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Spokane, WA
This profile photo is my mom and me at the beach--she is 26 and I am about 18 months. LOVE the joy!! I am a mom of three and a teacher; being a teacher means I have to go back and cut the f-bombs. There were a few. Because Alzheimer's sucks badly. This blog, for nine years now--skipping a few while I was too cheap to buy my domain name-- helps me un-peel and process the endless layers of sad woven with weird and--impossibly--comedy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Cat Named Sloopy, A Mom Named Lynn




Me and Saki, 1976
The first real loss I ever experienced was when my cat, Saki, died in the Spring of my sixth grade year. My mom had two Rod McKuen poetry books and I'd cited his works in various felt and glue covered, hand-typed (yes, Smith Corona typewriter) poetry books in previous school years' English classes. I knew the magnitude of the death of Saki called for the best McKuen: "A Cat Named Sloopy." I read that poem over and over again in my wood-paneled basement bedroom to ugly cry and feel understood. Someone knew an animal could be that important; a loss could feel that profound.
I'm doing the same thing now with my mom's photographs of her with my baby Alex.
And I suppose I need to be the poet, and I can't because in spite of my penchant for gloomy sixties poems by Rod McKuen, I still don't feel I can write poetry. While I love the Aeschylus poem Bobby Kennedy read at MLK's funeral ("And even in our sleep, 
pain which cannot forget
 falls drop by drop upon the heart,
 until in our own despair, 
against our will,
 comes wisdom through the awful grace of God,")
I'm not wise yet. I'm still being knocked off my feet with bursts of grief.
The sad poem from Four Weddings and A Funeral ("Funeral Blues") by W.H. Auden is written more for lovers than mothers. So it's the cat loss poem I'm choosing. I'll post in a minute. My grief has ADD just like every other aspect of me.
Anyway, why these photos are particularly heartbreaking is this: My mom was not a fantastic or remarkable mom. Not the mom I am, or feel like most of the women I know strive to be. Lynn did what she could, but was often overwhelmed and mostly unhappy and often unavailable. But now, working full-time with three kids and being tired at the end of the day, I truly have more empathy for her daily after-work drinking through my middle and high school years.
But the Lynn that I got for the grandmother of my children? She was fantastic! She loved my baby when she visited us from both her homes in Missoula and Helena. She loved him when she lived in her condo in Browne’s Addition. She showed up, and rallied, and took care of me on bedrest; blending spirulina shakes and forgetting to bring them up to me. Lynn tried to take care of my acting-out son when he was dealing (very badly, like the upset four-year-old he was) during those 2.5 months in bed. When the twins were home, she pulled over-nighters with us when Mike was on shift and one of our newborns was sick.
          She adored Alex with a love that I hadn't remembered, known or appreciated, until my dad explained this was how she loved me.

She is 54 here. She looks so young! My grandparents first and only visit to my home. Mother's Day weekend '01

Man. This photo! We are on the tour bus, Independence Day weekend in Helena, '02

Same Mother's Day weekend. My grandparents both died within the past three years, too.

For a while
the only earth that Sloopy knew
was in her sandbox.
Two rooms on Fifty-fifth Street
were her domain.
Every night she’d sit in the window
among the avocado plants
waiting for me to come home
(my arms full of canned liver and love).
We’d talk into the night then
contented
but missing something,
(It was longer than I remembered. Read the whole poem here: Sloopy poem)
           Good God, no wonder my mom was so sad all the time. Too much freaking Rod McKuen. And Blues music. I read that poem SO MANY TIMES. It made feel so old...so intellectual. Anyway, that's what I have today. Love, tears, and a poem I thought was so rich and deep as a child--when I was naive enough to think the loss of a cat could feel the same as the loss of a parent. I used to relate to the lonely man in the poem who expected a LOT of his cat. Sloopy didn't deserve that pressure. I'm on the cat's side now.
          On the drive home, Saturday evening, January 14, 2017, after reading to and laying with my mom for the last 45 minutes of her life, it occurred to me, between guttural sobs on the 20 minute drive, that she truly--without question--loved me as deeply as I love my own children. Every single mother does. Either they do not have the words to express it, or the heavy tasks or lack of financial or emotional support or the heaviness of addiction keeps mothers from letting their children experience the profound depth of their love. But it exists just the same.That realization is the deepest confirmation and sense of loss I can explain. I wish it were as easy to lose a mom as it was to lose a cat. Or maybe to 10-year-old me it felt the same.
         I will not go running through the streets looking for my mom like Sloopy's owner, because I've actually done that many times before. The heavy place in the center of my body that has ached dully for more than seven years will only occasionally ache like it did today. I no longer have a mother to visit, or put off visiting...now I'm the lost one.




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Thoughtful young me

Thoughtful young me

Seventies chicks

Seventies chicks
Me and my mom Lynn, 1973

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