Soul of a Nation

My great-great grandparents, Israel & Leah Salasin

I’m struck by these words posted by friend after friend:

“I feel afraid.”

These are words typed by strong, engaged, voiced women. For whom the latest atrocity was personal.

Why don’t I feel afraid?

“Salasin” is Russian Jew, but I was born blonde with green eyes, more like my Irish and English grandmothers than my grandfathers for who each had parent who was a Jew.

I wasn’t raised Jewish either, unless you count the huge brunch at my paternal grandparents’ house after the Easter Sunday Service–smoked white fish and bagels and Matza-ball eggs–prepared by my grandfather who was Bar Mitzvah-ed as a boy. (Can I make that a verb?)

His firstborn, my father, was born blonde, blue-eyed like his mother and he did not have a Bar Mitzvah, but he did wear a medallion on a chain with the Jewish star on one side and St. Christopher on the other (a gift from a family friend, a Catholic nun.)

I never heard any talk about any Jewish ancestry on my mother’s side. “100% Irish,” is all that was said. Her people were blue-collar. Some things make you less secure.

But when an entitled prick shows up with a gun at a synagogue, shouting: “All these Jews need to die!” it doesn’t matter your education or societal status or occupation and it doesn’t even matter that you are attending a bris for a newborn child.

If you’re on the wrong side of what someone else decides is the right side, which is all of us in this country on the other side of what the President represents, then you are vulnerable.

And if you are a privileged man who rejects the lies and hypocrisy, the dog-whistles and degradation, the abject inhumanity of this administration, you too might feel hopeless and outraged despite the systemic protection that you are just beginning to realize.

On the morning of the synagogue massacre, I had arrived to show my support for a candidate who is transgender, feeling particularly sensitive to the vulnerability of all those who similarly identify given the administration’s recent efforts to remove gender protections from UN Human Rights documents.

It’s come to this.

I pray that if you know in your heart that something is terribly wrong, and its root is the rot in the White House, that you will vote for those who will best protect the humanity of this nation.

I pray that if you are still confused, still drinking at the poisoned well of us and them, that you will, at the very least, stay home.

I care about you. I truly do. I want you to feel safe and at ease and prosperous and empowered; but not at the expense of our nation’s soul.

~

Sitting Shiva

I want to say: I hate you!

I want to CONDEMN your awful blindness!

I want to CURSE you for putting this man in the White House!

But what I truly feel is grief.

You have broken my heart again and again.

And still, my fellow Americans, I believe in you.

I hope.

We, all of us, around the world, are one.

VOTE like you believe this too.

Late Summer Collection

One of the things that I treasure about blogging is that it’s simple enough to do–even when the kids are home–as evidenced by these posting highlights harvested from each of my blogs this summer.  I hope you  find a title or two that intrigues you. As always, your voice is most welcome.  Read a post, share a comment/connection!

Pissarro, visipix.com

Summer’s Harvest

~This Vermont Life: The Dog Days of Summer and Until I Moved to Vermont, a tribute to the summer sun in the Green Mountains.

~The Motherless Muse: Days Like ThisThe Writing Cellar and Namesake.

~The Marriage Journey: posts from My Sister’s Wedding.

~The Empty(ing) Nest Diary: The Running Away Thing, Last Days of Summer Panic, and The Wisdom of Fatigue.

~ Two Owls Calling (and the Life Purpose Path):  Thought Anthropologist, Dis-Orient Me, Life’s Debris, The Stream of Love, The Path of Women, The Yoga of Teeth, The Party Gene and Weeding My Life.

Kelly Salasin, Fall 2010

Sarah Palin & Me, Part II~ Choice & Healthcare Reform

Earlier this fall I was surprised to find that one of my readers was referred by the Sarah Palin Information blog.  But then I discovered that this link of her conservative voice to my own (progressive one) was a simple slip of the Net–joining two voices on health care–albeit opposing ones.

This time, however, it is me who is initiating the link,

and here’s why…

I just found out, on the family grapevine, that my grandmother had two illegal abortions in the late 1940s (after giving birth to four children.)

My uncle (a fundamentalist pastor), was her fifth child (following the abortions) and it was he who shared this information with me on Facebook after a flurry of posts in which I attempted to solicit an understanding of the infuriating connection between healthcare reform and abortion.

This shocking news about my grandmother, followed my reading of:  Sarah Palin: Abortion Is So Bogus.

According to Salon,”The former Alaska governor gave a speech to Wisconsin Right to Life this past Friday, where she relied on words like “bogus” and “awesome” to make points about healthcare reform and abortion.”

Said the ex-governor, “It is so bogus that society is sending a message right now and has been for probably the last 40 years that a woman isn’t strong enough or smart enough to be able to pursue an education, a career and her rights and still let her baby live.”

It must have been 60 years ago that my grandmother had her illegal abortions (which she and many other entitled women referred to as their “miscarriages.”)

The first time she found herself pregnant was at the age 19, after which she dropped out of college to become a mother to my father (and a wife to my grandfather,)  giving birth to three more children before she choosing abortion as a means of birth control.

My grandmother never returned to her education or embarked on a career, although she had always dreamed of serving at the United Nations as a translator.  All those hours spent working with me on my French at her kitchen table now make even more sense.

I wish I had known about her abortions. It would have softened the harsh solitude of my own choice, 40 years later. Discovering this link now, opens a million doors in my understanding of women, and I feel a renewed connection to those who have come before me, and to the challenge of our choices-or lack of them.

My own mother was sent to live in a home for unwed mothers when she became pregnant with my older sister who she gave up for adoption.  The following year she met my father and became pregnant with me, resulting in a sudden marriage.

Raised Catholic, my mother gave birth to 9 children and never chose abortion, though she accepted my choice with understanding, and often said, “If you ever get pregnant, don’t make a second mistake. You don’t have to get married.”

Both she and my grandmother became alcoholics who never fully claimed their education, their careers or their rights despite their shared and differing choices.

My uncle (who is a fundamentalist preacher) explains to me on Facebook that he was my grandmother’s 7th pregnancy–the one she didn’t tell my physician grandfather about until the second trimester– when he wouldn’t have allowed her to have another abortion.

This implies that perhaps she hadn’t wanted any of the abortions. But whether she did or not, I have compassion for the choices she faced.

I tell my uncle that I’m happy he wasn’t aborted, that I love all babies–and I do.  I love the ones who have come into my life and the ones who haven’t– including the grievous loss of two early pregnancies in my  thirties before I became a mother of two wonderful sons.

This contradiction of love doesn’t take away my understanding of a women’s desire to choose when she brings another child into the world. And it isn’t always as simple as a decision about education, or career or even rights, as Sarah Palin exclaims.

Whether Christian, Jew or Muslim, Pro-Life or Choice, Conservative or Progressive, a mother of many or of none, the choices that we face as women are unique to us.  And when we sit across from each other at the kitchen table, our separations fall away, and what remains is what is also unique to women–compassion, understanding and acceptance.

In this spirit of understanding, I have compassion for how it is that Sarah Palin chooses her career over caring for her children full time, how she leaves her tiny baby in another’s arms while she runs a state, or a national campaign, or embarks on “rogue” book tour–While I, on the other hand have given up everything to be at home in these vital years when my children need me most–particularly my teenage son, who will soon be making decisions about his own sexuality, as Sarah Palin’s daughter did.

What I don’t understand is how Sarah Palin, the politician, works to protect unborn children, while preventing legislation that would support them once they are born.

What I can’t accept is that she and others take this so-called “moral” stance for the sanctity of life without wanting to provide for it and without taking responsibility for many of the harsh choices that many women face.

Framing the provision of health care reform around the issue of abortion is the most immoral act of all.

If Sarah Palin is “America’s Conservative Conscience,” as the t-shirts worn at the Right to Life Rally proclaimed, it’s time we go shopping for a new look!

Kelly Salasin

Dusting Dead Relatives

Kelly Salasin

All Souls Day, 2008

After spending the past six months “on hold” while the Universe dilly-dallied around our needs, I’m taking a decidedly religious approach to my husband’s extended unemployment.

I’m uncertain as to whether this tack indicates a regression or progression in my spiritual development. Results will tell or perhaps desperate times simply demand desperate measures.

In the meantime, I’ve dusted off my late grandmother’s statue of the Blessed Virgin and unearthed the “Hail Mary’s” recited at my Catholic high school. And although I can’t remember exactly how to use them, I’ve unpacked the rosary beads passed down by my husband’s Polish grandmother.

I’ve also taken to dusting off all the dead relatives– the photos of them that is. I’ve lined them up on the shelf above the stairway as a place of honor to beseech them for any assistance they might lend from the other side.

My bedroom “altar” beholds a potluck of devotion: tall strawberry-blonde Mary draped in blue robes towers over my peacefully seated, full-bodied goddess, Kuan Yin, purchased at the Food Co-op. On the other side is a sculpture of a woman in a bathtub, reminding me of the divine act of self-nurturing.

I’m not above adding a lucky rabbit’s foot although I imagine that is no longer PC. I’ve re-opened my late mother’s Contact Your Angel guide insisting my husband meditate with the angel of his choice.

We’ve made it this far without bellying up, but yesterday we had to face the reality that a job that pays our bills in the way we’re used to paying them may not be coming. We’ve  buckled down and began the daunting task of whittling down a budget that had just begun to get some breathing room.

Things are about to get a lot harder… that is unless Mother Mary and the dead relatives have something to say about it.

Until then,

Hail Mary, full of grace

(authors note: My husband did get a job– 3 months later.  He still has it.)

Love’s Testimony

Kelly Salasin

I spoke these truths at my mother’s funeral in 2000.

I have the deepest respect for my mother
and  
I’ve always wanted  to be able to offer this kind of public testimony for her–because she was a “background/behind the scenes” kind of person who I felt needed to 
be exalted…

My mom supported and encouraged so many others with their 
dreams and their problems,  but never seemed to need to be the center of 
things or to shine herself.  
For me this made her a kind of hero.   
She was definitely  the “wind beneath my wings” … whether it was acting in a highschool play, going off to college, 
traveling through Europe, moving to VT, or deciding to give up a career and 
be an at home mom.

It was my mother’s constancy of unconditional love and acceptance that made so much 
possible for me.  I always wished that she could have had some of the glory and opportunities 
that I did so it is an honor to glorify her here today.

And I always thought that I would have to get up here and tell people about 
how special she was, but after this summer– 
after all the love letters &cards, poems & paintings, presents & meals 
that were sent her way, I know that others realized the gift she was  too.

And more importantly, there is the testimony that her children offered, each 
and every day this summer in the hospital and at  home, as they lovingly 
cared for mom, and left their personal lives and homes behind. 
  
I was and am touched so deeply by their devotion and by their unified 
strength– 
how they came together and loved my mother whole-heartedly.   
I am continually in awe of this,  and I was blessed to be here on some short 
visits and in her last days to witness this love story.

I’d like to share some glimpses of those last days and hours with you when 
all of us rallied around mom; there were so many beautiful moments, so many 
blessings in the sadness of it all….

So here is a spoken slide 
show of those moments together:
~my brother-in-law Dr. Ken Cramer at my mother1s side, listening to her lungs 
with his stethoscope, tears streaming down his face
~my mother’s eyes closed and unresponsive for hours, suddenly opening wide 
and looking all around  after hearing the cry of my newborn son
~wall to wall air mattresses, arriving daily to be placed around my mother’s 
bed so that each of her children could be there to support her in her last 
hours
~in the wee hours, these beds filled with family who haven’t slept under the 
same roof in fifteen years
~having the little ones toddling around, John and Sequoia and Josh, and to 
see the love they had for their mom-mom
~my aunt cass (my mom’s sister) who massaged my mom’s feet each time she came, even after my 
mom had passed
~to hear laughter coming from a full kitchen of siblings and spouses, 
relatives and friends;  and the meals that arrived daily to feed of all of us
~to share in the sorrow of these days with with each other’s partners, Kenny 
Cramer, Ken Burcham, Casey, Tim, Rich, Frank, and Danny’s Diana who always 
had that beautiful smile and a gift for mom
~to find mom’s brothers and sisters together again to support her
~to see the natural rhythm of the bed-side vigil, always one or two to sit 
beside mom without the need to ask…  holding mom’s hand, telling her how 
beautiful she was, giving her water with a sponge, wiping her mouth and 
brow:  her brother bill, her sister chris, her sister in law Barbara

~the times we all gathered around mom, sobbing, holding onto each other and 
to her, telling her how we loved her and were there for her, thinking she 
was taking her last breaths, only to see her open her eyes and wonder what 
was going on…
~watching Kenny’s tears turn to laughter after this, realizing that his 
stethoscope & medical examination didn’t /couldn’t account for everything, 
particularly mom’s determination
~having Big Dan say at one of these gathering times around mom, that if he 
was a painter, he’d paint this beautiful picture
~the sight of my nephew Corey in tears behind us, and how my niece Jamie 
fell into my sister Michelle’s arms after my mother passed
~little bonnie lying beside mom that last night, staying with her in her last 
hours, and mom waiting to begin to finally let go until Bonnie got up to 
make a pot of coffee
~the incredible pain and blessing of each of us being present around my 
mother as she took her lasts struggled breaths, continuing to breath even 
after her heart had stopped
~the sound of each person’s utter grief
~to have my son Lloyd there when my mother passed, and my son Aidan waking 
just before she was dying, continuing the awesome connection between his new 
life and her ending life this summer
~to watch the love that each one of us gave to her even after she passed… 
causing the nurse and the undertaker to eventually leave to come back hours 
later  to do their work
~to witness the relationship and love that had developed between the nurses 
and my family
~to see my nieces Bekah and Jordan sitting beside my mom alone after she had 
died and lovingly touching her face… while Andrew and Lloyd jumped on her 
trampoline
~to have big Dan bring us all together around mom’s body to offer our words 
of love one last time, and to hear him talk about how special we all were
~to watch my mom’s body being taken, and stand there among sobbing sisters, 
and aunts and uncles on the sidewalk, in the yard and on the porch as 
she left our lives
~to see what a comfort big dan was to my mother, his devotion, his daily 
tears, his touches, and to see the reflection of that in the affection and 
respect held for him by my sisters- for this he has my undying gratitude

For each  of us I think that there will be a “Bonnie” shaped hole in our 
hearts and lives from this time on.  Mine felt like a crater this morning, 
but there is also the blessing that this summer has been for all of us.
My mom’s life, even in its ending, was certainly a success, and so I’d like to close with a poem by Emerson entitled the same.   
I found it on  a card I sent to my mom years ago that she had saved.  It is as true today of her as it ever was,

SUCCESS

To laugh often and much; 
to win the respect of intelligent people 
and affection of children; 
to earn the appreciation of honest critics 
and endure the betrayal of false friends; 
to appreciate beauty 
to find the best in others, 
to love the world a little bit better, 
whether by a healthy child, 
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; 
to know even one life has breathed easier 
because you have lived. 
This is to have succeeded.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

(please consider visiting The Motherless Muse– my new blog of writing following my mother’s passing)

Body Bag

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Lao Tzu

Kelly Salasin

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately, noticing where it thrives  in my life (and where it doesn’t.)  There’s a moment around my mother’s death that I’ve yet to embrace, and it has become more and more commanding of my attention.
Look at me,” it whispers.  “Time to let go.”
But I’ve been too afraid.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a courageous person.  I’ve never jumped out of a plane or skied the trees.  I’d never be able to run a marathon and I never wanted to do any of these bold  things.
I did backpack through Europe and even ventured a bit into Northern Ireland during the peak of the fighting there.  That was kind of brave, I guess– or stupid.   I gave birth to my last child at home, and walked to the ambulance rather than be carried out on the stretcher when my first delivery ended up at the hospital.  I even wanted to watch my own c-section.  I guess that makes me more strange than courageous.

I could call myself bold.   I speak up a lot.  I say things others don’t say.  I share things others would never share, and I put myself out there in a way that makes even me uncomfortable sometimes.   Like I’m doing right now.  Like I did the morning my mother died.

Do you know that kind of courage that bubbles up inside you, but isn’t of you?   That’s the kind I most demonstrate, I think.  After my grandfather died, I was able to stand up at his funeral and share all the things I loved about him– without falling apart until I slumped into my seat.   When my beloved great-grandmother Mildred lay dying in a hospital bed, I was able to reach under the covers and massage her beautiful ninety-year old legs, saving my sobs for the floor of ICU’s bathroom.

This kind of courage doesn’t climb mountains, but is born of devotion and determination.   I didn’t cry when my mother took her last breaths, I sang.  I wanted to welcome her into the light; I wanted her to have wings.   And I remained there with her when the undertaker arrived to take her body and everyone fled into the kitchen and out the backdoor, and the last lingerers were chased away by hospice workers who said, “You don’t want to see this.”

Who would?
Who would want to stay and see their beloved folded up like a cardboard box and put into a bag.  Who?

And yet I could not leave her.  She was my mother– still– and I had not been here with her in the months when she struggled to stay alive.  I had only come now, at the very end, after the baby was born. With him at my side, with God’s pure grace shining through his bluest eyes, I could do anything that was asked.  Even this.

I sat in the space that had been her dining room- where she had drank her morning, and afternoon, and evening coffees- black, no sugar;  read the paper, did the crossword;  listened to the scanner, checked her email;  caught the game, the weather, the latest deals on QVC.  I sat  in this place where each one of us had sat across from her– at the table- all of our lives.
Only now the place where the table stood was filled with air mattresses and I wasn’t talking to my mom, I was watching… as her old highschool classmate- turned funeral director- lifted her rigid body from the hospital bed.
Ben had visited my mom in the hospital when she was first diagnosed with stage-four cancer, just a three months ago.  “Not the kind of visitor I want to see right now,” my mother remarked wryly once he had left the room.
He seems like a nice guy, why not, Mom?” I asked, surprised at her uncharacteristic coolness.
He’s the undertaker, Kel,” she replied flatly.

How did he do it, I wonder?  How did Ben pick up “good-natured Bonnie” from his senior yearbook and zip her into a bag?
But he did.  That was his job.

And I did too.  I stayed there attended my mother’s body.   When I couldn’t bear to look anymore,  I watched through my grandmother’s gilded mirror that Mom had frost pink and purple, as worked to lift her from the bed where her workout equipment had stood just a season ago.  I waited and watched even though no one, no one, should see something like this.

I followed them out the front door as they carried my mother to the back of the undertaker’s wagon.  She’d always been the one in the front seat- driving one of the eight of us to school, to practice, to birthday parties or dances.

I stood there frozen on her porch- where she had smoked her cigarettes, and watched the cars go by, sitting on the furniture she picked up at the wicker store, next to the tomatoes she had planted that spring.   She never got to pick a one.

Suddenly I was drained of all the courage that had sustained me.  It slipped from my shoulders and onto the floor.   I stood alone sobbing, my hands covering my face and gripping at my hair.

All my life, I’ve had to be more together than I wanted to be, and this moment was like none other.   I lacked the courage to reach out, to be held.  I lacked the ability to be noticed as needing.
I wish I could say that I’m ready to change, but I’m really not.  I take baby steps and those are hard enough.   That’s all the courage I have.

Today, I took out the folded check my mother had given me in the weeks before she died.   I had come to visit for the weekend just after the baby was born, and when it came time to leave, she asked me to wait, whispering for someone to get her the checkbook.  And though by this time, she could hardly sit up or lift water to her lips, she managed to covertly scribble our names and hers on a check to hand to me as we kissed goodbye, a gift to celebrate her grandson’s birth.  I could never bring myself to cash it, even to buy him something to remember her by.  I kept it folded in a bag of runes that were hers, and everyone once and awhile, took it out and looked at it to marvel at her determination and devotion; and at how her perfect Catholic school girl writing had gone bad.   It always made me sad, but I couldn’t let it go.

It’s been almost five years since that time, and today I’m going to give that beautiful testimony of her love back to the bank (or to the compost pile since it’s too late for cashing).  I’m going to spend that love on something for our garden as we celebrate our first summer in our new house.  It will be something that makes me smile, remembering her.   Something that celebrates my tremendous courage in letting her go, one more time.
Kelly Salasin wrote this piece from her home in the Green Mountains of Vermont where she has just painted her studio walls, “Bonnie Cream.”

Here is the Church

Kelly Salasin

Here is the Church:
Where i learned about love
with freshly-brushed bangs and rosy-pinched cheeks
and bible stories pieced together
with scissors and paste and popsicle sticks…

Here is the Church and
Here is the Steeple:
Where i met Jesus
His love, warm and constant
streaming through the windows
of my Sunday school classroom
upon white buckled shoes and ribboned dresses…

Here is the Church and
Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door
:
And see me beaming
beside sisters and cousins
an eager children’s choir,
and in that same place
under His cross
twenty years later
marrying the man of my dreams…

Here is the Church and
Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and
See All the People
:
In these golden pews
four generations of my family pray
summers at vacation bible school
the fullness of God’s love resounding
in sea shells and glitter and song…

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See all the people,
Close the door
:
As we bury my mother
so young
crying Tora Lora Loo

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See all the People,
Close the Door and
Hear Them Pray
:
Bowed heads once brown or blonde, now grey
empty choir where the Reverend’s wife once sang
Charlie Rowe, life-long friend
forever walking Aster, parsonage to pulpit
beside each bed when sickness came
beside each grave
when love was lost…

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See All the People,
Close the Door and Hear Them Pray,
Open the Door
:
Onto bright yellow bonnets
hands held for photos
dollars pressed inside tiny palms
gingerly placed on golden trays
forever carried by Angels
who never age
Rejoice! He is risen!
Baskets filled with eggs
bagels and lox strewn across
my grandmother’s table…

Here is the Church and Here is the Steeple,
Open the Door and See All the People,
Close the Door and Hear Them Pray,
Open the Door and
They All Run Away…

But some come back
and once children, become pastors even
lighting memories of
graham cracker crumbs and grape-juice mustaches
skipping down the Avenue
His words in hand,
shouting
Jesus loves me, this I know!”

(This piece was written while my own boys attended Vacation Bible School at the same church I attended as a child– only now my sister and her husband/pastor were the youth leaders, and my uncle–the Pastor!)

522-1556

my mom’s phone was disconnected today
and although she’s been dead for three years
it felt like the umbilical cord had been ripped between us

my stepfather had finally dropped her outgoing message a few months back
until then we could call
and hear her voice
the one before she got sick
before she herself had an umbilical cord
to an oxygen machine
in her living room

Just a simple 609-522-1556
and I could call
and leave her a message:
“Hi Mom, how are you?  Aidan is three now.”
“Hi Mom, Lloyd has the lead in his school play.”
“Hi Mom, Merry Christmas,  You’d be 60 today.  You’d hate that.”

But today, when I dial… 609 522 1556
I don’t hear her voice, and panicked I turn to my husband:
“That’s my mother’s number, right?”

Later I find that out my stepfather is changing the phone into his name
and somehow they disconnected the line.
What if he’s lost the number?
Her number!

He moved out and in and out long before she had gotten sick
and had only moved back full time
after she died
so that he could be there for the kids.

But she was the one who was ALWAYS there
Sitting at the dining room table
Facing the passing cars out the picture window
Answering each call

It takes my breath away
to open my birthday calendar book
and see a parenthesis around her name
Such a short life, filled with strife, and light

I can’t believe that there are no more Christmas Eve’s together
No more late night birthday calls
No more, “Hi Kels”
No more 522-1556

the Circle of Life

Only a few cards arrive for my husband’s birthday, but our kitchen window is full. Cards line the sill, and others hang from the wooden mullions that lend our Vermont farmhouse that window-pane look.

Moons and lambs and jumping cows continue to trickle in–and do look out of place beside the ones poking fun of Casey’s age. But it’s the cards I’ve added most recently that make the window overflow and contradict itself.

I feel the same way. Flooded with an unmanageable coupling of joy and sorrow–torn in two by the juxtaposition of events–birth and death accomplished within weeks of each other.

In June, we were given two months. My mother–two to live. Me–two before delivery. The two of us, three hundred miles apart, agonizingly separated by the coming of child who would be such a blessing through this time.

As each week passed, I lay on my bed in the mountains, looking out to the trees, searching the leaves for my mother’s face–serene or contorted–while my belly ripened.

It seemed as if my mother and I were engaged in a parallel dance–one spinning toward death, the other toward life–both facing an ending and a beginning–crossing a threshold of no return.

Sometimes rather than moving together, I sensed a collision course, fearing my delivery would bring on her own.

In early August, just after midnight, a week before expected, my contractions began, sharpening before dawn, lending an acute awareness of my mother’s suffering, and of how, in many ways, we were sharing a similar path–one of struggle and surrender–surrounded by loved ones there to midwife our passage.

The next morning, just before noon, I gave birth to a baby boy in our home in in the Green Mountains while my mother lay near the sea in a hospital bed by the bay window where her workout equipment stood just a season earlier.

She couldn’t walk or even sit up, but she was there to answer the phone when I called with the news.

“Hi Mom, it’s Kel…”

I remember the air outside. The hush of the midwife beside me. The feeling of the phone cradled against my ear.

My mother would probably never meet her grandson, but I was so grateful for her voice just then.

It’s funny how life gets dished out sometimes–with heaps of sorrow or heaps of joy–or heaps of both at once.  I can’t fully grasp the connection between her leaving and his coming, but I’ve learned so much being present to them at the same time.

My mother took her last breath on my husband’s birthday–a month later than expected–surrounded by her eight children, including my nursing babe, who cried out just before her passing.

I’d never felt so much bliss. The depth of sorrow seemed to make the expression of the love excruciatingly palpable–as if  they were meant to be felt together.

This truth revealed itself in the quiet hours at my mother’s side just before she died, with the baby on my breast, or on her lap, napping.

My mother & my son Aidan.
Photo: Robin Salasin

Ever watch a baby sleep? It’s a profoundly meditative experience–deeply soothing and compelling.

What strikes me most is how at one moment a baby’s face will light up with a smile, and in the next, his lips will quiver, his brow wrinkle, and he’ll let out a whimper that pierces your heart.

I love those sleepy smiles, but I’ve always worked to chase those cries away.

But now it occurs to me–Maybe they belong together. Maybe the baby, in these early moments, is preparing for the joy and loss his life will hold.

On the morning of my mother’s leaving, the world seemed to echo this truth. The sun shone bright, a bay breeze blew through the window over her bed, and her young granddaughters took a seat beside her body, lovingly touching her face, casually discussing their own deaths “someday,” while outside, her grandsons jumped on the trampoline.

I hadn’t known that so much fullness could be felt inside such a vacancy.

As Autumn replaces Summer, I hold this fullness close. On those days when I can’t handle a fussy baby, or the cold and darkness growing inside me, I remember my labor and my mother’s passing, and I find strength in this coupling.

One by one, I remove cards from the window. My mother has been gone three weeks now, and Aidan is two months old.  His face has begun to reflect back that which he has received: countless hours of love and wonder and devotion.

In the end, it was the same with my mother.

All that she gave to us was reflected back upon her.

My mother’s children on the morning of her burial

(Other versions of this piece were published in The Cracker Barrel in 2000 & in Chicken Soup to Inspire a Women’s Soul in 2004)

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