Monday, February 20, 2017

Voices of Experience: Stepping Down

By Marianne Monson

To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.  ~ Tia Walker

Marianne Monson has worked as an editor/art director of children’s books, has authored nine books for children and adults, and continues editing and writing for a variety of audiences. She also teaches Creative Writing and English at Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon. Her latest book, Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women, is dedicated to her grandmother, who succumbed to breast cancer in August. As her mother cared for her dying grandmother, Marianne was inspired to write this touching vignette.

Dying is some of the hardest work I know. The body, accustomed to raging against the waning light for so long, doesn’t know it’s time to stop now. Like a clenched muscle that refuses to release, the emergency has long passed by, though the body will not believe it. 

My mother tucks her mother beneath blankets, pats her head like a petulant child, settles her into the beige upholstered recliner that once was great-grandmother’s chair—the perpetual throne of our family matriarch.

My mother is her mother now, her nurse, her caretaker, their roles solemnly reversed.

My grandmother once tried to feed me gasoline, mistakenly believing it was apple juice. She threw a bridal luncheon for me on her back porch, championed degrees, books, triumphs, mourned divorces, loss, and sorrows. She faced down bears on top of mountains, bossed, organized, and civilized the world.

And now her body is slipping in the direction of the ground, seemingly one cell at a time. Her breasts are gone, two scars left in their place. Her shoulders and hair are thin and frail, but her legs and feet have swollen to many times their original size, as if everything has simply slipped earthward.

Yet, she is still so beautiful, so strong, so loving. Her hand grasps mine, those hands, those same hands worn down with the work they have always found to do.

“Hello, my dear, hello,” she says in a voice both warm and fragile.

Hello never sounded so much like goodbye.

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