Of Seagulls, Dogs, and Memory

This summer, I have been looking through the many boxes of stuff that are evidence of life--mine, my daughter's, Mom's, and Dad's, primarily--though other family members, ancestors, and the almighty dogs of my world occupy ample space on the record, too.

Among the stuff, I found this little magazine, PenWorks, which contains the winning entries from the Trumbull (CT) Arts Festival's 20th literary competition in 1998.  I am in there twice:  I came in second with the poem "Two Seagulls in February" and earned honorable mention with "Cuchulainn."

The "Seagulls" poem captures a trip to the beach en route to a visit to my grandparents' resting place at Spring Grove Cemetery in Darien, Connecticut.   I argue in the poem that we should have scattered their remains at the beach.  My own words stopped me in my track this morning as I remember my Mom and Dad and their desire that their remains be scattered on Little Tavern Island off Norwalk, Connecticut.  This is a little island where we spent many summer weekends sunbathing, swimming, exploring (always, the hunt for lost fishing lures that might yet have some use in them), fishing, clamming...  To my knowledge, my parents remains are with their first-born daughter.  In the time since Mom passed in November, 2019, and Dad passed in May, 2020, I have wondered what her intentions are regarding carrying out my parents' wishes.

Thinking about them, writing about them, remembering them, I have come to realize they are where I am and always will be.  This summer, I have taken the time to immerse myself in grief, which is to say to face my loss squarely by reflecting on their lives, their gifts to me as parents:  values, personality, story, love.

I have taken my Mom's advice to "do something" rather than remain stuck in sorrow.  The doing has involved reading, writing, talking to friends, connecting with friends I have not seen much of over the past several years when my parents were in Pennsylvania and the last two, when Mom was fighting cancer.  As I have worked in my garden, tending the flowers Mom and Dad gave me from their garden in Pennsylvania, I have thought of their gardens over their years wherever they have been.  The hosta in my gardens came from my grandmother's garden in Darien almost 40 years ago.  Dad divided it from her garden after she passed and brought it to Danbury.  From there, he transplanted it to Newtown.  Then, he shared it with me.  I brought some of it back to him and Mom in Pennsylvania a few years ago.  There are the spider plants on my deck for summer camp that grew from my grandmother's plants that became Mom's so many years ago.

There are days I think they are just down the road, that I can go see them in Newtown.  That we'll swim together again.  That we will meet on Topsail and marvel at the sunset, and Mom will say, "It's a big, orange ball" with such wonder and pleasure as she takes out the camera and runs out back before it slips below the tree line across the Intracoastal Waterway.  Then, I fast-forward memory to more recent times and their cabin in Pennsylvania, the English country garden full of spiderwort, roses, hydrangea, and every flower I ever gave them at Easter.  To feel the cool mountain air and have "a nice hot cup of coffee"--the nectar of the gods in Mom's book. 

Humanity's story has been from the get go a search for meaning and an expression of grief when we lose loved ones.  From those Neanderthal burial sites where fallen hunter's lay at rest with weapons and the bones of bears to the Pyramids to the pyres of our ancestors to the churchyard to Spring Grove to the beach.  We mourn our loved ones.  We insist that life has meaning; we make it so before it is too late.  If I don't have their ashes, I have their words and mine, a story we share and that I write and write and write.

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