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My youngest son Jacob graduated from the 6th grade yesterday. He is 12 years old and, though that is still very young, I’m coming to the dreadful realization that it won’t be much longer till my house is empty of children. I will be scooted to the periphery of their lives—important and loved, yes, but no longer the central figure. No longer the one who manages, cooks, prods, chauffeurs, teaches, cheerleads, listens, and disciplines. The impending doom is leaving me a little unsettled.
Jacob’s teacher, Mrs. D., is dealing with a more terrible separation. In April, her oldest son took his own life. The spare details that initially reached us were heart-breaking: a recorded phone message from the school district informed parents that the elementary school and nearby junior high were on lock-out because of a body discovered in the common field between the two schools. The death occurred hours before school started and the young man was found by the junior high principal. No other faculty or students had seen anything. It wasn’t until later in the day that we learned who he was.
Children are not supposed to die before their parents or have illnesses their mothers can’t heal. I don’t know Mrs. D. well, but did what I could to express my sympathy—contributed to flowers, sent a note of sympathy—but it didn’t really felt like enough. Not knowing what else to do, I wrote this poem:
Being a mother also,
I know I can’t uproot
the pain planted in your chest
or untangle your frayed thoughts.
I can’t sweep the darkness
from under your sheltered edges
or smooth peace over you
like a clean sheet.
But I’ll try anyway—
weep with you and mourn awhile,
caress calm into your spent heart,
and remember with you
how David howled for Absalom
and how when the Lord wept
all eternity shook.
A couple of notes:
- I know it’s bad form to apologize for oneself in advance, but I’m going to anyway. They say to write what you know, but I basically only know about my family, my religion, and poetry. So that’s pretty much what you’ll get from me. Sorry!
- This poem is a finalist in the 6th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz, “the world’s premier contest for Mormon Micro-Literature”—defined as prose works under 1,000 words and poems under 30 lines. You can read other entries at Mormon Artist magazine and even vote for the grand prize winner after the last one is posted June 9. Discussion on entries is hosted by Mormon Midrashim. You don’t have to be Mormon to vote or participate in discussion.