Monday, February 17, 2014

Three Weeks by Betsy Ashton

Our topic this month is love and hate. Love is easy, since this is Valentine's Day month. It is also the 11th anniversary of my mother's passing from lung cancer. I offer up a different look at love. It took me seven years and twenty-four minutes to write this poem, seven years to be able to put grief aside and write, twenty-four minutes to put the words down on paper. The poem came fully formed on a dawn walk. I changed one word.

Warning: you may want to grab your tissues.

This one's for you, Mini-Mommy. With love from YBDK.

I thought we’d have more time.

She lived with us after it was too hard to live alone.
She had her chores, self-imposed.
She laughed, chattered, kept us happy.
She was a pain in the ass, sometimes.
I thought we’d have more time.

She said she didn’t feel right one afternoon.
No, she’d never felt exactly like that before.
Is it pneumonia?
Is it bronchitis?
No. It’s different.
Do you want to go to the emergency room?
It’s icy out. I’ll see how I feel in the morning.
I thought we’d have more time.

It’s still icy but I think we need to go, she said.
Okay. I put the ready-bag in the car.
It’s pneumonia, they said.
Let’s get some x-rays.
Yes. It’s pneumonia. There’s fluid.
I thought we’d have more time.

The biopsy said different.
Dr. Elizabeth called it cancer.
Too far along. No real treatment.
Too tiny at 81 pounds.
Too old at 81.
How long, she asked.
Not long.
I thought we’d have more time.

One option, Dr. Elizabeth said.
She thought about it and decided.
Hospice. No heroics.
I thought we’d have more time.

We were together every day.
I read to her when she couldn’t hold a book.
Role reversal from childhood.
I listened to her stories, told so many times before.
I told her my dreams, my hopes.
She told me hers.
Wayposts to guide my way forward.
We shared more deeply than ever before.
I thought we’d have more time.

Days passed.
Stories, until she couldn’t speak.
Then hand squeezes.
Smiles in between lengthy naps.
I stored the moments to turn into memories.
I told her I loved her.
Hand squeeze.
I told her she’d done a good job.
Hand squeeze.
I thought we’d have more time.

I told her, her job was done.
Tight hand squeeze.
I told her she could go when she was ready.
Double hand squeeze.
She opened her eyes and looked at me.
One last smile, one look upward.
She was gone.

Three weeks from “it’s cancer” to death.




Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences. This poem appears in Voices from Smith Mountain Lake, an anthology that came out in 2013. It was featured on Radio IQ, the local NPR station, as well as on national NPR for Mother's Day, 2012.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Twenty-six years ago I lost my mom to breast cancer. Still hurts, will forever miss her. Like you, I got to tell her how much I loved and respected her. Hugs, Betsy.

Jannine Gallant said...

Wow, three weeks is tough. But then no amount of time would ever be enough. Really touching poem, Betsy.

Alicia Dean said...

Very touching poem. Three weeks. Oh my gosh. How heartbreaking.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Betsy,
You are so blessed to have that long. My Mom died of an aortic aneurism and I barely had time to say I love you on the way to the hospital.

Diane Burton said...


Romance Can Be Murder said...

Such a touching, tender poem, it reflects the deep love you shared with your Mom. So sorry for your loss, but glad you had those three weeks - and all the years before that diagnosis.

Dibyendu Dey said...

So touching poem Betsy Maam...I cant control tears on my eyes to read it....This is truly a great poem I have read ever.....thank you

Unknown said...

Lovely poem mam.. Just cant express in words.. Very very touchy and ur love for ur mom.. Just want to say thank you for sharing this among us and u made us a part of it.. Thanks a lot mam..

Leah St. James said...

Beautiful and moving sentiment and words, Betsy. My mom has been gone for almost 20 years and not from cancer (from a long, drawn-out illness). I hope you can hang on to cherished memories.