Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Trip of a Lifetime

Our family, circa 1990

I'd been wanting to write about this for quite some time, and being invited to read at The Celebration of the Muse prompted me to do so.  It was a joy to share the stage with twenty local women writers.  The evening was a display of heart and talent.

The poem is about my parents.  It's about angels.  It's about dying as a transformation.  My mom and my dad each had their own path--and they continue on their own journeys. 

The Trip of a Lifetime


My dad has become much more spiritual

since he’s become a spirit.  Maybe his blue eyes

and handlebar mustache signaled he always had angel

potential.  He’d been gone only three months

when, as I sat at the computer, he—

I don’t know how else to put this—

came over for a visit.  My body filled with

a warmth I recognized as him.  My fingertips

froze on the keyboard.  I resisted saying,

“Hi Dad!” because I worried he’d

evaporate if I spoke or moved.  A

softening cupped my heart.  He spoke

without language, filling me with this message:

Everything’s fine.  Fine as in whole, as in

flawless.  Fine as in don’t worry—as in lovely

and pure.  As fine as the sand on an endless beach

that spreads toward the eternal horizon. 

A few days before he died, he said if the afterworld

was real, he’d find a way to pinch me. 

This wasn’t a pinch, though.  Maybe spirits

don’t have fingers.  I remember Dad’s fingers,

thick fingertip pads that fumbled as he

turned newspaper pages.  Yet he grasped a hammer

so resolutely that he built redwood decks in record time,

laid down railroad ties and hauled thousands of

buckets of firewood.  He’d always slide

his ring back on after his shower, before dinner.


A week after the funeral, Mom and I found

Dad’s wedding band in a drawer

next to the bed, gold and round as a tiny halo. 

“Toss it,” Mom said.  All afternoon she’d been saying

“toss this, toss that” about most of Dad’s things. 

The geriatric psychologist asked my mom:

“In what way are a rose and a tulip alike?”

 Mom said:  “They are not alike.”

He said:  “How are a watch and a ruler alike?”

She said:  “They both measure time.”

“A bike and a train?”

“They are both machinery.”

“A corkscrew and a hammer?”

“I don’t know.”

He asked:  “What would you do if there was a fire in your house?”

She answered:  “I’d close and lock the doors.”

“Patient described as showing a change in cognitive status. Her husband of 48 years passed away two months ago.  She worked as a school nurse for many years but doesn’t recall when she retired.  Patient is a poor historian.”


The doctor wrote:  “Patient is a poor historian.”

Pablo Neruda wrote:   “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” 


Hospice literature says:

“One week before death,

the average patient

still has

a 40% chance

of living.”

It says:

“There is no medical definition

of terminal.”

It says:

“There is no medical definition

of  dying.”


The next time Dad popped in for a visit

I was jogging through my neighborhood. 

“Wow,” he said without words, “Look, look,

look, look, look!”  As my feet metronomed

on the pavement, the colors brightened.  And I saw

through new eyes the crystalline winter day,

the razor-sharp infinite blue of the sky, and the

preposterous fuchsia blossoms as unabashed as the sex of

the world.  Mom gave me the same gift once:

a ViewMaster in my Christmas stocking. 

I’d spent hours peering in,

atingle at the Wonders of the World in 3D—

azure seas and golden windows, lush veils and drapes

and rushing waterfalls—places my mother dreamed of.


Mom began to leave long before she died.

Her language left word by word

as though she was packing a suitcase.

She hadn’t spoken in almost a year.

But when I showed her my engagement ring—

sapphire blue like my father’s eyes—

she reached out and touched my face. 

She doesn’t visit.  I can still feel the release

of her last exhalation, like the lift of a plane.

She’s off on the trip of a lifetime.


For more about my mom:

For more about my dad:


F. B. Viola said...

" the lift of a plane."

I really like this poem. Way to transcend the experience of death.9

Holli said...

I'm sitting here feeling so many different things after reading this Kate. I have experienced some of what you have felt and I can empathize with you... and that makes me feel whole and connected. Not alone. Some of this I haven't experienced but it doesn't matter because your words have allowed me to and it's amazing. I can feel the love between you and your parents. It's palpable.

RidgeHike said...

Kate thanks for sharing your experience about the death of your parents. The relationship between parent and child/adult is one of the rare and unique relationships we have in our lives. When we are finally orphaned the relationship changes into memories and our lives are forever changed. Thanks again