Photos: Mekos sunflower photo, 4 pieces from Susan and Todd


by Allegra Wong

previously published in New Works Review, Summer 1998

My mother is dying, in isolation, on the top floor of Saint Anne's

Hospital in Fall River. Through her windows, she sees the gray

iridescent spires of Saint Anne's Church and the silver-green Taunton

River where she swam, after sauna with Finnish friends, when she was a

youth. This bone-colored December morning she is concerned she is late

for high school, and she cannot find her brown notebook. I tell her I

shall find it for her. Later, I do.

I find her notebook again one afternoon six weeks after she has died.

It is in her Hixville dressing table, beneath the broken House of the

Seven Gables plate which she had wrapped in an old Adams Bookstore bag.

I lift her notebook out of the drawer, take it to the shuttered bedroom

window, and open not to a draft of one of my mother's junior year

themes, but to a letter written by my grandmother to my dead sister,


Grandmother writes of the robins who visit the Fall River garden path

each day outside her downstairs bedroom window, the stone path just past

the larkspur and bee balm, alongside the bells of Ireland. My

grandmother tells my sister she thinks the visiting robins have

something to do with a visit from her. From her bedroom window, my

grandmother tells my sister, she watches every morning as my mother

fills the bird bath with warm water, listens to the frog she calls

Ichabod Crane plash in the pond ringed around with white and green

quartz stones, and rakes the soil around the double red peonies growing

along the Downing Street picket fence.

As I read my grandmother's lines, I smell the Downing Street soil.

Just as I smell the soil of Oak Grove Cemetery. The rotting oak and

maple leaves mix with dead geraniums and sweeten the cemetery turf.

Jonquils and pansies shoot up around my sister's pink gravestone, then

die. The breeze makes the branch tips of the willow on our family plot

brush across the face of a stone angel on someone else's.

I am a little girl, and I sit with my mother on our white wrought-iron

bench during our afternoon visits. My mother leaves bell jars of dried

statice on Shelley's grave and on those of her father and grandparents.

The robins visit. Their vermilion breasts flash among the gravestones.

I smell these memories.

I turn to another notebook page and remember robins visit my mother

every summer in Hixville, too, although she calls juncos the true

mourners, the true bearers of her grief as they sit among the dry

grasses and milkweed outside the kitchen window seal-colored November


Beyond the kitchen yard, and beyond the shuttered bedroom window, the

pine woods are moist and deep, and my mother writes on the last page of

the brown notebook: Dearest Shelley, I should like to begin a kind of

spiritual diary so that I can talk with you.

But my grandmother in Fall River sees the robins through the window

from her black iron bed, and she calls their daily visit a visit from

her granddaughter. She writes in the notebook she hopes she will be

lucky enough to see Shelley in heaven. Until then, she tries to be

quiet, she says, just as Shelley asks her to be.

I turn to other pages and find my mother's notebook has been shared not

only with my grandmother, but also with Shelley. I can draw, I can

read, I can write ... I can draw, read, write. Draw, read, write. I


Shelley prints the words again and again. She is in the first grade at

the Davol School. It is 1955, the year she dies. She prints her

stepfather's name on a page by itself. So he will love her, as she

loves him. She prints her name, alongside his, and above hers, she

prints mine.

Dear Shelley, I'm very lonesome today. I keep looking for you. My

grandmother writes my sister another letter in the notebook with the

brown covers.

Shelley has printed 'Thank you' on several of the pages. Thank you,

Mr. Green, Miss Sullivan, Mrs. Burke. My mother has written on the

lines in between. What would you like for Christmas, Shelley? A book?

Originally my mother used the notebook for attendance-taking at her

Saint Mark's Episcopal Sunday school class. The names of her pupils --

Marita, Agnes, Jon, Linwood, Constance -- are listed for 1942-43. On

other pages are her pupils' grades received for the tests they took. Her

note to herself for the upcoming Sunday school Christmas exchange that

year mentions she will give each of her pupils a copy of Dickens's A

CHRISTMAS CAROL. The minister, Mr. Atwood, plans to read the entire

story at the Christmas service, and my mother's pupils will follow along

in their own books.

My grandmother writes to my sister. Dear, There are two little robins

come to see me every day. I feel as if it was you coming to see me, for

I'm awful lonesome without you. I hope I will meet you, if God thinks I

may, I will be so happy then. We will talk together, not of worldly

things, but nice happy things.

I look up from the pages. Like the solitary mourner in Munch's "The

Scream", I open my mouth and find I am voiceless. I have no new

language, no mourning vocabulary to ask how I shall bear a lifetime of

not being able to tell my mother I have found her notebook.

So we will be quiet and peaceful, my grandmother writes in both of her

letters. I am trying to be quiet as you would like me to be. Goodbye

for now, dear Shelley. Nana.

My grandmother's closing lines seem to be a message for me as I stand

by the shuttered window in Hixville. I shall try to be quiet and

peaceful, as all of the notebook writers would want me to be. I take my

pencil, and on the inside of the back cover I write, I'm lonesome

without you, but I shall keep looking for you. Good-bye for now, Mama



by Patricia Schlick

My mother is dying,

of cigarettes, and booze,

and eighty years.

My mother is dying,

So instead of voting

I pack my suitcase

Drive to the airport

Take an airplane to Cleveland.

Go to her bedside,

to be near

to stave off illness and death.

I take a taxi to University Hospitals

Mother is sitting up

watching election returns on television.

She says,

" I guess my smoking

has finally caught up with me."

My mother is dying.

My sisters and I are angry, afraid.

Mother is x rayed

to see the nature and quality of the tumor.

An ugly red presence spreading through

her lungs.

The doctor offers respiratory therapy and ibuprofen.

My sisters and I try to prove ourselves

competent to handle death. . .

I make arrangements for a hospice.

Another sister organizes medication schedules.

One makes phone calls

and provides transportation.

One moves furniture.

My mother is dying,

Has come home to die.

Home to her apartment,

The only place she ever lived alone.

She is excited to come home,

But she is not alone now.

We move furniture

From the loft

Her sanctuary

Where she hibernated

to read and write.

We have taken her hermitage

for a caregiver to sleep

A hospital technician demonstrates

respiratory therapy.

The American Cancer Society

moves in

a hospital bed and oxygen tank.

On her first night home Mother

has a glass of cabernet sauvignon,

chicken breasts, salad, and rice.

She eats only a little bit.

I sleep in the apartment the first night...

wake up to the smell of

cigarette smoking!

Despite cancer and oxygen

Mother is smoking!

My mother is dying,

And I am her nurse;

straightening beds

administering medication,

bathing, toileting

Small things need to be taken care of

while death casts a large shadow.

Studying metaphysics and poetry

Didn't prepare me to nurse

a dying woman

But studying metaphysics and poetry

taught me I couldn't avoid the fact of death.

Love makes strange roles possible

Jesus said,

"If it is possible,

let this cup pass from me;

yet not what I want but

what you want."

Now, I understand.

My mother is dying.

Today four generations of women,

Mother, her daughters,

two granddaughters and

a great-granddaughter,

take communion, receive Christ

Who will not take, this cup from us

But will hold ours hands

Through this walk to Golgotha.

My mother is dying,

I am caught up in the details

Of a dying woman's life:

Bowel movements,

respiratory therapy,


Decisions meaning

A few more days of painful life

Or a quicker death.

My mother is dying,

Is ready to die

I am ashamed

of impatience.

I am homesick

miss my husband,

working at church,

walking my Golden Retriever

This is taking a long time.

My daughters travel from busy lives

to support their mother.

One brings with her the great-grandchild

born on Mother's last birthday.

Another comes with the heartache of

a broken marriage.

The youngest flies from Germany,

leaving behind the corporate world

to scrub bathrooms and help with


A daughter sits by

my mother's bed

holding her hand,

I am behind her

hands on her shoulders.

Mother sinks and fades

She seldom leaves her bed.

She lies on her right side,

floating in and out of consciousness.


she asks for morphine.

My mother is dying;

She smiles and laughs in her sleep.

With whom is she laughing?

Dad, my brother, her parents?

What memories are there for her

As she struggles to breathe?

My mother is dying;

We have our last conversation.

Mother believed that if only everyone

would vote Republican

Have cocktails at 5:00 pm everyday

and never talk of unpleasant things

all would be well.


didn't do any of these things.

Mother said to me that morning,

"I always loved you.

I just could never

understand you."

My three sisters and I stay in Mother's room.

We scatter ourselves around the bed.

We hold Mother, tell her

how much we love her.

Tell her Dad is waiting.

A song plays.

It is

"The Very Thought of You",

My parents special song.

How nice!

One of my sisters played the tape.

We all listen and weep.

When a commercial comes on

I realize none of us

have planned this moment.

Mother is gasping, struggling for each breath.

The nurse gives her last cocktail. A shot of morphine

with a honey chaser.

At 4:30 AM, she lets out a rattling gasp,

her chest rises, and falls

then nothing


I sit watching her still body

and wish her well

On a journey neither of us understood.

She hadn't known where she was going,

I didn't know where she was.

I sit beside her body keening,

"Oh, Mother… Mother…Mother…"

I wash her body.

It is the last thing I can do.

On the day after her death

Natalie Cole sings

"The Very Thought of You"

on the CD in Mother's loft.

I wrIte in my journal.....

“My mother is dead.”

And We Are All Idiots

by William Benjamin Jenkins




This page is dedicated to the memory

of William Benjamin Jenkins,

a sixteen year-old homicide victim.

I know nothing of good or evil or the reason behind the horrors of man

I know little of a god or what scripture or interpretation is truth

One will say that to be a true believer and lover of the lord is to hate your fellow man for the simple pigment of their flesh

Many will say hell waits for those who do not redeem themselves, yet they should beg for redemption themselves

No one race is superior and no one belief is the way to salvation

How are we to judge which god to believe when so many from such "denominations" preach words of hate supposedly derived from "the holy book"

Who are we to judge who will be slaves and who will be kings when the actions of so many reflect so many fools?

William was shot and killed during a robbery

at the restaurant where he was on his second day of work.

He was sixteen years-old at the time.

At the following link you will find

the story of William's life, and death,

along with many links and resources

for those suffering traumatic and other losses.