About Me

My photo
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 29, 2017

The Victory of Presence and the Failure of Poetry

Oh poetry, I’d like to talk about the death of my mother with you. But you give me an inferiority complex.

I wrote poetry about wanting to wake up my infant son the first time he slept through the night and I stood outside the door struggling--with engorged breasts--about how long to let him sleep.

I wrote poetry when I had to put my baby girls back in their cribs at the Neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital after trying unsuccessfully not to fantasize about watching them dancing drunk-toddler style at some awful outdoor concert in the future. It would have been my mom’s idea--Artfest, probably.

The theme of the night my mother died started with poetry.

I had read Maya Angelou’s “Mother” before but I think I’d forgotten it was from the perspective of a daughter.

I knew at some level I was being formulaic with the way I approached sitting by my mother’s death bed.

Taking the Angelou book, and Rilke’s Love Poems to God--which I hadn’t read yet..(I just knew I loved Rilke quotes.)

As an afterthought I'd brought David Sedaris in case things got dark and the night got long and I decided we needed a laugh.

The night wasn't long, and it got very dark, pretty quickly, and I made it through Angelou’s shortest publication to date in little over five minutes. I began to read Rilke; about him reading to God
I took a photo of me reading with my feet up.

Her breathing had been labored the night before. And her head--it was tilted up and sideways. It made my neck hurt.
Hospice had been called a handful of times in the past nine months. But this was no false alarm.
I had thought “hospice” was a series of visiting angelic-looking kindly-trained nurses or even volunteers--the kind who’d have avocado seeds sprouting in plastic cups above their kitchen sinks at home.
I’d pictured they’d be watching over my mother so she wouldn't die alone. That’s not hospice. Not for my mom; not on that night.
Hospice’s “comfort care” is a steady administration of Ativan and morphine. If there had been family around asking questions and hovering they’d have known what to say. But it was just me and her.
So I’d been reading Rilke and I can’t remember exactly what line I’d read that kicked me into present moment.
Her breath was more shallow; more labored.
A line, addressed to God had said “You are leaving me” and I began to cry.
I put the book down and laid down next to her.
She was wearing the fleece jammies she’d had on the previous night when my dad had touched her right leg ever so lightly and crumpled into tears.
My son had never seen his grandpa cry; he'd never known these two people together or witnessed any love between them. They'd been divorced for eleven years when he was born. Alex, my tough man child went over to hug my mom, too.
I don't know what Mike did. He was most likely handling something while I wandered in a daze.
My girls were scared to get close.
Scared of grandpa crying.
There was hugging and everyone was hungry. We had been on the way to my twins' birthday dinner.
Isabella put her arms up and said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!” just sarcastic enough to prove she was my kid.
Back to her literal death bed night, I stroked my mom’s face, and said,
“Hi mommy, I’m here, it’s ok.”
And it was like that. For five minutes or even two. I couldn't tell because it wasn’t real time. It was another world God time. I hadn’t felt like that since I’d given birth to Alex. When it was just me and my body and the concern on the midwife’s face and the mention of a drop in oxygen and me, grabbing God by the lapels and saying, “Alright it’s you and me. We are getting this kid out.”
It’s how I felt with her. My mom’s eyes opened and locked with mine..like almost a surprised or sad look. Her blue-gray eyes were watery and I swear she was lucid.
I reassured her “Hi it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, mommy."
"It’s ok. It’s ok.”
And I felt so grown up..like I was helping--the way you know a sick child feels reassured that you are there. Even if you can't make their fever go down.
I knew something different was happening so I left and ran out to get some kind of nurse.
She came back with me--and some other caregiver in scrubs.
She said she’d passed. Then my mom breathed one more time and I got back to her face.
And I pet her again and hugged her.
The nurse said she’d passed. This time she was accurate. She even checked her pulse and looked at her watch.
I stroked her face more..her eyes were open and so was her mouth. It had been breathing wide open for a long time and you can't close the mouth like they do in movies.
But the nurse aid closed her eyes--also like they do in the movies.
I began to gush over my mom.
“I'm so proud of you! You're so smart! You're so smart you waited until I was here. I love you.”
And the nurse people changed her pants while I left the room and then I went back to her side and laid there. Anxiously.
I wrote these notes on my phone then:
“I'm sitting next to my mom’s dead body. She is still
Pretty. Pale, yes. But no longer struggling to breathe.
I was on 18 % battery left when I got here and I recorded a little of her breathing to show Mike how different it was from the night before. Were these death rattles? I couldn’t tell but it was like a kind of loud mouth breathing.”
I had posted an hour previously on Facebook to send me prayers and then I posted that my mom had just died with my hand on her face.

I see now that I was throwing a high-tech message in a bottle and waiting for responses. I don't do lonely or quiet well even in the best circumstances.
I texted my friend, whose dad is terminal.
“I’m just chilling with my dead mom next to me like ‘Weekend at Bernies’ except without bad acting and sunglasses. Hospice is coming to talk to me about stuff.”
“Are you a little in shock?” she asked.
Pretty sure I was.
“She’s a pretty corpse. Is that weird? My phone is...about to turn off (i didn’t want to say die).”
I couldn't text or call my little brother because he was on stage performing comedy in Minnesota. I had blocked him from my Facebook post so he wouldn't find out our mom died on Facebook. How much better was it to find out she'd died by text?
After the phone died, I grabbed the one attractive sweater from her closet, and a pair of socks. My feet were cold and sweaty.
And about a half hour later, my mom’s essence was no longer there. I didn’t want to be either.
I left the room when hospice came,  answered “cremation” and I think made inappropriate jokes.
I remembered the night my grandpa died when I was in the eighth grade. I had picked up the phone, too, and had heard my grandma say “the mortician” and hung up.
She hadn’t even sounded sad. “How did she get over it so fast?" I wondered at the time. I know now she wasn't over it; just going through the motions.

Anyway, I cried all the way home, and, relieved he was till here for my daughters' birthday, cuddled and silently weeped on the couch with my daddy.


  1. Lisa your writing is so beautiful. I remember reading on fb when your mom passed. Your writing brought me into the room where your heart breaks. My mom is in hospice and I find your writing comforting ❤️

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am sorry for your impending loss and I'm honored to know my writing was a comfort to you.

  2. Your words have brought me to tears Lisa. My Father had been pronounced brain dead from a stroke he suffered at home in Vancouver. There was no way for me to get to him immediately. It was too far to drive and I was too shaken to even consider that anyway. A friend came, made me plane reservations, packed a bag for me and drove me to the airport. From takeoff to landing to the cab ride into town felt like days had passed. The staff directed me to a small room where they had placed him, waiting for my arrival. When I entered the room I barely noticed the presence of his 'lady friend' sitting silently in a corner. I remember finding it hard to catch my breath as I walked to his bedside. My right hand took hold of his and my left gently smoothed his hair back. At my touch he turned to me and smiled. I cried and whispered to him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him; and I thanked him for loving me and being a wonderful Father. Then the monitor silently signaled the end and he was truly gone. The nurse said he couldn't have reacted to my presence as there was no brain activity. But I knew he waited for me. Sending you love and prayers and sincere condolences on the passing of your Mother.

    1. I think I wasn't ready to respond or don't think to look for the comments on this actual blog but I was re-reading some of the emotional parts of my mom's death, as I'm now heading into the business afterward which lacks all poetry. Probate court. Ugh. Anyway thank you for sharing your moments with your dad and saying that I made an impact on you. That's all I hope to do with my words--beyond getting myself out of painful corners.

  3. Lisa...you are an incredible woman. Your mom was so proud of you and your brother. I remember her concern when Alex and when the twins were born. Alex was the light of her eye! I agree that she did wait for you to be there and believe that your presence comforted her. Your ability to put your thoughts into words and the capacity to then share them is amazing. I hold you and your family in my heart as I do the wonderful memories I have of your mom. I send you a HUG...

    1. Thank you so much for your sharing and generosity as always and for keeping my mom's spirit alive with your memories of her.


Thoughtful young me

Thoughtful young me

Seventies chicks

Seventies chicks
Me and my mom Lynn, 1973