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You Never Know When the Last Time Is

Mama died 30 years ago on June 10, 1987. From the time of her diagnosis to her dying was 31 days. The doctor predicted she had months to live, but once she knew it was over, she gave in to the process.

She gave me many gifts. The last gift she gave me was during that last month, in the early days when she could still talk. She said, ‘I want you to know I’ve had a happy life. I’ve been happy.’ And she had — in spite of all the reasons I felt she had not to be happy. She was a happy person, she was born happy, she lived happy. In my mind’s eye, she’s always laughing. Whenever she appears in my dreams, she’s laughing and telling me what a good time she’s having.

I spent her last month with her. That, too, was a gift — just the two of us most of the time in that house on Jackson Street. The day lilies in the back yard were blooming. Green had taken over our neighborhood. Everything outside was trying to live, bloom, grow. Inside, Mama was dying.

I wrote the following poem about the last Saturday of her life, June 6, 1987. I didn’t know it was the last Saturday. I learned then and I learn over and over that you never know when the last time is.

Soppy Biscuits

She had a brain tumor but was lucid
She could speak only with her eyes
but they could express what there was
left to express

It was her last Saturday morning
but I didn’t know it.
To surprise her
I made soppy biscuits —
biscuits crumbled into sweet, milky coffee —
something her father made for her
when she was an adored, black-haired child
in a family of red-headed Irish.
He took her on his lap
spoon fed her soppy biscuits,
her reward
for being his favorite.

I made the biscuits, sweetened the coffee,
poured in some heavy cream.
When I said, ‘Mama,
I made you soppy biscuits’
her eyes let me know
she remembered her own story
and was grateful I’d remembered.
I crumbled those biscuits
into the caramel-colored coffee
held her up off the bed
moved a spoonful to her mouth
She took one bite
let it linger in her mouth
swallowed
lay back on the bed
closed her eyes.
Were those tears?
Did she know?

Did she know
I was the living daughter and
the dead father at once
joining her two worlds:
The one she was about to leave
And the one she was soon to join.

© 2017 Dorothy Kirk