Letting Go


Sorry for the long delay. It’s been a busy holiday season. And during that time I resurrected some past writings – especially about my mother. The one I’m posting here today is not very uplifting or loving, but I thought it perfectly depicts the relationship she and I had through the years. Maybe I’ll post a happier one next time. Here goes:

Letting Go

 In the last days of her life, my mother looked like a skeleton with yellowish
gray skin, sunken chest, and bony shoulders, legs, and arms. Her hands
and arms had huge red-and-blue bruises like mottled granite in sporadic
blotches. Her lips were dry, cracked, and peeling. Her mouth was
crooked as she labored in deep rapid breaths. Her sparse hair stuck up.
She lay on her side in the fetal position with her eyes and mouth half open
and her hands clutching the bars at the side of her bed. As she
intertwined her fingers around the bars, I could see her nails like claws,
badly needed a manicure—the silk wraps had grown out. She could barely
talk—her words were like moans—as she kept saying, “I can’t take it
anymore,” or “I can’t stand it.” Mostly she gestured, sticking her hand
through the bed railing when she wanted something.

This was a vain woman. She would have hated to be seen that way. (she’s in the upper left in her family photo below)


Sharon Olds wrote a poem about her mother’s last hours,
how she lovingly got in bed with her and lay next to her and held her.
I couldn’t have done that. My mother wouldn’t have wanted me to do that.
She would hardly take my hand even when she was in a coma in her last couple of
days. She pushed me and my sister and everyone else away.

After she died, I found closure. For a while I felt like I was glossing
over the details of her life and romanticizing her. But, in actuality, there
is no romanticizing my mother. She was one tough cookie. And no, I don’t
feel any grief for her anymore. She always said, “you won’t miss me
when I’m gone.” She was right. I don’t miss her. She used me up.

Now my time is my own. I don’t have to be my mother’s mother. I
no longer have to care for her. I no longer have to visit her. I no longer
have to worry about including her in our family activities. I don’t have
to worry about calling her anymore or seeing her anymore or wondering
how she is or how she’ll treat me. I never knew what mother I would
find whenever I called her or met with her. There were times when she
was mean and sharp-tongued and times when she was quiet and docile.
No, I won’t and don’t miss any of that. Mostly I fear that I won’t live
long enough to enjoy my freedom from her.

All that lost time is what I grieve for. She didn’t go soon
enough. Of course a good daughter shouldn’t think and feel this way,
but I was a damn good daughter to a damn bad mother. And she wasn’t
much of a mother at all. She was a taker. She wanted all the attention,
and when it wasn’t centered around her she lashed out and attacked the
ones who were stealing the attention from her.

Like when I was pregnant with my oldest son. All the attention was on me
and she couldn’t stand it. She made my life miserable. Now, I finally
get it. Now, I finally understand. She was sick. She had a milder form
of bipolar disorder, the illness he had. And now she is gone too.

Letting Go

She flexed her fists
on the cold bed railing
keeping in time
with the rhythm of her heartbeats.
Soon her hold relaxed,
and with fingers intertwined
she wrapped her hands around the bar.

Drugged from the morphine potion
placed under her tongue,
she lay in a ball like a sleeping skeleton,
her head tucked into her sunken chest.
I sat with her, stroked her arm
like a skinny rail itself
and soothed the damp hair off her forehead
until she pushed me away
and took hold the railing again.

Finally too weak to reach her metal friend,
she allowed her folder fingers
to rest on the bed.
And I, kissing her graying, fading face
said my last I love you and goodbye.
A woman strong until the end
took 94 years to finally let go.


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