The barn roof sags like an ancient mare’s back.
The field, overgrown, parts of it a marsh
where the pond spills over. No hay or sacks
of grain are stacked for the cold. In the harsh
winters of my youth, Mama, with an axe,
trudged tirelessly each day through deep snow,
balanced on the steep bank, swung down to crack
the ice so horses could drink. With each blow
I feared she would fall, but she never slipped.
Now Mama’s bent and withered, vacant gray
eyes fixed on something I can’t see. I dip
my head when she calls me Mom. What’s to say?
The time we have’s still too short to master
love, and then, the hollow that comes after.
~Kitty Carpenter “Farm Sonnet”

Vigil at my mother’s bedside

Lying still, your mouth gapes open as
I wonder if you breathe your last.
Your hair a white cloud
Your skin baby soft
No washing, digging, planting gardens
Or raising children

Where do your dreams take you?
At times you wake in your childhood home of
Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom.
Other naps take you to your student and teaching days
Grammar and drama, speech and essays.
Yesterday you were a young mother again
Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.

Today you looked about your empty nest
Disguised as hospital bed,
Wondering aloud about
Children grown, flown.
You still control through worry
and tell me:
Travel safely
Get a good night’s sleep
Take time to eat
Call me when you get there

I dress you as you dressed me
I clean you as you cleaned me
I love you as you loved me
You try my patience as I tried yours.
I wonder if I have the strength to
Mother my mother
For as long as she needs.

When I tell you the truth
Your brow furrows as it used to do
When I disappointed you~
This cannot be
A bed in a room in a sterile place
Waiting for death
Waiting for heaven

And I tell you:
Travel safely
Eat, please eat
Sleep well
Call me when you get there.

photo by Andrea Nipges

New book available to order from Barnstorming!

4 thoughts on “Hollowed

  1. Bittersweet for some; sacred for those who have such deep, life-giving memories
    on their own journeys and of the God-given joy and thanksgiving that I was the one
    to tend my maternal grandmother during her final three months of life..
    She came to my mother’s home to die of old age, painfully coupled with bone
    cancer. She continued as a saving force in my life up to and including her courageous, faith-filled
    death at 82.
    With my Union’s help, I was able to take a leave of absence from my job. I became her sole caretaker, nurse, cook, masseuse, giver of a Toni home permanent
    while she remained in bed (because she was always proud of her ‘upkeep,’ as she called it). I bathed her thin wrinkled withered body and gave the permanent after placing her corner-wise in the
    full size bed, as I placed her head in my lap and then in a shallow basin of warm water. She
    hummed softly because it felt so good. I replaced her catheter when she pulled it out. (The
    occasional visiting nurse showed me how to do it and was satisfied that I could handle it.)

    The irony that a 30-year old granddaughter whose Grandma lovingly performed all of the tasks that she did for me as a baby and as a growing young girl has remained with me since that blessed
    time as I was honored to minister to her, continuing with preparation for choosing her funeral attire for her last ‘visit’ with family and friends as we all tearfully (and temporarily) said ‘goodbye’ — for now!

    That sense of irony and sacredness has stayed with me for over 50 years. What a gift she and our Lord gave to me during that time. It increases with humble appreciation and love. I hope and pray that Grandma will accompany the angels as they ‘bring me home’ and lead me into the presence of my loving Jesus. I DO believe that He will be waiting to welcome me according to His promises
    to all of us.

    Once again, dear Emily, ‘thank you’ for your memories and the pictures that need no special
    title or explanation. They speak silently but forcefully of a ‘goin’ home’ after a faith-filled
    life and, so graphically, of the passing of one’s life from generation to generation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Alice, what a testimony of the life-giving ministry of caretaking, especially for the dying. Your grandmother taught you so much in those few months that you have kept in your heart for half a century. And I can smell exactly what a Toni home permanent was like! It took days to dissipate! Love you!


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