Posts Tagged ‘death of a mother’


By Marylin Biggs Schultz



Mary Dickens Biggs, grandmother of Marylin Biggs Schultz. Family photo, all rights reserved.

carved into granite
“many hopes are buried here”
broken hearts and lives

About this haiku: “As I begin to compose a haiku, I must appear to be drumming my fingers to a silent tune in my head, but those familiar with this poetic form, will know that I’m counting the syllables required in each line; 5-7-5. I hoped to use the inscription from my grandmother’s gravestone, and as fate would have it, there are seven. Here is my haiku for a dear one I never met but hold in love: Mary Dickens Biggs. (My father is the little boy barely visible in the back.)” -Marylin Biggs Schultz

–posted posthumously for Liz’s mother, Marylin Biggs Schultz                                  (May 21st, 1937 – September 5th, 2019)


About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) was a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She wrote essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune, collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children, and wrote with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for redRavine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy, a Writing Practice, Kindness, and two memoir pieces, Images From The Past  and Two Little Girls & A World At War.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.

-related to post: haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52

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By Judith Ford

This is, I think, the first year I’ve begun to accept the notion that I will one day die. Not that it’s been a big secret. I watched each of my parents die. My mother, who was always the dramatic one, died peacefully, while my father, who’d never been much for self-expression, died struggling and full of fear and rage. Resisting all the way. Someone once said to me that we all die as we’ve lived. Not my parents.

I turned 63 a couple months ago. Not one of those BIG ages, like 21 or 40 or even the big 6-oh, but for me, a signal. A signal to pay attention. There isn’t as much time ahead as there is behind me. I might have said that last year or even ten years ago but for some reason, on this birthday, I got it: not a whole hell of a lot of time left.

When I say that to Chris, he gets all defensive and hyper-rational. Says things like, “yeah yeah, you’ll drop dead tomorrow.” “No,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll die tomorrow, just sooner than I want to.”

My father was 77, my mother was 74. I am healthier than they were. I don’t smoke. I exercise. Will that allow me to avoid the strokes that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered?

I always imagined, when I was in my 20’s, that I would die, at 84, falling off my motorcycle on a mountain road. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since my first child was born. I’d had one crash and after that, couldn’t ride without awareness of my vulnerability. When I had my daughter, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take that kind of risk any more. I kind of miss my little Honda 90. Was it a 90? I think it was. Its predecessor was a Honda 50, a slow old thing that, when I was 22 and had never owned a car, opened up worlds for me.

Back to death. Yes. Back to death. I had a brush with it when I was 42, a major flare-up of an auto-immune disease I didn’t, before then, know I had. After that, life was different. Everything was different and nothing was different. I mean, I was vividly aware of my mortality and of how much I wanted to stay alive. For months after I was discharged, following many weeks in the hospital, I experienced the world through a bubble of heightened senses, everything glowing and glittery and inexpressibly precious. Then, it faded. Of course, it faded; things that wake you up to the utter wonderfulness of being alive always fade. Routines settle back in. I went back to my habit of writing to-do lists that would choke a cow. Back to my pattern of going to bed each night with my head abuzz with what I hadn’t yet accomplished and must get to tomorrow. Now and then, I would remember. Then 5 years later, when I had flare-up number 2 and once again did not die, I thought I would never ever stop feeling grateful for yet another reprieve.

But I did stop. I do stop. None of us is alive and awake all the time, I guess. Would I want to be? Maybe not. It’s a bit painful.

In the past few years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer and are out of the immediate – but not the long-term – woods. One friend died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 10 years ago. My golden retriever died the same year as my father (1995). My favorite therapy teacher, Dick, died that year, too. How did all these vital parts of my life stop being here, taking up time and space? They were here. Now they are not. How can that be? Not even a jagged hole in the air left from where they used to be.

So when I say I’m beginning to accept the notion that I will one day, sooner rather than later, die, I am whistling in the wind. I have moments here and there where I kind of get it and then it’s gone. And I’m left with the delusion that I have all the time in the world, until I think about it. I do not have all the time. I don’t like it that I don’t have more time.

Three years ago, I pretended to have only one year left. I followed a guide by Stephen Levine, did meditations on the subject, wrote about it, kept notes, but eventually, it all felt like a sham. I knew, the whole time, that I wasn’t going to die at the end of that year. I was pretty sure.

And I realized that, if it were true, if in fact I knew for sure I had only a year, what I would do was… nothing out of the ordinary. I would do the dishes, walk the dogs, fold the laundry, sit at my kitchen table and watch the finches flock to my bird feeders. I would choose to be alone. I would choose only those I love best to be with me. I would go to the grocery store. Maybe I would clean up my files so none of my writing would be inaccessible to my daughter (who is named in my will as the trustee for my writing.) I would go on as usual as long as I could, wanting the familiar, wanting to savor, wanting to bequeath, but quietly.

I know that at 63 my remaining vibrant years are dwindling. So what do I do? I make a commitment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my 23 year old son next spring. Why not? There will never be a better time.

I have no grip on this at all. I think it’s a horrible terrible thing to do to people, get them all juiced up on life and then slowly – or all at once – take everything away. Not fair. I wish I could opt out. Of death. Of the many losses of aging.

NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Judith Ford joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

I took a photograph of my mother’s hands before the visitors arrived at the funeral home. When she was well, she cared for her hands and nails everyday, but that stopped in the nursing home when she lost the strength in her hands and arms. Her nails grew long and dirty. That bothered her.

As she physically declined in the nursing home, she stopped caring for her nails. Instead, she would wait for me to arrive on Sundays. She would look at her hands and say, “My nails sure are long” or “I haven’t had my nails trimmed in a long time” or “My fingernail polish is chipped.” Those were clues that I should find the clippers and the nail file and go to work.

She had never directly asked for anything from me; instead she had relied on me to assume what she wanted and to do it. Many times my assumptions had fallen short of her expectations and she let me know of her disappointment in my failings.

When I could take the subtlety no longer, I would ask, “Mom, do you want me to clip your nails?”

“I wish someone would.” That was the closest to “Yes” that I ever received.

The intimacy of taking her frail hands in my big, powerful ones was almost too much for me to bear. How many times did I say to myself, “Come on, Bob. It is only her hands?”

To hold my mother’s hand connected me to her in a way that I didn’t want. Her inability to care for her most basic needs, her aging, and her impending death flowed into me through her hands.

This woman, who had ruled much of my life, who had consumed me in many ways, sat in her wheelchair and offered me her hands. So much of my life I had distanced myself from her and here I was, in the end, sucked back into her world through her hands.

The last three weeks of her life I noticed her hands every time I visited. Her fingers and hands had become skeletal as her weight had dropped to about 70 pounds. I trimmed her nails one of those weeks.

“I scratch myself,” she had said that afternoon. I held her hand and carefully trimmed the nails making sure that I didn’t pull on her skin or clip her nails too closely because my mother’s top layer of skin had become like plastic wrap and a scratch, however slight, would open her skin and she would bleed profusely..

One week her fingers were pure white and the tiny blue veins that ran down each finger stood out. The backs of her hands were a mass of age spots and bruises, a dark brown mixed with deep purple. The juxtaposition of her fingers to the backs of her hands looked as though someone had grafted the fingers of a stranger onto her hands.

The Sunday before she died her fingers and hands were a dusky, purplish-blue color. Her blood is pooling in her extremities, I thought. I knew from looking at her hands that she would not live that much longer.

She died that Thursday morning at 5:50…Thursday, February 28, 2008.

The mortician erased many of the signs of aging from her face and hands. She looked more beautiful in death than she had in life. Her nails had been trimmed and painted a pale pink. Her hands laid one on top of the other.

I wanted to remember those hands forever — even after everything else I remember about her disappears from my mind. I raised my camera to my eye, focused on her hands and took the picture.

My Mother’s Hands, photo © 2008 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.

Bob Chrisman lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he writes. Natalie Goldberg gave him permission to call himself a writer many years ago, and he has been writing ever since. His writing friends, particularly those from a Goldberg year-long Intensive that he and 23 other students took, have made it possible for him to continue and, thankfully, only occasionally be tossed away.

About writing practice, Bob says: My practice is simple. I meditate for 30 minutes every morning and then do six 10-minute “writes.” Sometimes life interrupts the schedule, but I return to it as soon as possible.

As so many writers have suggested, including our teacher, write first thing in the morning before anything interferes with the writing. But, if you can’t write in the morning, write sometime during the day. Don’t let it slide!

After my mother’s death I couldn’t always focus for an hour, but I made a commitment to myself to write enough to catch up for the days (or writes) I missed. I did them all. That’s how important these six 10-minute writes are to my practice, to my life and to what little sanity I have left.

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