Grandma Kathleen: Rough Poems

This post is going to have a lot of poem drafts, and they probably won’t be award-winning quality. I find it a lot easier to write about this experience through poems, so that’s how I’ve been journaling it. I think that writing about this will be easier by using what I’ve already journaled.

The weekend before I left for Boston, we found out my Grandma Kathleen was dying. I think I got the call on Friday. In the early hours of Monday morning, she was gone.

Dinner on March 2nd
The townhouse is empty, just me
Alone with my pots.

I am making spaghetti while
My grandma dies.

I missed Mom’s call the first time.
Her voice cracked, choked,

She kept apologizing. I laughed
A little, crying.

I like to put a bit of salt in the water,
Adds flavor. Mom does it, too.

They said Grandma’s circulation is stopping,
A few days, maybe. No more.

Mom said I should go on
to Boston. We’d already planned and

paid. My spaghetti keeps sticking
Together. I should do homework, but

I keep watching violent superhero
Flicks. Grandma wouldn’t approve.

After the stroke, when she started going,
She thought Mississippi more dangerous than California.

She hated the chemistry videos
We watched for school.

She looked at old pictures of her old
House and cried and often

Snuck into the garage to pack her
Suitcase and thought night was morning

And forgot our names and faces,
Sometimes laughed to be polite

Or rambled, forgetting, and said, “This
Card says apples—this one, too.”

Last time I saw her, she did not
See me, and my dad smiled some,

His blue eyes red as he encouraged her
To talk, told her about us.

She smiled, uncertainly, and we

That last moment—she looked around
The corner at us, in her wheelchair

Following at a distance, as if she knew
She’d forgotten, then—

Forgetting, wheeled another direction.
And I?

I think I forgot
To say goodbye.

The townhouse is empty, just me
Alone with my pots.


The funeral was set for Monday morning a week later. I went to Boston and left at 5:00 AM on Sunday, the day before the funeral. In the airport in Atlanta, I had a really long layover. Mom had asked me to write/edit a poem that she could read in the eulogy. I had one I’d written when we thought Grandma Kathleen was dying a long time ago, back when I sometimes played with poems in high school. I pulled it out and began editing, crying a little over my lunch in one of the airport cafes.

I caught my flight to Phoenix, changed planes and arrived in CA at 1 AM EST, exhausted and drained. Stumbled to bed and got up the next morning.

The Funeral

On the morning of my grandmother’s funeral
I had to shave my legs in the hotel
bathtub. I shaved, half listening to Mom
reading Dad the eulogy, practicing so maybe
she wouldn’t cry later. She cried now. The razor
slipped in my hands. I felt no pain but knew I’d cut
deep into my leg. My mom, “I can’t—”
I grabbed toilet paper, wiped the blood trailing
to my ankle, finished the shave sloppily
and tried to keep pressure on the wound. Mom read,
stumbling through the poem at the end—
my poem, written in the airport 24 hours
ago, which I cried over in the restaurant,
caught by the waitress while rubbing tears
off my cheeks. Mom asked me to read it
at the funeral, but I didn’t think I could.
The bleeding wouldn’t stop, and Mom was crying
quieter now, Dad murmuring. I stepped out, took pills
for the migraine in my neck, said I’d read. They left,
I waited, my stomach rising in my throat. I threw up
three times in the sink. Rinsed my mouth. Shakily
texted Dad and walked to Aunt Dorothy’s car. Read
at the funeral, butchering my poem, and sat
beside Dad. He had his hand around mine
and his arm around my mom.


The poem I read:

In Vivid Gardens

In vivid gardens,
breathing Monet
I held your shaking hand
as I would a rose.

You: The flowergirl,
scattered beauty
waked behind.
Each petal (a piece
of you) flutters, falls.

You: The pressed flower
wedged between precious
passages. Memorized,
though you’ve forgotten.

Your hands: Wrinkled,
soft as young
rose petals. Gentle,
quiet, falling
to rest.

Fading now,
pale, fragile bloom,

You: Not grey, not stone.
I tarry. You wander ahead,
hands full of petals
in vivid gardens.


When I first saw Grandma Kathleen’s casket draped under a flag (she was a nurse in WWII), it really sank in that she was gone.

Military Honors

You are stars, stripes, draped
in a hearse and I
half turn away, gripping
my mouth, full of nausea and
pain and breaking. Oh
but you are lovely, always
were, from nursing school to
Paris to Japan and how the soldiers
blessed you and the Sacramento
homeless praised you, you who fought
war wounds and tuberculosis, or maybe
they said nothing, and you returned
to broken home and children
and healed and grew and bloomed
like your wild backyard garden.
You are lovely. I rest my hand—
small, trembling—over you, walking
through holy water and ceremony
through doorways and soft grass
and stroke with my thumb one white stripe,
pretending to touch your hand.
We are almost there now.
You’ll be uncovered, bare—
and do you know you are more
than mother, veteran, gardener combined?
And do you know you are more to me than love?
And do you know I dream of your sweater?
Softly, now, let me take your shawl.
Don’t mind my hands, gripping,
shaking. Go on, love,
I’ll hold the flag.

For the record, I didn’t take the flag off the casket (the Marines did). But I was a pallbearer.

One thing in the whole crazy grief that I loved was watching my dad. My parents aren’t perfect, but I am so lucky to have them.

Dad Woos Mom at Grandma’s Funeral

Dad flew Mom to her mom’s death,
got there in time and softly read
Grandma asleep, still he remained through
last breath to funeral homes though Mom’s own older
brother didn’t show to persuading
my schizophrenic uncle into getting a haircut
and shave with him though Dad doesn’t
believe in barbers and my uncle hadn’t
had a cut in years to taking Crohn’s crippled
Aunt Mary shopping where they found
skirts, shoes, sweaters for the service
to driving back for forgotten
cameras to finding tissues in church
and placing them carefully in reach
to keeping his face calm as Mom struggled
through the eulogy fearing his grief
might make her cry if she looked at him
for strength to holding Mom’s hand fiercely
when her shoulders shook with sobs through
the throbs of If Ever I Would Leave You to walking
patiently, protectively beside Aunt Mary, who never
stopped talking even when the priest spoke, to pulling
the Marine aside and pointing out who would
get the flag and telling him about Grandma’s
life as a WWII nurse to managing a laugh instead of arguing
politics at the reception though they brought up
women in combat to making everyone chuckle
with a story about when Mom went into labor
and Grandma silently held onto the dashboard
while he drove 130 MPH down the highway—
concluding, “She had grit!”—to the slow walk
when most people had left to pausing
at the graves of Mom’s dad
and her sister’s husband to helping arrange
the pink roses on Grandma’s
fresh grass to kissing Mom softly
on the forehead and
holding her as they
walked away.


The day after the funeral, I could barely get out of bed as my arthritis flared in protest to all the travel. Later that night my dad took me on a date to a fantastic local Italian place.

Our Italian Dinner

I asked Dad, laughingly, “Are you disappointed?
Four years gone and I haven’t found a husband.”

He said, with sarcastic eyebrows, “I think
you’ve missed the point of a degree.”

I asked, staring at the little candle on our table,
“Do you know how scared I am? How

The thought of appointments and pain and
Long drives from doctors, alone, me alone, terrifies me?”

He said, gripping my hand, “You aren’t alone,
You will never bear it alone. But I know—I know—”

I asked, half listening to Italian music,
“Do you know how I love how you love Mom?”

He said, “I am glad I can help her. I took
care. I am too stubborn to give up.”

I asked, “Do you want the last slice?”
He said, “No, go ahead.”


We flew back to Georgia together. My parents went on to Virginia, and I got back to Berry (driving below the speed limit through Atlanta, because my car was on its spare tire). Then it was back to school, and work, and volunteering. It helps the grief, to be forced to go on. But it also makes me sad that a good woman is dead and the world keeps turning.

I guess that’s naive of me. But I love her.


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