At Her Funeral   
Mother is being carried away    
By colored orbs   
That tug in frenzy against my fingers   
Balloons and people jostle me, blurring in the whirling air   
I brace myself, one foot against the mound   
And hold tight against the impatient wind.   

Uplifting memorials scribed with my life blood  
and permanent ink   
Look awkward, crayonish when expanded.  
The bright spheres   
I force myself to swallow   
But they squeeze out of my fingertips.  
The Balloons, Carnivalistic, Thudding together rapidly,   
Tangle themselves,   
Tear away and gust off   
Just like her  
I stand mute   
Squinting against the azul dome.  
I tie up my wounds with curled ribbon   
And string a reminder around one finger. 

© 1992 Barbara J. Troyer 

I wrote this poem the year after my mom died. I never really finished it. A little background: some insane person came up with the idea of buying a bunch of colored balloons, and having us pass the time by writing some scripture in black felt pen on them, and sticking little sayings on little pieces of paper which we rolled up very small and stuck in the balloons. Then, they were filled with helium, and brought to the grave-side ceremony. There, we each got one, and let them go at the close of the ceremony… 

My mom and dad in the back yard years ago. 
My mother died when I was 20. It was an awkward time for her to leave. I was just at the point where I felt that I was ready to have a real conversation with her. I had just begun to grow up. A truly impressive metamorphosis took place within me and my entire family. First, when she was sick, we felt like we were growing stronger, as if the world were suddenly compressed into our tight little family and our desperate hope was the gravity. But, once she died, it exploded from the pressure. We experienced a domino-effect series of losses: our family home and familiar possessions, which my father felt it necessary to sell, our family pets, who also no longer had a home, my brother's fiancee and my great friend, my best friend…   

Last year I found this wonderful book. Not only did my husband point it out to me in the bookstore, but the same week I bought it, my sister-in-law Diane discovered it and sent me a copy (she, too, had her mother die of cancer when she was in her early teens). It is called Motherless Daughters; The Legacy of Loss and is by Hope Edelman. You can find it at Amazon Books 

It was very painful to read, because it is full of the stories of women who, like me, are motherless. My pain was always fairly private, limited to those few people in my close proximity who either lived through her death with me or have lived through her aftermath. This book, however, reminded me of the discomfort always lurking just under my skin. It has now been almost five years since my mom died, and I have adjusted well, and yet, when I peek underneath to take a look at how I feel about it, I am always surprised at the freshness of the loss. This book is good, not because it celebrates victim hood, but because it celebrates shared pain. Some of the tales of ripped-apart families and strange situations delighted me because they were so reminiscent of my own situation.   

I don't know why, but a majority of the people I know in their twenties and thirties have had one parent die of cancer. I realize this is probably partially coincidence, partially personality types that are drawn together, and partially hyper-awareness on my part. But, it seems strange to me. And once you have had a parent die young or someone else very close to you, you are changed forever. Are you part of this shared culture?   

Here is an excerpt from Motherless Daughters. It is from the paperback edition by Delta 1994.   
    "By now, we each have our own version, our own mythology, our own fragile grasp of the truth. My sister remembers a moment one way, I remember it another, and a friend of mine from high school reminds me of parts I could swear never happened at all. Fact or fiction, I'll never know. The only story I can believe is my own, and in my version, my mother doesn't have a deathbed request, because she never knows she's going to die." P. 63.   

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