My mother is dead, and I have never before felt so alone. Of course, I feel the pull of my own mortality, as the death of a parent brings you to the brink. I feel increased fear for the mortality of my own two children and my husband, and a profound sense of absence overwhelms me. I am so aware of how my sense of self has been shaped by my mother’s confidence and pride in me.

There’s a sense of unreality about it all. I find myself searching for her in stones, in leaves, in clouds, in books, in stars, in the sea. The great American poet Sharon Olds captured this feeling so perfectly:

By now, my mother has been pulled to the top
of many small waves, carried in the curve that curls
over, onto itself, and unknots,
again, into the liquid plain,
as her ions had been gathered from appearances
and concepts. And her dividend,
her irreducible, like violet
down, thrown to the seals, starfish,
wolf spiders on the edge-of-Pacific
floor, I like to follow her
from matter into matter, my little quester,
as if she went to sea in a pea-green
boat. Every separate bit,
every crystal shard, seems to
be here—her nature unknowable, dense,
dispersed, her atomization a miracle,
the earth without her a miracle
as if I had arrived on my own
with nothing to owe, nothing to grieve,
nothing to fear, it would happen with me
as it would, not one molecule
lost or sent to the Principal
or held in a dried-orange-pomander strongbox
stuck with the iron-matron maces
of the cloves. My mother is a native of this place,
she is made of the rosy plates of the shell
of one who in the silt of a trench plays
music on its own arm, draws
chords, and then the single note—
rosin, jade, blood, catgut,
siren-gut, hair, hair,
hair—I miss her, I lack my mother, such
peace there is on earth now every
tooth of her head is safe, ground down
to filaments of rock-crab fractals
and claw facets, the whole color wheel
burst and released. Oh Mom. Come sit
with me at this stone table at the bottom
of the Bay, here is a barnacle of
egg custard, here is your tiny
spoon with your initials, sup with me
at dawn on your first day—we are all
the dead, I am not apart from you,
for long, except for breath, except for everything.

“Her Birthday as Ashes in Seawater” by Sharon Olds

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