How to Help Your Mother Die
—for E. Greene, 1929-2020
Open a window. Allow the naked air to sweep the room where your mother lies. Then yield to grief, the vessel that will carry you over waves of personal history— memories crashing, breaking like swells onto shore, insisting you surrender to the most difficult work you’ll ever do. Then, close your eyes; imagine a forest of baren trees and a flock of dark crows rising from an empty field, the place where you must leave childhood behind. And as you recognize death’s soft shadow hovering above, kiss your mother’s cheek, inviting her return to that original home.
With daylight hours away, I make coffee and sit in the darkness of my living room, honoring all darkness—and silence, another darkness. I think of my mom, who died last year, mouth open, as if halted in song; her ashes in a cardboard box now in my closet. And my own death, traveling toward me at lightspeed, heat-seeking, suggesting I’m next. Each day, I’m told, is an unpromised gift, waiting like an Amazon box delivered to the front porch. Later, when I open mine, I’ll find what I never ordered: lost photos, a sewing kit, a mirror, and a dead hawk. My mom lived until ninety-one; afraid of death and suffering, she vanished in a blur of morphine and sleep. At the end, whatever her thoughts, she never spoke them. Whatever insights her box contained, it remained unopened.
Robin Greene teaches Writing and Yoga in Western North Carolina, and is the author of five books (The Shelf Life of Fire; Real Birth: Women Share Their Stories; Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman; Lateral Drift; Memories of Light). She’s cofounder and board member of Longleaf Press (www.longleafpress.org) and regularly publishes her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in journals and magazines. www.robingreene-writer.com