Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Things We Say

People ask, "How is your Mom?"
I say, "She is a warrior!"
Or "Her spirit is incredible!"

In the quiet of the night
As I stand at the kitchen sink, staring at nothing
hands submerged in gray suds
My husband says, "What's wrong?"

"I am tired," I say.
Or I say, "It's nothing. I'm okay."
I am tired.
I am not okay.
It is not nothing when your mother slips from your grasp.

"The cancer has spread," the doctor says.
"I tried to get as much as I could," he says.

Our faces fall.
Our heads bow.
Our bodies bend,
as if carrying bricks on our backs.

Dad puts his face in his hands,
Rubs and rubs and rubs his forehead.
"We will try chemo," the doctor says.

"You are buying us time," I say.
I am the only one who says anything.
"There are miracles sometimes," the doctor says,
as if he is unable to bear my hopelessness.

The doctor's words become the Kool-aid.
We greedily gulp.
Mom acts like she only has a cold.
"Chemo is nice, quiet time to read my book," she says.
"I have this wonderful quilt that was sewn by an inmate in upstate Indiana," she says.
"It could be so much worse," she says.

On the day she learns she will have to wear a pump
for more aggressive chemo, she says,
"It is amazing what you can get used to!"
After 18 sessions of radiation,
she says, "I am just a little tired."

A friend who lost her father hands me prayer beads over breakfast at Denny's.
"Hold onto these," she says.
"Keep them as long as you need them," she says.
I push cold scrambled eggs around my plate.

My siblings and I talk
But don't talk.
"Mom has a great attitude," we say.

No one says
That we fear future Christmases
And graduations
And weddings.
No one says
That we can't look our father in the eye now.

Dad takes Mom to lunch every day.
They take rides on country roads
Count the red-tailed hawks
Eat cheeseburgers by the lake.

Dropping by one day,
I catch them heading out the door.
"Lunch out again?" I say.
"It's a new day, isn't it?" Dad says.

That night,
Standing at my counter,
Peeling potatoes for supper
I slip away...

I find myself in my mother's kitchen,
Where she peels potatoes
And I stand on tip-toes on cold linoleum.
I reach for a slice from the colander.
"Potatoes aren't very good raw," Mom says,
Handing me a slice, anyway.

I bite into the raw potato and grimace.
"Yuck," I say.
She laughs.
"I told you so," she says...

Back in my own kitchen,
Peeling and slicing,
I tell that little girl
That when her mother hands her the slice of raw potato
She is to grip her mother's hand
Hold it tight.
Hold it so tight.

"Don't let go" I say.

Don't let go.


  1. bawling like a baby... I didn't know... i'm so sad for you, jenn. l,dxxx

  2. My heart aches for you. Your mother was a very special "lady". She made so many people in the tri-state feel good about themselves or their family. I was a Pruden and live in Owensboro now, but always enjoyed her articles. You have a wonderful heritage which will comfort you in the future. Right now ---you have it correct---just hang on to those wonderful memories. Don't let go of the rope!!!