“Remembrance–mighty word.”*

I’ve had an interesting enough life, I think. But I’ve never had that impulse before, the almost visceral drive to document my life in prose. The memoir. You could argue that’s what I do here, but I think of this as a selection of very loose-jointed, random snapshots.

I get it now. Though it’s not my own life I feel compelled to record, but my mother’s. And not actually her entire life, but the last five days of it. Days we didn’t know were her last.

The 2:00 am shuffle-shuffle to the commode, her arms tight around my neck as I held her up. We’re dancing, she wheezed.

The night Vincent stayed up past his bedtime telling Syllab0-stories to her, fairly glowing with necessity. He had to tell her these stories, nothing could dim the force of his intensity.

Her final hours, which came on so fast. Three weeks since she died, now. How each day without her makes its own memorial.

I was listening to The Culture Gabfest on Slate, because this edition features an interview with Meghan O’Rourke (after the Sidney Lumet film discussion) about her memoir, The Long Goodbye. Find the time somewhere, and listen. She talks about our common need for ritual, and our also common discomfort with others’ grief, and how often the loss of a parent can be seen as less. Less of a trauma, less of a loss.

She says that sometimes, all we really need is a space, acknowledgment, not to discuss it so much, just to give grief its due. I can’t remember her exact, perfect phrasing, so please, listen. This struck me as particularly and brilliantly insightful — last week we had an evening for just this sort of communal acknowledgment. Something beyond a memorial or funeral, something that makes plain that this is a wound that doesn’t heal, a permanent and irreconcilable emptiness.

My friend, Lea, lost her mother ten days before mine died. So my sweet and thoughtful husband came up with a plan, a joint remembrance, a Poetry Potluck Buck-Up Party, which our friends at Mocha Maya’s Coffee House kindly opened their doors for. Food, friends, and poetry, my ideal.

The very point of the night was to make a space for our losses, acknowledge their significance. To be open and honest and raw in grief, among friends. To be recognized as bereft. Bereft.

So many dear friends came, I can’t begin to tell you how potent it was. I love my mother, miss my mother, think of something I want to tell my mother every other minute  — to stand up and be known in my grief meant the world. Thank you, my friends.

*The Borzoi Reader Poem-A-Day, April 10, 2011: A Letter from Emily Dickinson written on the occasion of her mother’s death.

7 responses to ““Remembrance–mighty word.”*”

  1. Beautiful memories here, especially Vincent telling those Syllabo stories. So glad you all had that time together. Now, yes, grief deserves its space.

  2. So much heart here. So much love. I can’t wait to listen to that interview. The Poetry Potluck Buck-Up Party sounds beautiful and warm.

  3. My condolences. That potluck seems so meaningful, too.

  4. Thank you for this. I did not know your mother had died and find your thoughts about grief so, well, so Marie-like — smart and generous and unflinching. I remember my mother told me once that when her mother died she didn’t want to talk about her for a little while and then she found that she wanted to talk about her all the time — to tell her into the world. And I think that is a wonderful impulse and also a wonderful thing to do for other people. Much love to you dear Marie.

  5. Thanks, everyone. I do want to talk about her, all the time. And I’ve noticed that others, if you ask, want to talk about their lost ones too, no matter when it was they died. The impulse doesn’t seem to go away, and we have few enough opportunities to act on it. Yes, Lily, we want “to tell [them] into the world” — the only way of being that remains to them.

  6. Dear Marie, I received an email about Mocha Maya’s, kept following links, and of course ended up meandering through your space here. First, I was drawn to it because the entry date, April 14th, my mother’s birthday — she died a year ago. Then I went on to read your beautiful words about watching your own mother’s death — all the details, including the commode (which detail seems to make its way into my poems too) — about not knowing what would be her final days, hours — and the grief you write about — the grief, particularly when one’s mother is old — that we keep quietly to ourselves, as if it were unwarranted in some way, ah, until you share with someone else who has lost her mother.
    It felt so good to read your piece– and makes me want to read your poetry!
    Sending warmth and a collective daughters’ mother love ~ Abby

  7. Dear Abby, Thank you so much — what a wonderfully unexpectedly generous note to receive this morning! Another poet friend termed it as a nation of motherless daughters — this new world we have to live in. It’s been a comfort to discover so many of us — I hope we’ll meet in person some time!

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