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 Lila Stories, Pure Love

Timeless Sea

This piece was published by Chicken Soup for the Beach Lovers Soul, 2007.

This is the "feel" of my castle 🙂

I plop right down in the ocean soaked sand, just far enough from the incoming tide, and begin digging.  I use my hands, never a shovel, letting the fine wet grains stuff themselves behind my fingernails.   I won’t go as far as China today.  I’ll scoop just enough to make a castle.

It all depends on how close I am to the surf.   I dig and dig and dig until the underground flow suddenly appears and fills up the hole I created.   Magic!

At 42, this is all mystery to me–still. How does the water come to fill the hole from below? If it’s always there, why don’t I see it until I dig?  How does liquid hold its form beneath solid ground?

I’m sure there are simple, widely-known answers to these questions,  but I don’t want to know;  I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of wonder.

Once my pool fills, I set to work, letting the soupy sand trickle from my hand onto the pile of hard earth.   Trickle, trickle, trickle–my castle grows, taller and taller, until it is time to fashion a tower–a careful drip, drip, drip, as the tiny drops of soup harden into chips, creating a delicate spire.

I am reminded of a castle in France built ages ago upon craggy rock, the sea rushing to surround it each day with the tide.

I too am creator, artist, architect, building a cathedral.   I too have spent a lifetime at this holy task, like the children before me, and so too, the ones after me–after I myself am washed away from the shore of this world.  Bridges, moats, and castle walls, all crafted by loving hands, until the tide retrieves them, and we begin again.

It is the summer of ‘63, of ‘81, of 2006.  Time is no matter.  The salt still sprays in the air coating the downy hairs of my face.  The gulls still swoop overhead.  The pipers run to and fro in the surf.  The sky is blue or gray or white.  The water is warm, seaweed filled; or cold, bringing clamshells to the shore.

My feet are sprinkled with sand-the tiniest specks of gray and black and white.   In the heat of noontime sun, my step quickens–staccato– as I dash through the soft dry mounds of the dunes before they scorch my soles.  I am heading toward my car; or toward the music of the ice cream truck; or toward cousins just arrived to join us for the afternoon…

My grandmother has packed peanut butter crackers and lemonade; and later, will surprise us with rootbeer barrels and sour balls.  I’ll watch her mouth pucker, creating  hollows beneath her cheekbones as she studies the crossword puzzle–a sharpened pencil behind her ear.

When we return home, we will shower outside, and she will powder our bodies before feeding us a dinner of fried tomatoes and corn (shucked ourselves in the backyard.)

Our hair, freshly combed, will be damp as we crawl into bed, and someone will protest that the sun is still shining.

It’s after eight,” she’ll answer, firmly tucking the covers around us.

The hum of the air conditioner and the faint call of gulls will be our lullaby as we sink into sleep, burrowing our way back into the timeless sea–like the tiny purple clams uncovered in our digging.

by Kelly Salasin