Cycles of Impermanence

Twenty-two years ago, she came for her last visit
the summer of mosquitoes so thick they’d attack you through your clothes,
the summer of ladybugs in the corners of the baseboard,
the summer the house was empty of much furniture,
she slept on the only bed
we camped out on foam pads on the floor
we didn’t know it would be the only time she’d visit us in our new house

While I worked in a cubicle that summer
she made beaded bracelets with my daughters
made them popcorn, took them out for ice cream
on weekends we would all explore the framed houses
being built at the end of the cul-de-sac, or walk in the park
she and I made dinners together
we watched movies, grown-ups
on the love seat, kids on the floor
she read The Little Prince to the girls at night

After three weeks she wanted to go home
return to her routine, see her church family again
sip morning coffee by the big window in the kitchen
meet a friend for lunch, visit another in the hospital
call me long distance every Sunday

On our last call, about a year after her visit
I spent too much time complaining about a minor grievance,
she suggested patience
she briefly mentioned a routine screening scheduled for that Friday;
I did not put it on the calendar, I forgot about it until my sister called
The procedure had not gone well

We packed up the kids and drove
600 miles to the home where I grew up
visiting her every day in the same hospital where I was born
I had a few conversations with her, even sang at her request
but she was ventilated in a few days, then died under sedation

Twenty-one years later I
sip morning coffee by the big window in my writing room
listen to Pema Chodron speak softly via YouTube
about impermanence, death
reminding me that each inhale and exhale is a
fractal of the larger birth and death of a body
so, I breathe, grateful that she was the one
to witness my first breath
grateful I was there for her last one


Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun, is a founding member and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in North America established for Westerners. The video I refer to in this poem is Relaxing with Impermanence.

Photo of Georgia Smith with her granddaughters (circa 1997) is from my personal collection.

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12 thoughts on “Cycles of Impermanence

      1. That’s an intriguing though, LuAnne. I know the opposite of light is dark, but is the opposite of love hate, another strong emotion, or indifference? Is the opposite of such a primal sensation such as pain, another primal sensation, like pleasure, or nothingness?

        Liked by 1 person

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