I’m delighted to share that my friend, classmate and colleague, Dr. Anne Hallward of Safe Space Radio is providing a podcast for the education of health care providers. Her 22-minute interview with me will be featured in the Death and Dying section of the course. To check out the podcast go to https://safespaceradio.com/education/ To listen to the original interviews with me, click: https://safespaceradio.com/?s=catharine+murray and https://safespaceradio.com/?s=katie+murray
Nine years after Chan’s death, it was still sometimes hard to remember what I needed.
Bearings, November 2013
This morning when I went into the woods, I didn’t know what I needed.
It wasn’t until I’d turned my steps from pavement to sink the uneven crust of snow
that I looked up and saw pink and blue of early morning winter light
behind thin black lines of endless boughs,
and I said aloud, the world is good and this will be ok and finally began to weep.
Oh yes, this sadness. I had forgotten. And on I walked, my body remembering this home
of wide horizons and a clearer sense of East and West.
The grief at my center wedged in against my gut at last found room to
grunt and gasp, and sob its way out as I walked on toward the sea.
There, always sudden in its arrival upon my anxious mind, the ocean,
vast bowl of cold seething shadows
glow of morning light breaking over sharp horizon’s edge.
I spend so much time boxed in small spaces that I forget the natural scale of things.
I love the ocean. Today for its careless abundance, tossing treasures at my feet
trinkets of stone and bone and succulent living matter.
Kelp in bundles of glossy strands
Glassy stones lunar white, length of rope thick as my arm,
tiny beards of lavender lace clinging to night-blue mussels,
wood polished pink by scrubbing sand and sea
tucked in beds of mouth-watering seaweed.
So much to delight in as I trudge along
that were I to stop and cling to one precious thing
I would miss the rest
so I keep on
sometimes sinking in the sand-spattered snow
sometimes my good rubber boots awash in the pleasure of cold waves.
Sea bubbles over flat shore and recedes
disappearing water leaving skin of pale iridescence
where sky and sea mix like gasoline on water
and an impossible view of pastel warmth in this almost frozen place
glitters before the next wave washes over once more.
And I know that I needed this
this way to get my bearings again
returning to waves and water and sky
and I know again that water shapes the shore even as
she is shaped by it.
Catharine H. Murray, Author of Now You See the Sky
This poem came to me on a November afternoon eight years ago, six years after Chan’s death. Grief is a slow process. Don’t let anyone rush you.
The other day I was driving down
a little street in the neighborhood,
a shortcut, I thought, in my endless quest
to save a minute or two for something.
I don’t know what.
And I saw a tree standing
branches upraised, entirely bare.
At its base in a spreading circle lay its cloak of yellow
like a woman’s garment dropped suddenly
that floated too fast to the floor.
The leaves, bright and soft,
were hopelessly disconnected from their
mother, now naked, bereft.
In the rushing frantic kids-to-pick-up moment
when I saw that tree
That’s how I felt when my son died.
Where is the warmth and beauty that I always had
where the wind whispered and the light shimmered
where the tiny infinite movements against my
skin interpreted the air and darkness?
now I am only bare and bony
bark wet and cold
in the wind and rain
Why am I still standing with
all of me exposed
and winter coming?
Catharine H. Murray, Author of Now You See the Sky
Oonjit Leela Tiparos, the woman who helped me raise my children, who gave everything of herself to her family, who wasn’t afraid of anything, who made me laugh when mothering made me want to cry has died after too many years living with dementia. Sharing a home with her for so many years, watching her be a devoted mother and grandmother and daughter, I learned more from her than I know. Thank you, Mei Ya.
Fingertips that always tended,
before her mind began looping back
to time before children,
now nearly touch as if to kiss
five and five gather together
clutch at blanket’s edge as if a hem
with stitches to pull
Holding invisible needle, she cocks her head
shrunken on stem of narrow neck
twisted on hard pillow
working arm’s length thread
and begins to sew.
We, sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, grown
gather around her gurney
in this room of
atrophied limbs and television’s drone
pairs of vacant eyes
gazing from each bed.
unsure that we exist
when she no longer knows our names.
Her eldest son smiles and
calls into her wilted ear
Do you have children?
What are their names?
Each demand a
grenade lobbed behind kitchen curtains
where she lives
A laugh sputters from him as if
he doesn’t feel his own heart ache
every time he asks her if she knows his name.
But nothing shakes the fortress where she wanders now
her heavy-lidded gaze roves past our wanting faces
now no more to her than interruption.
She mutters with so little concern
we know that we are only errant threads.
and she returns to the work at hand,
gathering bits of illusion like cloth
stitches that are hers alone
she pulls at endless hems
to unstitch, unbind, release.
All this unravels only us.
Our dear mother is content.
to be embroidered into her work
lifted to the light where she can see and make
our shape and color.
With all the outpouring of support, feet coming through the door, standing on the floor an hour or more, and then the words that they gave me,
You are an inspiration.
I feel full of hope and joy.
Thank you for your invitation to grieve
For being a truth-teller.
What if my circle of dreaming women hadn’t dragged me out of the dark, safe quiet place where I wrote and never showed anyone?
What if my friend hadn’t told me a few years ago that I needed to go to graduate school in creative writing? What if she had let me quit when I couldn’t see the sense in all that debt? What if that woman we knew hadn’t listened to her heart and taken the path toward her art, forsaking her job to write her book and found her way?
My friend could not have pointed to her and said, “Look how happy she is. You need to do it. You need to be who you were meant to be.” And then when I was sure it was all a waste of time and money to spend on nothing more than trying to write something too hard to write anyway, my grad school buddy said, “No way. You cannot quit. You have to finish. I won’t let you quit.”
Because of them and so many others pushing me when I wanted to take the easy out, I didn’t give up.
I wanted to, so many late nights, so many difficult days. Until the work was finally done.
And now here I am with all this love and appreciation raining down on me
And now I let it soak my tired skin
Drink it in
And thank everyone and everything.