For My Mom
I’m reposting this poem I wrote for my mom’s memorial last October. I watched her leave this life to head into the next after she fell suddenly and mysteriously ill. They were never able to determine the cause of her illness, and the final cause of death was pneumonia related to being bedridden in a hospital. Many thanks to Northwest Medical Center personnel. All the doctors and nurses were great and did everything they could. It was hard, but I was glad to be there with her when she finally let go and went to be with Jesus
I wrote and shared the following prose poem at the service, and I wanted to share it here with you in honor of my mom. I handwrote this over several pages and tore out pages I’d read as I went.
My mom travels light. Practical in most things, she’s learned to pack only what she needs, what’s valuable to her. Most travelers start heavy and increase as they go, adding to their weight with useless trinkets, plastic souvenirs, T-shirts that only proclaim where you’ve been. My mom’s direction is counter to this. Where others collect, she sheds: things no longer needed, no longer valuable. The pages of a book lose their value immediately after she reads them. On a long journey, she starts with many books, but as she travels, she simply tears out completed pages, discarding them as she goes. You can measure the distance she’s traveled by the trail of pages behind her.
My mom travels light. She learned early that you need less than you think to survive, to thrive even, with far less. She learned this as a child in the depression, learned how to rejoice over oranges and pocket knives at Christmas. She learned again with embarrassment at her wealth when she traveled to impoverished lands. She learned, painfully when my father left and she was faced with the necessity of traveling lighter than she had ever planned, shedding more than she ever needed before, parts of her self that had seemed impossible to leave behind, but, like a snake leaves its own skin, leave them she did, dropping whole chapters behind as her story moved forward.
My mom travels light. This was newly clear to me as I sat in her apartment, while she lay in the hospital. Much of the book of her life had been read, only a few thin pages remained. Of course her apartment contained more than she needed, but no more than she wanted. Not a single item was a nod to someone else’s expectation, nothing for show, or “just because,” or even just because she had forgotten to discard something. Everything was labeled either “duty” or “desire.” Of the many pages of her life read, only snippets remained, chosen snippets as one might keep favored quotes from a loved book while discarding the rest of the book. Her decorations were limited to truly valuable mementos from travels, not landmarks or placeholders of places she’d been, but people-marks, memory holders of relationships and shared experiences with people who made her journey more. Framed postcards, uniquely culled collections tied together by importance only she knew, handmade African and Native American Art…and a turtle riding a rainbow. Absurd, ridiculous, completely unexpected, and unmistakably unnecessary: the kind of clutter my mom eschewed. Even when I made and gave it to her over 2 decades ago, I fully expected it to be left behind, and yet here it was, 25 years of packing and unpacking. A page kept.
My mom travels light. Some people wear every experience as if every “I’ve been here” t-shirt is simply layered on until who they are is no better established but hidden beneath mounds of fabric. No discernment is attempted regarding what fits, what no longer fits, what never fit. My mom travels light; a page read can be easily tossed without regret; the awareness is enough. The pages of painful betrayal, of anger at that betrayal, sorrow from loss, fear from pain, these pages are discarded, their weight left behind. My mom travels light, and yet she created new pages: folders, carefully organized, of quotes, and ideas, and new perspectives. These new pages, the most helpful to her she put on the wall above her bed. This purging, winnowing woman had a wall dedicated to stuff. But this stuff lightened, rather than added to the weight of her travels. Some days, trim as she was, the weight threatened to overwhelm her, and these pages propelled her journey rather than drag it down. My mom travels light, but at the end even her own flesh was too heavy. She labored, not to breath but to be free of breath. When she went, she went weightlessly, the last page finally dropped. She believed, as I do too, that she dropped this last page and the next is written on air. The weight is gone. My mom travels light.