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!)

Graduation Day

~When everything around you seems to be lacking in integrity, you know what you do?
You find it in yourself. You change the world right where you’re standing.

(from the HBO series, Madam Secretary)

7499909-graduate-cap-Stock-Vector-graduation-cap-hat.jpg
Graduation day was both a celebration and an initiation.
After spending years immersed in the lives of my friends, my attention was abruptly shifted back to family and into the future–without any of them.

The previous weeks dissolved in survival mode–papers, finals, late night pizza, parties–and then suddenly, I find myself on the day when I formally exit this world, that has been my… Everything.

I remember that sunny day in May ’86 well. My roommates and I were living off-campus in a building filled with upperclassmen. After two years in a dorm room the size of a walk-in closet, this three-room apartment felt regal. It was an old building, but that only lent charm to our autonomy–wood floors, sculpted moldings, high ceilings and tall windows letting in lots of light.

On the morning of graduation, the apartment was buzzing with preparation–hair, caps, bobby pins, gowns. Margie’s parents arrived first, then Kelley’s.

My parents were recently divorced so the day was neatly split in two: brunch with Mom and stepfather; dinner with Dad and girlfriend. My younger sister Robin was my extra (each graduate received 5 tickets for the ceremony.) She would bridge the divide–riding up with my mother, returning with my father; while both sets of parents would be at the graduation–in separate seating.

Everyone lingered in anticipation of my family’s arrival. Ten, fifteen, twenty-minutes passed; and Margie, who was in the highest spirits, insisted I join her family for brunch. I encouraged everyone to head out, and not to worry. My family had the farthest drive and no doubt they’d hit some traffic.

Kelley’s family stayed behind. We had been roommates since freshman year, and her people had become my own over the years.  “Are you sure you don’t want to come to breakfast with us?” the Smiths asked, before I insisted they depart. I assured them that I wanted to wait for my family even if though it might mean I missed breakfast.

After the apartment emptied, I stood in the empty space, feeling the echo of love, in anticipation of my own reunion. Soon after, the phone rang.

In the days before cell phones, a ring, at a time like this, was cause for alarm. It implied a serious delay (or worse) because it meant that someone had to pull off the road, find a pay phone, and dig up pocket change–thus creating even more of a delay.

It was my sister Robin on the other end of the line.
I couldn’t make out what she was saying.
She was sobbing.

They weren’t running late.
They weren’t stuck in traffic.
They didn’t have an accident.
They were still at home.
At home?
They weren’t coming.
At all.

The apartment grew larger and emptier and quieter, and I grew smaller.

My first thought was my roommates and their families. I didn’t want to dampen their day.

My second thought was: Why? Why today? Why me?

It made sense that my mother drank because my father worked all the time; or because my stepfather was unfaithful. But I had been her friend and confidante all these years. Why on my graduation day? Why so early in the morning?

I soothed my sister and told her it would be okay. (We’d shared many phone calls like this in the past months.) “Hang up the phone,” I said, “Call dad right away and get a ride up with him.”

As I put the receiver into its cradle, the love drained from the room. I considered catching up with my roommates and their families–with a lie.

I considered not going to graduation at all.

I considered not existing at all.

I didn’t want this story to be mine.
I didn’t want this family to be mine.
I grew up in a normal home where my mom kept the house clean and make cookies for Christmas. She was always there–after school, whenever I called, whatever I asked for, but lately everything was falling apart.

It’s been twenty years since this day and still destroys me inside.

From a distance, I can see that life is a string of stories and moments whose thread is made up of–you.

Sometimes the thread is lost in the heaviness of the beads, and sometimes it’s found–stronger than ever.

I let out deep exhale, and sucked in determination, affirming that this was MY graduation day. Celebrating  4 years of hard work. Magna Cum Laude.

I tossed my robe over my shoulder and headed out of my apartment with my cap in hand. I walked the thirteen city blocks to campus, and then continued walking down City Line. I stopped when I reached Cavanaughs.

I pulled open the heavy door, and stepped across the threshold from bright sun to the cool, dank, familiar darkness of the pub.

I was surprised to see another classmate on a bar stool. I took the one beside him. In front of us was a plate of pastries instead of the relish tray of hot peppers, horseradish and spicy mustard–which I had mastered over the years. (My friends and I often joked that we’d been the ones to pay for the new ceiling they’d recently put in.)

In a booth behind us, another classmate sat with his family.

I ordered a mug and took a bite of a lemon pastry, finding a sense of belonging.

There’s not much more I remember from that day. Most of my friends were in the Business College and I was seated among the Arts and Science majors–without ever having to explain my morning.

There’s a single photo of me on the podium–the sun in my face–a diploma in my hands. Afterward, I hugged friends goodbye and we all dashed off toward our families.

My father took me to my favorite Italian restaurant on City Line where Mr. Smith had often taken my roommate and me over the years. He wrote me a check in the amount of my GPA. Three-hundred and seventy-eight dollars, he said, Happy Graduation.

Though it seeped from my pores, there was no talk about my mother, especially in the presence of my father’s girlfriend. From time to time, Robin and I shared weary smiles across the table. There were four years between us, filled with fights and jealousy and resentment, but our bruised hearts were weaving closer together as what we knew of our family disintegrated beneath us.

A few weeks later, my father threw a huge graduation party for the two of us after Robin’s graduation from high school.

“You’re terrible daughters,” he said. “I’m only doing this because this is what you do.”

My mother’s drinking worsened that summer, and instead of embarking on careers like my classmates, I took the party money and went backpacking through Europe. The following year, I took off for the Rockies. Fell in love with a man who became my best friend and lifelong partner, and returned home to begin my teaching career.

My mother finally hit bottom the week of my wedding. She arrived to the ceremony with matted hair, barely able to stand. Two ushers escorted her down the aisle to her seat in the front row. I was relieved she made it all. I didn’t want pity to distract from my wedding day.

We both wore the same shoes–hers in cream, mine in white. We’d picked them out together. Her dress hung on an emaciated form.

While I backpacked through Europe with my husband, she went into rehab, and spent the next ten years sober before succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 57.  One afternoon, long before she got sick, she invited me out to lunch to apologize for my graduation and wedding. “It’s okay,” I said. I was too afraid of my feelings and of her fragile sobriety to say anything more.

She was diagnosed in my last months of my pregnancy and died a few weeks after my son’s birth. Her photo sits at my desk as I write. Sometimes I yell at her and sometimes I cry tears of anguish and abandonment. But mostly, I’m grateful for knowing who I am–apart from it all.

My graduation morning stands out as a defining bead on my life’s thread. Sharing it now drains what weight it still held, revealing a strength of character that I’m proud to call my own.

(2009; first published in Chicken Soup, Campus Chronicles)

Love’s Hiding Places

kelly salasin


In tippy-toed embraces

and

arched-neck kisses

I learned

about Love

from

my

Mommy

& Daddy


But

Love was Lost

when they Divorced

Turning Numb

and Cold

and Hiding its Face

among the stars


I never thought to

see Love again

Never wanted to


Yet to my unabashed

Surprise

It reappeared

Many years later

when I myself

was a Mommy

tippy-toe kissing a Dad


I found it

in the strangest place…

Hiding

in the

Spoon-Cuddling nap

of my Father

& stepMother


Who would have thought

that it’d be there

just waiting

for me

to notice…


As I grew older

Love was less shy

about showing itself to me:


Once

it was

so Bold

& Brazen

it made me cry,


As I watched my “stepFather”

hold my mother’s hand

while she died

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)

The Elevator

by Kelly Salasin

in memory of my mother & friend, Bonnie Kelly Bradley, Christmas Day 1942 to September 8, 2000

Now that This
is done
She’ll die…

Leaning against the
toilet, Crouched
in a Puddle
of  blood
Wrapped
in bath towels
Cold,
even though
it is Warm-
August

He breathes
against me
the Two of us
Come through
a Storm
Neither particularly
loving the other, Collapsed
into this new
expression
of Separation

I have never Known
my Body like
This before
that Something
the size
of a Cantaloupe
could Push through
Me
like a Train
Reconfiguring my
Everything!
in an
Instance

I’d take that
Elevator with him
to summer’s End
1957
on the Curb
of a boarded up Motel
A covert block
from the cross-shaped
high school
my mother and I both attended,
two decades spanning
Our sophomore years

I’d find Her
there
in knee socks, buckled shoes
straight barreted brunette hair
shin-length pinafore snug
across emerging breasts
Heaving a sigh
of Relief
That I wasn’t
a Nun come upon her As
she takes the First
drag
of her First
cigarette till  the
End
of her Life…

Shrouded
in her exhale
we  Lock
eye to eye
and with babe in arms, I plead

PLEASE, Don’t.”

Because some
day you’ll be
My mother
and he’ll
be Your grandson,
and Together we’ll
Watch
you
Die.”

The Ring

Kelly Salasin

Contributor, Chicken Soup for the Mother & Daughter Soul

When the one-year anniversary of my mother’s passing came around, I found myself in the kitchen preparing some of her favorite dishes. I hadn’t planned this, but there I was one hot August afternoon, making her famous soup from the turkey I had roasted the day before.

As I poured myself into cooking, some of the deep sadness I was experiencing at this one-year mark moved through me. I loved my mom’s turkey soup, how she cooked the egg noodles right in the broth, and how they soaked it up and tasted almost like dumplings I remembered the time she made some especially for me. It was summer then, too, and I had a terrible head cold. She arrived unexpectedly one afternoon at my work place with a huge jar of her turkey noodle soup. I thought about the bread she used to bake and about how much butter she would slather on it, and how we loved to dip it into the broth. I began to feel a little more buoyant amidst the pain of losing her

.

While the noodles boiled in the broth in my kitchen, I realized that I was reconnecting with my mother through food. I laughed a bit at myself when I reflected on all the dishes I had cooked that week. Without knowing it, I had created a beautiful ritual to honor my mother and to comfort myself at this vulnerable time. I suddenly felt my mother at hand and was filled with her presence. I was so uplifted and excited that I began talking to her, imagining she were there

“What else should we make?” I asked of us both, wanting to keep the ritual from ending.

“Irish Potato Pancakes,” was the reply.

I hesitated. The thought of these brought up another loss. The last time I made potato pancakes was two and a half years ago. I had taken off my engagement ring to make the dough, and never found it again. Since then, I resisted using that recipe even though I really liked those pancakes. It’s sort of silly, but whenever I considered making them, I felt resentful of their participation in my loss, as if they were partly to blame.

My mom should know better than to suggest these, I thought. (I don’t even remember her ever making them.) She knew how upset I was about losing my ring. I had always called her whenever I lost something, even when I was away at college, even from across the country, even when I traveled abroad. She had a knack for helping me find my way to lost things, except for this time.

But despite these hesitations, I found myself caught up in the joy and celebration of the moment, and I reached for the cookbook without another thought of the ring. My mom did love Irish things, and these were delicious. I opened the large coffee-table cookbook and turned to the pancake recipe. At once, something at the bottom of the page caught my eye… It sparkled! I gasped in utter amazement! There, pressed into the pages of this book, was my diamond ring!

Chills ran up and down my body as my mind raced to ponder how this was at all possible. Hadn’t I used the book for other recipes in the course of almost three years? Wouldn’t the ring have slipped out during the packing and unpacking of two household moves? Hadn’t I checked the book for the ring when I had lost it?

My mind was subdued as my heart overflowed with the magic of gratitude and wonder. I slipped my ring onto my trembling hand, and a smile filled my soul as I whispered, “Thanks Mom.”

That day, I made potato pancakes in the shape of hearts.

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