For six weeks, April 19 to June 6, 2012, I visited my stepmother every day; first in the hospital following her colon cancer surgery, then, in hospice. Three years prior, my great aunt had lost a leg to poor care in the hospital following hip surgery. Having lived independently until age 96, she was forced into a rehabilitation home from which she left only to die in a hospital mere days after her 97th birthday.
I visited my Aunt Dutsie (nee Elvira), once a week. She snapped at less fortunate fellow patients who endeavored to engage me in conversation. “She’s visiting me,” she would say. Sometimes I would bring an art project or puzzle for us to do together. Often, I would wheel her to the dining room for a meal or around the floor to see something different from her room. Most often, I would just listen to the stories of her long-ago youth and the bitterness she still held toward some no longer with us, as well as the myriad quiet joys and sorrows that were her life.
I visited once a week; it was not enough.
I visited my stepmother every day, not only so that she would feel loved, but so that the hospital would know she was loved and would not ignore her and her well-being as too few staff attempted to care for too many patients. Even present, I witnessed disdain and careless banter repeatedly, sometimes with reference to my stepmother, more often, with regard to some less frequently visited neighboring patient.
I visited my stepmother every day, computer in tow so that I could work when she slept. I listened to what stories she would tell when she was awake. I begged her to eat and drink. I conversed with doctors and nurses, hospital social workers, aides. I didn’t cry when she yelled at me for being overly kind to nurses and aides she had berated and insulted. “I’m in pain. I’m allowed to be mean.” I knew she was in pain.
She knew she was dying.
Over the weeks, her stories were fewer as she spoke less and less. But many people came to visit from her church, her apartment building and neighborhood, her family and friends, and they would tell stories. Often, she slept, but occasionally she would bestow on them a smile of thanks for the memory.
My stepmother was the last thread connecting me to my father’s family. She buried my dad, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my two great-aunts and my cousin. I visited her every day because while she “was,” they all still “were,” too. On June 6, 2012, she passed away. One moment she was breathing, shallow and slow. The next her body was deflated as she expelled her last breath and with it all the spirits of the “gone people.”
I was happy she was no longer suffering, but I cried because I felt myself newly bereft of all those I’d lost before her.
Recently, a friend made a comment that made me realize, however, that she and they aren’t really gone. As long as I am, they, too, are: in my heart…and in my stories.
watch the world’s demise
two of them
looking into me
ten of them
all been broken
locked into mine
you complete me
I just unearthed all of the beauty in humanity
distilled in one moment that is
two college kids in a library.
but I’m pretty damn sure
that this whole thing is a children’s game
let’s play dress up in
arrange ourselves by height, shoe size
she knocked over the marble track
he hid out of bounds
they took all the oil and called this fragment of Earth theirs.
can you imagine seeing us from outer space
an organism so infectious it’s on seven different brinks of self-termination
we turned our home inside out
broke the shield to let it burn.
It’s collateral beauty and
I’m watching like the fictitious god we’re all banking on
silly humans it’s almost time to say goodbye to the silly human race.
but our minds
see this at the same time
to help one person so we can pretend we're making a difference.
asymptotic in opposite directions
but tragically parallel the entire time.
it’s almost impressive how
we’ve trapped electrons and flung them so fast the ceiling lights up
thrown bits into algorithms so I can call on data from a server half a globe away
brewed sounds into syllables into words into existential conversations in a library.
with a magnifying glass up close
I think I found beauty in humanity but
what good does any of that do
if I’m too scared to ask you
if we can sit together when we watch the world’s demise.
Letter to Verona
I write this letter to you, fair Juliet, where you are in far away Verona, Italy, because, unbeknownst to you, we share a bit of common ground, so to speak. Since you are a woman of such passion, I am quite sure that you will be able to understand why I feel drawn to write to you. Please allow me to elaborate a bit.
Since I was only ten years of age, I have had a steadfast love for one man and his country: Michelangelo and Italy. I fear I have never had the opportunity to meet the man nor have I visited his country, much to my ongoing disappointment. And to be honest, I know that my so-called love story is quite unusual while also being a bittersweet one. Therefore, I pray you will try to keep your heart and mind open as you read on.
Since early childhood, I have always had a sense that I was mistakenly misplaced at birth or more simply, I have feared that I was born on the wrong continent. This predominant feeling evolved from my early fascination with Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the great Renaissance Master. My love for this man blossomed when I was a mere ten years of age. I vividly recall when I first saw a picture of his Pietà, which he miraculously sculpted when he was only twenty-four years of age; I knew without a doubt that it was the most beautiful piece of art in the world, and he, the greatest master of all time. I was captivated by the wonder and beauty that each stroke of the artist’s chisel had brought to life. My love of this sculpture led to a full discovery of all things created by the artist’s hand, and it became my dream to see his work in the "flesh". I call it the "flesh" because to me, his work is so very vivid and lifelike, it can be called nothing less.
Through the many years, my Italian fixation, especially for the Renaissance Period, evolved to great heights, propelling me to feel a perpetual draw to your homeland and all it has to offer; music, art, food, wine, opera, architecture, literature, and more. I have not been fortunate enough to set foot on Italy’s soil as of yet, but I know that if I ever do, it will be like coming home, and I am sure I will never want to leave the beauty and wonder that will be found therein.
I write to you, sweet Juliet, because I feel that the master who penned you to life also experienced a similar pull to your fair country. Shakespeare was able to make the city of Verona and its people as extraordinarily palpable on paper as Michelangelo was able to breathe life into his creations with a chisel, marble, and buon fresco. Thus, I know that Shakespeare, too, was filled with an extraordinary fascination for Italy and all its beauty.
Many years have passed since my early fascination began with Michelangelo and Italy, and I am nearing the latter years of my life; I will soon be sixty-four years of age. A deep-seated fear has invaded and permeates my soul where I remain in my faraway homeland, as I fear that I may never meet my greatest and most enduring love. Please say a soft, sweet prayer for me, fairest Juliet, that I may one day be fortunate enough to set foot in your wonderful country where I will be able to not only meet the man that I have loved for nearly my entire life, but also find a solace in my soul by arriving home at last.
With sincerest and deepest felt emotion, I remain, ever patient and faithfully yours.
“A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as does failing to hear and see it.”
Returning to the Source
Death comes in the form of release. Not of relief, don't get me mistaken. I refuse to condone the idea of escaping life before living it to the fullest.
However, I will not deny the notion of death being like the opening of a door. The door to the cage that is the body, where the soul, or essence, whatever you choose, bursts forth to experience the fullness of itself in all its glory. What might that be like, I wonder, if one remained on Earth in a new freer form?
For those that have lived the longest, it must be that much sweeter to feel the freedom. All pain and limitations flitter away. No hunger for any fleshly desires to consume thoughts and moments. More time to enjoy the fruits of all the world's labor, and observe other's lives with new insight.
A new design, being filled with all the knowledge of what was, what is, and what will be. All 3 of Dickens's spirits in one, to become whole. Wholly you. Wholly realized, realizing that death is not the end, but a continuation, an extension of life. No longer separated from the source, but finally, fully part of it.
I've known you since... forever.
And we never part.
I have felt your every pain, been there through your every struggle and heartbreak.
I have watched you choose others over me, anyone at all as long as you didn't have to spare me a glance.
And yet, in the dead of the night once in a blue moon, you tell me you love me.
I find myself believing you.
You harm me.
You ask me if I'm okay when I seem sad.
You insult me.
You coo and praise when I am in my prettiest of moods or when I do something right by you.
You've been with me from the start, as I have with you.
Does it tire you?
This relationship of ours; hate, love, hate, love and hate again?
How we go from the best of friends to the most bitter enemies and those long planes of numbing silence in-between?
Do you ever think of those nights where we lay together, listening to sad music, silently crying or desperately wanting to?
Do you ever think of those many moments where you call me... things that... no human being should ever have to hear from another?
I know you've been hurt.
I know you wouldn't have taken on these words and spat them in my face if you didn't hear them somewhere else, first.
I know you are broken.
But so am I... And all I want is the good moments with you.
Those little ones, few and far in-between, where you and I are whole again and everything feels right with the world.
I feel like I'm in an abusive relationship.
Maybe I am, in some strange way.
One minute, I am being treated right but even then, I wait and inevitably, you are disappointed in me, again.
That is what you do to me.
You love me a moment, you hate me for what feels like a lifetime, and then you love me again.
I could never leave you.
You know that.
I just want to make you happy...
I've only ever wanted to make you happy.
Everyone else but especially you.
You're the one person in this world I couldn't run away from if I tried.
Maybe some day.
I have to hope that I'll be enough for you, some day, because you know fully well I have little to hold onto, anymore.
I suppose I am grateful to you for trying to love a broken thing like me, as I do you.
Don't give up on me, alright, self?
Don't give up.
I truly wish I believed we could ever be more than this.
I Am Here to Save You
Hello, there child...
\/\/|-;() /-\/~ɛ -/()|_]?
Oh? I go by many names. However, you may know me as Death.
Don't be scared my child, nothing can hurt you now...
o|() -/()|_] |0/~()|nn|}ɛ
I promise. Now why don't you follow me...
See there is nothing to fear here...
|-|-} }() |0/~ɛ-|--|--/
Yes it is quite pretty...
|o|_]-|- \/\/|-;ɛ/~ɛ /-\/~ɛ \/\/ɛ?
This is your new home...
I wouldn't lie to you. Now go on my child your family is waiting for you...
O}()()o||o-/ɛ |nn/~ o|ɛ/-\-|-|-;!