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Tag: mother and daughter

a bubbling up of gratitude

giving thanks 2013

any minute now, we’ll be lacing up our hiking boots. it’s take-to-the-woods day here at our house. no malls, no credit cards need apply. we’re decidedly not interested in all things consumer-esque. the only things we care to breathe in today are cold air, wide-open sky, and the sound of our boots crunching dry prairie grasses.

but before we zip the triple-thick parkas and slide into the fattest mittens money can’t buy, it’s the hour of bowing our heads and unfurling gratitude.

i begin this year, and this particular season of life, with deepest thanks for all that’s conspired to take it up a notch. and the notch that matters most around here is the devotion to paying attention. paying supreme attention. in so many ways i’ve taught myself to live in a way that holds most frames of life up to the light. i’ve gotten quite skilled at stopping time, hitting the pause, relishing the breadth and depth: the way the light scatters across my wide-planked kitchen floor, beholding the scarlet flash as papa cardinal settles into the branches just beyond my kitchen door, absorbing the metronome of the schoolhouse clock’s tick and tock, the soft tickle of my little one’s curls against my cheek when he climbs in bed — still — for one last cuddle before i drift into slumber.

but in the past week, as my mama and i have stepped into this new corridor of time and holiness, i’ve noticed something new: it’s as if veils have been lifted, and conversation is purer than it’s often been. stories are unspooling abundantly. there’s a gentleness. forgiveness. it’s as if our hearts have melted toward a common purpose: we are forging into the unknown. we don’t know what’s around the bend. but what’s now is a newborn chance to relish. relish time. relish each other’s gentle company. relish the gift of an afternoon spent rolling out my mama’s mama’s butter-cookie dough, pressing the tin gobbler just so, dotting tail feathers with raisins, and through my mama’s keen invention of spatula and speed, airlifting from cutting board to baking sheet before the doughy gobbler loses half his heft.

it is the velvet underside of uncertainty, of doctor’s diagnoses stirring you from sleep, of waking up with a wobble in your belly, because you don’t know these woods. don’t know quite where the brambles are.

it’s the gift of reawakening. realizing all over again that every blessed hour is a miracle. and that you can choose just how to live it: rush it, or relish every drop.

thank you, Maker of All Holiness, for the noodge to relish.

thank you, too, for the gift of being home. for being back in this anointed old house that seems to know me from the inside out, to soothe me, and some days keep me from toppling. thank you for the red-checked chair with ample arms that invite me in, for the straight-backed sturdiness, across from where the logs crackle and the flames leap high and mesmerizingly.

thank you for the windows. for the flutterings and flashes just beyond the glass, as the clouds of gentle creatures take off and land, from sky to limb and back again — each time, lifting just a little bit of my heart.

thank you for telephones, for the rare sound of a voice that nestles soft against my heart. that, within a syllable, brings joy, brings comfort, collapses miles and aloneness, amplifies the hours spent in coming to this holy bond of deepest knowing.

thank you for the bits of news — of whatever ilk, good or bad or nasty — that percolate the hours of each day, make one slice of time so vastly different from the next, stitch drama to the script of life, offer us the chance to absorb each and every frame from an angle never known before.

thank you for wisdom, the sort that comes in unexpected flashes, when you only know you’ve found it as you feel your heart go thump, and you sit bolt upright, or feel the goosebumps sprout. might come reading along the pages of the news, or in a poem slipped under your transom, or from a stranger passing by. might come in the holy gospel of the wonder child, as you catch one last phrase tossed over a shoulder from the exiting seventh-grader at the schoolhouse door.

thank you for the dawn, that sacred cloak of in-between, when crescent moon dangles just above, but night gives way to morning’s light, and heaven’s dome, at the seam of earth and sky, soaks up scant threads of all-absorbent pink. thank you for the stillest hour when all that moves is barest breeze that rustles leaves, and far off, the stirrings of the lake that never cease.

thank you, most of all, for the deep down knowing that you, Holy Depth and Gentleness, never leave me adrift. never let my quakings take me down. ever bring me light, and tender touches. ever hold me up, against the chilling winds. and bring me to communion with all that’s glorious and bountiful in this rugged, rugged landscape.

so that’s the starter list, the scattershot splats of gratitude. here and there, hither and yon, as my heart and head skip here and there. as always, take up the gift of unfurling whatever makes you deeply grateful….

stack o turkeys

of lilacs and pillowcases and slow last breaths

the phone rang. through broken words i made out this: “my mom’s gonna die. in the next few days.”

it was my friend susan. it was my friend who has always counted her mother as pretty much her dearest, best-loved friend. except of course for her triplets and her larry. it was my friend who, for months, and especially in the last few weeks, has been inching ever closer to the inconceivable conclusion that i just heard her put to words—sputter, choke through, really—on the other end of the line.

her blessed, tiny mother, the one who, one week away from turning 79, still sold houses, still filled her calendar with lunches and theater and friends upon friends before the cancer, damn cancer, truly demanded center stage, her mother was, at last, unavoidably, in her final holy hours.

moved just the night before into intensive care to try to ease her gasping broken breathing, she was now, they had just decided, being moved out. moved out, said susan, to a room where she would die. untethered. except for the slow drip of morphine, liquid mercy doled out in fractions of a milliliter.

“she’s too brittle to move home,” said susan, who wished for that more than anything.

so did her mother.

“i just want to go home and drink a cold glass of water,” her mother said just the day before, one of the few lucid sentences she spoke the day she couldn’t, for the life of her, catch her breath.

susan, who has stayed dry-eyed and unwobbly through most of this long road, was without words for a heartbeat or two. i heard tears falling. “it’ll be okay. i’ll close the door. it’ll be quiet,” she whispered.

i suddenly saw lilacs.

get lilacs. fill the room. i said the words softly. the words came from my mouth, but really they came from somewhere else. i kept going. make it smell like heaven. get her pillow, a soft pillow. play music. hearing is the last earthly thread to go.

light a candle. no, strike that. oxygen and candles aren’t a good idea. combustion of this sort, you do not need. susan laughed. softly. she has room, bless her, in her heart for laughing.

make a soft nest.

i thought of the womb that carries us into life, the gentle soothing waters. the lub-dub of a mother’s heart. the way it must pound in all-enveloping waves through the almighty contraction that pulses one life through and out of another.

i thought of death. i thought of how i would want to be ushered out in the same soft womb of soothing waters. fill my room with springtime rushing in. lay my cheek on smooth white cotton, french knots and tiny forget-me-nots hand-stitched along the pillowcase’s edge. anoint me with lavender waters. put cold water to my lips. and make it sweet, while you’re at it.

if, that is, we are so blessed to know that we are headed heaven’s way. if we have a little notice. say an hour or a day.

susan whispered yes. yes to hyacinth. yes to going to her mother’s bed, her real one, not the one that’s making do in the ICU, and gathering the pillow that knows the contours of her mother’s cheeks and chin and forehead, the contours, too, of all her mother’s dreams. yes, lastly, to ipod—this is ’007, after all.

since i was already speaking from a place that doesn’t often see the light, i kept on going. there are times in life when all is scraped away, and there is time and room only for the essence. this was such a time.

“susan, death is beautiful. i don’t know if you’ve ever been right there when someone dies. but it will fill you with unimaginable peace. something rushes in the room. you are not afraid. you know that you are not alone. there is something full of grace that holds you.”

susan whispered yes.

and i went off to fill my arms with lilac and hyacinth and the sacred earthly incense that would carry my dear friend’s most blessed mother on her way to heaven.

the phone rang shortly after 3, just after i’d gotten home with hyacinths; too soon for lilacs. it was susan. the hospital had called before she could even get there. her mother died. susan had just gone out to gather hyacinths for her mother’s last slow breaths. “too late,” she said, voice cracking. not so, i pray. their sweet perfume, i’m sure, wrapped over her on her way.
all night i have been listening to the pit-a-pat of rain against the roof, against the panes. is it earth weeping for the loss of yet another dear one? or is it heaven sending healing, blessed waters? shortly before dawn, the rain paused. the pit-a-pat gave way to robin trilling. i live miles north of susan, but i hope she too heard rain give way to robin. i hope she heard the day open up in song.