On Losing Your Mother: Contemplating the Possibility For Us All

Embrace of Our Mothers


I woke up today to the news that my friend Lisa Allender’s mother passed away on Sunday, October 12. Lisa posted the most beautiful notice to all of us who have been following her family’s journey as her mom Demetra battled cancer.


For some time, her posts have reminded me of how generous she has been to let the world into her grieving process at this depth. It is a tough thing to do. Even when I was having my own health challenges, I chose not to be so public about it. I cherished the idea of keeping some of my journey for myself. But Lisa has shown great love and strength, for her mother and for us all. It only makes her spirit bigger in my world.


Today, I want only to hold on to what became the poetry of Lisa’s post in her “Grateful-Fors” on Facebook:


“a Nurse and a CNA explain the signals I might see…

‘She may breathe, and then, stop breathing.

She may gasp, make a sound,

she may stop breathing for a full minute–or more–

and then begin breathing again.

This is all normal.

And then, eventually, she’ll stop breathing.’

I said simply,

‘So, uh, I don’t have children,

but this sounds like being in-labor.

The breathing, the breaths, I mean.’

Hours later, on the phone the Hospice Chaplain,

I asked if she could tell me what exactly I could do…

‘Lisa, you are the mid-wife,

and you are going to help your Mom,

birth her soul, back to God.’


Mother Embracing Children


Her last breath was tiny, not noticeable,

and it occurs to me now, that just like life,

death just IS.

It’s not as dramatic as we think,

as I didn’t even know Mom had flown away,

until I reached for her heart,

and there appeared to be no sound.

Life is like this, too.

Sometimes, it is silent,

and we have to listen a little harder.

…Breath. Even when it stops.”

(posted by Lisa on 10/13/2014)

It was so beautiful, it stopped me for a while. Since I know how the Universe pushes me, I was not surprised at all when I revisited Tayari Jones’ novel Silver Sparrow today that I encountered the Natasha Trethewey poem that opens Tayari’s story:

A Daughter is a Colony

a territory, a progeny,
a spitting image
like Athena sprung

              from her father’s head:
chip off the old block,
issue and spawn;

a namesake, a wishbone—
loyalist and traitor—
a native, an other,

              a subject, a study,
a history, a half blood,
a continent dark and strange.


Lying on Mama's Chest


I am both a mother and a daughter. I do not know if it will be me or my mother, me or my daughter passing on to the next life first and leaving others to continue our traditions. But Lisa has given me a profound perspective that will shape me forever, if I am the survivor. Natasha and Tayari have given me reminders for all the things I need to remember as I guide my daughter. To be a dark continent is also to know that you are never in control of your own time.


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