what my mother’s death taught me about life

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.

WILD GEESE
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,

Allison Marie

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// The Lives We (Do Not) Live //

As I am writing this to you
another life curls herself
against my spine,
she whispers into someone else’s
ears, I mistake them

for my own.

I confuse our turning
toward one another

or away?

The life I have chosen

blooms upon
my chest
as the one which haunts me
stands beside us
always

still.

.

.

// With You //

I know they will take you
and I will have to let go
of everything I ever built, everything
that mattered
more than everything.

So this is the aria for the lengthening of tenderpain,
this is the sorrow which is keeping the
the skies above
from alighting upon the earth.

This is life running her chainlink vacancies
through stale hotel rooms,
racing my bloodstream
over the hills which eclipse my pale moonbody
in the bruised desires of night.

What they cannot know
is that hidden inside me, of course,
is you.

And this is a language you have
always known. There are no words
between us.
Listen deep for its
singing, listen with all of your
empty pages.

Listen for the coming darkness.

Reach with your eyes and
take in her static
dressing gowns.

I am within the voices. I am within the faces
you see reflected at the windows
of a time gone by.

The tides are the beating of my heart
curling and receding upon your breast.

Wash the sheets and keep the curtains
closed and know by the firelight
eternity
is home.

Inside the secrets inside the stars which you have not yet met,
there I am on the edges
with you.

Wherever they take you, my beloved,
there they will take me, too.

.

.