Archive for the ‘daughtering’ category

Little Elephants/Last Days

August 23, 2021

I was going to write today about some of the benefits of using an iPad Pro for drawing illustrations.  I even dreamed of this topic (or at least thought about it muzzily as I lay in bed.)   I was going to write about how drawing on paper is so much more fluid and original; how when I can get the courage up to add color (inks or soft pastel or some kind of paint), those paper pieces can be so much more rich and complex, but how I still often end up using the iPad Pro for illustrations, because the iPad, unlike inks, soft pastels, paint, can be readily used in a bed. (You may be sensing a pattern here.)  Perhaps, more importantly, the  iPad does a lot to mitigate the need for both courage and patience.  

An example of how the iPad can help to make an illustration can be found in the the little elephants above (completed on the iPad), and the unfinished paper sketch of the same little elephants below. (This was the basis for the iPad drawing.) 

But in the middle of thinking about these elephant drawings, I remembered that today was the beginning of the week of my mother’s death, which essentially lasted this whole week, some years ago. (My mother, at the end of her life, by the way, loved the iPad Pro; mainly for youtube algorhythms. I could type in a piece of music I thought she’d like and youtube would take her to another and another. It felt like magic to her, or, perhaps, a really good TV channel.)  

Though  when I think of my mother’s death week, I don’t think of the iPad. Rather I think of how she and I, and the rest of us too, rose to our best selves,  of how death can sometimes do that.  (I think of the way people speak so eloquently at funerals. How they often seem to transcend some inhibition, some self-consciousness, that dogs their normal speech.)

In my mother’s case, the nearness of death brought out a great generosity.  Yes, pain medication may have assisted, but a true shine was also there, as she made sure to thank everyone who came her way; to express deep gratitude, and in the case of each family member, a profound and specific love. 

In my case, the nearness of her death (temporarily) undid my will to avoid the moment, that endless bargaining with time. This morning, remembering it, I congratulated myself for calling up various family members from a hot Florida sidewalk as I took a break from the freezing hospital–to let them know that if they wanted to see my mother, that is, talk to her, they needed to come now.  When the option of much more convenient weekend flights came up–me, who typically tries to make things work for others as they would have them work, simply said that they should do what they could, shouldn’t feel like they had to come, but that if they wanted to see her, that is, talk to her, they had to come now.

And they did come. I don’t know how they managed it, but they too seized the moment.  And they did get to talk with her, and they would not have been able to wait. 

I feel so sorry, as I re-read this, to think of all those whose family members died of Covid, who did not have the togetherness of last days. 

It is raining steadily here. Through the upper part of the window, it looks beautiful, soft grays and greens, and the sounds of the rain, very gentle now, feel merciful.  Through the lower part of the window, though, are channels of brown water that have taken over the driveway and, most likely, the roads.  

Danced Out

May 16, 2012


Exhaustion strikes, but in a good way.  This exhaustion comes from dancing with a nearly 90-year old woman (my mom)–I call it dancing, and I say it’s with her.  This is not accurate: -it was dancing a couple of feet behind with arms outstretched to catch her in case of a fall.

My mother grew up in a time and family in which people didn’t really touch.  Everything about them was northern; and the times were harsh.  As a result, touch is somewhat distracting to her, an imposition rather than support.  (It’s a bit of a tussle to take her arm even when crossing a busy street.)

And yet, there was dancing.  With.  Her.  Of a sort.  (One two three four, one two three four–she counts time aloud with quiet absorption as she moves.  I hate to say that I think the song was a waltz.)

A magnificent sort.

Music–it enlivens/energizes/lightens the body and soul.

(One two three four, one two three four, one two threeeeeeee.)


I am linking this post to Imperfect Prose, run by Emily Wieranga.  The dancing came about, in part, because I just got a speaker for my computer so that my visiting quite- deaf mother could actually hear some of the music on my iTunes.   She liked it a lot.

Sunday Poem (Mother, Daughter, in Father-Son Realm)

February 21, 2010

Script (Poem for Sundays)

A poem for Sundays–perhaps more of a story than poem.  Thanks as always for reading.


Pictures hung in the Sunday School downstairs:
men mostly, whose long-haired, but not hippified, heads
were highlit with gold, clouds, doves,
and, hovering above, goatee-shaped
wisps of flame.

In the actual nave hung
only a spare metal cross,
lit by shafts of dust-mote-
dropping day.

Whenever the minister made an important point, he cupped
his hands together,
the fingers separate but clenched, the pinkies nearly throbbing
with tautness.  He used the gesture
to symbolize a knot.  But also growth.
Tense knotty growth.  How hard
it all was, how simple.

I watched the terse bend of knuckle closely, the extended
half-wound fists.  But, as the sermon droned, I turned to
other hands:  my own inside short white gloves, the
worn seam
tracing their perimeter,
like a railroad track en route to itself;
my mother’s, bare, cool, soft.
I picked up her fingers,
one by one, as if to find beneath them,
a way of passing time.

Then, just as my father’s shaved crust of chin
nodded over the crisp edge of Sunday shirt collar,
she quietly rotated
the bulletin on top of a hymnal and
modeled my name in script.
She used one of the short pencils stored in the pews
for new parishioners.  I, taking off one glove
to firmly grip the wood,
copied her letters slowly,
feeling each curve
as a blessing, a secret blessing,
for we were interlopers in that
realm of fathers/sons/ghosts,
the ones who snuck beneath the shafts of light,
then basked in them,
we women.

(All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson)

Long Distance 911 Call

September 25, 2009

A long distance 911 call morning.  The plight of the adult child whose parents live  elsewhere.  How to interpret the steady phrases of EMTs who are several hours away, and who, five minutes earlier, couldn’t talk to you because (as you heard in the midst of tense rustling), they were “kind of busy here.”

Fly immediately?  Or, stay within cell range?

Don’t cry.

Medication can be complicated for the elderly and/or infirm.  I don’t want to put the blame on doctors (or do I?), but prescription instructions and verbal explanations are frequently cursory, sometimes actually wrong.    People think that medications are calibrated, and I’m sure doctors do try to calibrate them.  But there is a one-size-fits-all aspect even to fairly careful dosages of extremely powerful drugs.

The uninitiated (that is, those unused to the effects of overly high dosages)  think of medications as little thermostats, capable of adjusting the body’s specific internal climate in the manner of a really good air-conditioning unit;  unfortunately, many medications seem more like a battery-powered fan simply stoking this or that bodily function until its juice runs out.

(Which reminds me that I left my iron on this morning.  Can’t turn back now.)

Blood sugar meds seem especially tricky.  The most common one (at least the one my Dad takes) doesn’t adjust sugar but simply lowers it, bang, bang, bang, like a hammer hitting a peg.

The effects can be very dramatic.  We’re not talking about a nail shooting through a wall here, but a person sliding to the floor, unable to talk or move.

Seeing the slide, and then the recovery (even just hearing about them long distance), fills one with amazement for the body’s many delicate balances; its incredibly speedy resilience.

A few packets of sugar later, the body that had become an alarmingly dead weight is once again a smiling, laughing, person, reciting the name of the President and the day of the week. Only those standing to the side, or at the end of the phone line, now have trouble speaking.