandmother was at the age I am now? Or will I live on like her mother, long enough to dance at my great-granddaughter’s wedding? (Wasn’t my Nana something!)

My very first friend Glenn had Leukemia and maybe that explains my lifelong meditation on death or maybe it was my father’s and grandfathers’ occupation: physician, or one of my earliest jobs: in the morgue. Or maybe this is the pre-occupation of aging, “The apprenticeship,” as Whyte says, “With our own departure,” or maybe this is just the way my mind has always worked, like that of my firstborn’s, who was there when his grandmother died, asking me later or was it before:

“Where do faces go when they die?”

To which he responded himself:

“Faces don’t go to coffins. Faces go to God.”

Or it could be the leaves barely yellow blowing from the trees, the house once filled now empty of children, my mother gone 18 years, too many days in a row of dark and dreary, and the light, this morning, returning, with a rosy hue, a perfect color–for relinquishing everything.

“Let go, let go, let go.”

I’ll give it a try.

~

AUTUMN

By Monza Naff

Urge me to drop every leaf I don’t need
Every task or habit I repeat past its season
Every sorrow I rehearse
Each unfulfilled hope I recall
Every person or possession
to which I cling-
Until my branches are bare,
until I hold fast
to Nothing

Blow me about
in your wild iron sky,
crush
all that’s puffed up,
fluff
all that in me needs
to go to seed,
send my shadows to sleep.

Tutor me
through straining night winds
In the passion of moan and pant
The gift of letting go
At the moment of most abundance
In the way of
falling apples, figs, maple leaves, pecans.

Open my eyes
to your languid light,
let me stare in your face
until I see no difference
between soar and fall

until I recognize
eternity
in single breaths,
faint whispers of cool air
through lungs.

Show me the way of dying
in glorious boldness
Yellow,gold, orange, rust, red, burgundy.

Posted in Apprenticeship with my own passing, Lanscape of Loss

in my face

in my face. lately. every day. in the morning. after sex. when saying goodbye. when taking in the sunset. maybe it’s my age. or my hormones. or the turn of summer. or that my mother & my grandmothers died in this decade. and maybe it’s time to turn around and say thank you. for the reminder that i don’t have forever. that nothing lasts. that this moment. is. everything.

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early august, 2017