This is a strange time of year for me. This week will mark twelve years since my mother passed away after a crushing battle with inflammatory breast cancer. She went so quietly, so, so quietly like the falling of the tiniest, slightest, softest feather nestling itself inside the green twilight blades of grass that spread out across our rolling backyard. Into the sun, setting as it was, slowly slowly that terrible, mysterious, awful, brutal, cruel, punishing, impossible day. So quietly we could scarcely believe it. So quietly we could barely breathe.
I don’t know what death is, someday I will. Someday you will. And life is ever a stranger after the death of someone you love with the deep cells of your own body. When you reach into the earth to bury the one whose flesh is your flesh, from whose bones came your bones, your hair, your pale skin, your skychild blue crystal eyes, the shape of your wrists and hands and legs and shoulders and the dimple in your chin. Part of your soul goes into the ground, into the cyclic ether, into the beyond, into the beyond to stay close and never ever leave your momma creature behind.
And so with her passing through to someplace you cannot follow, you become a new question. How to live? Is there a way? Is there a secret? You are a collection of atoms always listening. You become yourself once removed. You become yourself walking forward and backward at the same time, always somewhere suspended in a sliver of the universe you cannot reach or understand. But you feel it. You will always feel it in the back of your throat when you least expect it, holding onto the same tears you cried that day. The day she slipped into the air of that midsummer night, left us in the smeared heat of orange sunlight fading into black.
Those tears, they are of a certain water. The water shared by the ocean a mother is for her daughter: womb. arms. heart. blood. fear. comfort. mystery.
So I must admit I’m short on any kind of answers this week. I have no hold on anything, everything this week is fluid and about to change at any moment and for the rest of eternity. This week is an annual lesson in grief, living, healing, questioning, and letting go. I have no grasp on anything. But when do we ever, really?
In a way, living through the death of a parent is like inheriting a whispering breeze which never ceases to blow across your mind, your days, your nights: live your life, live your life, live your life while you are in it.
And so I leave you with this poem by Mary Oliver, beloved poet that she is. It speaks to me, in a way, as some kind of creative answer to all the questions we ask ourselves, especially in times of heightened emotion, pain in particular: Now what must I do? You do not have to be good. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Maybe that is all any of us are here to do, for as long as we are blessed enough to do it.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Until next time, I send you so much love and affection,
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