The Trimurti: A Birthing Poem

Posted on February 11, 2010. Filed under: Changes, death, Friendship, Mormon Life, Mormon women, motherhood, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , |

My new little one.

by Alisa

Twelve days ago, I gave birth to my first baby. As I labored in the hospital, I was aware that I would be missing my dear oldest friend’s great big birthday bash that night. Diagnosed eight months ago with neuro-endocrine cancer, my friend recently learned she probably has less than six months to live. Deciding not to wait for her birthday later on in the year, a huge party was organized in her honor.

While I am overflowing with joy at the birth of my son, and the birth of my motherhood, I hardly know how to begin to say goodbye to someone who has always been there with me, through nursery, primary, junior high and high school, boyfriends, weddings, and more. I am struck by how seemingly polar opposites can hit our lives at the same time.

The Trimurti

I wore a necklace throughout my pregnancy
A trinity charm, swirled into one
Creator, Sustainer, and Purger

For all three sometimes come at once
As they often do at a birth, I suppose.
I crouch upward—breathing, pushing, exhaling
With all I have and more, then sink back,
Eyes shut, catching my breath
All of the moment in my heart.

I smile then—truly
Because I know nothing but love and intensity
For this baby boy

While I lay there
Another birthday is celebrated—
Really, it isn’t exactly her birthday
But if you had less than six months
You’d celebrate early too

Thirty years, her last milestone.
Shiva, do you know you take a mother of five babes?
What do you want to purge? I dare not ask why.

The Creator smiled on us that day twenty years ago
She and I sat over our cross-stitch, two merry misses
When Mother called from two houses down
To witness a birth
My calico calm, near serene, purred her kitten into life
With her hypnotic humming

And I, struggling to do things right
Hastened to tie the thin, red thread around the chord,
When he began to chirp, hardly a mew.

The Sustainer is come to stop time.
I never watch the ticking clock
And open my eyes with ecstatic surprise,
When they place his wet, slippery body on my chest.
And the weather is so mild

February forgot its season
At my back door a crocus pushes its tender leaves upward
Childhood is not unlike motherhood: tenderly aware of only now

Motherhood is not unlike the yoke
Of rainbow connections and pulsing sensations
I love, I feel, I know, I heal
As we vibrate to the lullaby
I sing in the key of present tense

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Guest Post: Patrician

Posted on August 4, 2009. Filed under: Mormon women | Tags: , , , , , |

My mom wrote this essay in 1988, a few months after her grandmother, Juna Tye Peterson died.  The painting, Juna Tye Peterson mopping the kitchen floor at 342 W Vernon, was painted by by grandfather, Evan Tye Peterson.–EmilyCC

by Mary Clyde

It is her nose that I recall most vividly as I sat by her bed watching her trying to get on with the business of dying. Impractically and improbably patrician. I had decided that it must be patrician long before I knew exactly what the word meant. It looked like the word. It was proud and regal. It was a nose with a birthright. It was everything that my grandmother was not.

I saw it duplicated on her sons to a more handsome and fitting effect, but in that transfer it lost some of its power. And though she was not elegant nor aristocratic, she was powerful. On her death bed she was not powerful. Her skin was white, her hair was white, the sheets were white. And she whispered, “Help me.” I smiled with stupid encouragement. (more…)

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Remembering our Loved Ones: What would you ask?

Posted on May 14, 2009. Filed under: Belief, death, Family, Mormon Life, parenting | Tags: , , |


by Alisa

Most of us have had someone close to us pass away. Occasionally there’s something sensory or tangible we have to remember them by, other times we have only our memories. My grandpa passed away when I was nine, but I have a CD (made from a tape recording) of a fireside he did for his posterity. It means so much to me now to listen to it with my adult perspective.

My father is seriously ill. My dad’s doctor has prepared him with about a year to live. Right now he feels OK, but I know over time his energy will deteriorate.

We have a special bond, he and I. Although I usually consider my parents’ home a strictly patriarchal one, he raised me nearly identically to my two older brothers, encouraging me in my aptitude for math and science. He suggested I become an engineer like him, and when I instead turned to English, he suggested that I would make a good technical writer (my current profession). These gifts of encouragement and praise make me want to take advantage of the time we have now, while he still feels relatively well, to create those things I want to remember him by.

I like my grandpa’s CD because the audio medium very much appeals to me. I hear a lot of a personality in vocal inflections, and I’m more likely to listen to a CD than watch a video. My MiL suggested that I interview my dad for NPR’s StoryCorps. Unfortunately, I missed the travelling StoryCorps van at my city by a matter of weeks, but going to their site has got me started on a list of some good questions I want to ask my dad as we create the audio recording I will to use to remember him. It may not get archived in the Library of Congress, but it will reamin with me, which is what’s important.

My current list is 40 questions long, but here are a few of them:

  • What is your favorite memory of me?
  • How do you think you and I are similar?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
  • Do you remember any of the bedtime stories you used to tell me? Can you describe them now?
  • Was there a teacher or teachers who had a particularly strong influence of your life? Tell me about them.
  • How would you describe a perfect day when you were young?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • What were your parents like?
  • What was it like to have your mother pass away while you were away on a mission?
  • What was it like to be a child during the start of the cold war?
  • What do you enjoy most about hiking in nature?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What was the most profound spiritual moment of your life?
  • What do you think the afterlife will be like?
  • What would you like to say when you meet God?
  • Can you tell me about your illness?
  • Do you look at your life differently now than before you were diagnosed?
  • If you were to give advice to me or children to come in our family, what would it be?
  • What have you learned from life? The most important things?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

I want to ask you, what would you want to know from your parents, grandparents, and close loved ones? What questions would you ask? If you could now ask one thing of someone who has departed, what would it be? If you had only limited time to spend with someone you loved, what would you do to make sure you remember them?

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Answers to Prayer, Sometimes

Posted on July 22, 2008. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , , |

by Jessawhy

Often, I want to write about my latest doctrinal question, or the most disturbing affront to feminism I witnessed in my ward last week. But today I want to talk about occasional answers to prayers.
I don’t pray as much or as long as I used to. Prayer is harder for me because so many of my questions go unanswered.
However, sometimes I get answers to prayers and that’s a much bigger deal to me now than it ever has been.

And because I imagine some of you feel like I do, I want to make this thread a place where you can share if you have had an answer to prayer despite significant questions or angst.
For those of us who get small or big answers, frequently or infrequently, it’s nice to have someone who really understands what that means. EmilyCC called me the other day to tell me about a small but special spiritual experience she had during a rough day. I was so grateful for her story that reminded me how important it is to have someone who can recognize the blessings within the struggles. Also, my choosing to notice these answers as blessings and tell them to others is an indication that I do want to improve my relationship with God.

So here are a few. Some of these are obviously silly, insignificant things, but sometimes those are good to notice.

1. Lost I
One Sunday I was wearing a dress that has a ribbon around the waist, I ran around all morning looking for the *!%*# ribbon. The dress does NOT look good without the accent ribbon, and I didn’t have time to change. “Please, God, help me find the ribbon.”
Ta Da! There it is. And I told my Primary children God answered my prayer that morning.

2. Lost II
Another lost item, a library DVD. We looked for 2 straight days and eventually found it. (not immediately after the prayer, but I am so grateful I don’t owe the library $15, I will attribute it to God, or perhaps a heavenly media power)

On a more serious note. . .
3. Damming the Pain
My close friend’s baby died a month ago and it has been really rough on me. I find myself crying at random times during the day and thinking about it at night.
One night while praying with my husband and asking God to bless her and her family with peace, I felt the familiar wave of grief coming on (usually accompanied by tears). But this time, right before the melt-down, I felt something different. It was like a dam stopped the wave. It wasn’t there, the pain and tears didn’t come.
It was really amazing. And I have a hope that God is helping her by damming the pain occasionally as well.

4. Health and Well-Being
My two oldest sons have severe hemophilia, and we’ve always prayed for their health, and they’ve always been healthy. Thanks to advanced treatment, and God, neither of our boys has had a bleed in years. It’s really miraculous that they lead such normal, healthy lives.

My struggle with understanding God, the gospel, the church, and my place in it is still very difficult for me. But, I can only feel frustration and angst for so many hours of the day. Looking for the blessings and answers to prayers is a way that I try to make peace with my struggle.
It also shows God that I’m doing my part and maybe in the future, I’ll receive more answers to some of my deeper questions.

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Relief Society Lesson 14: Words of Hope and Consolation at the Time of Death

Posted on July 17, 2008. Filed under: Mormon Life, Relief Society Lessons | Tags: , , |

Death of the Virgin
by Fra Angelico, 1433-34

This lesson kind of bugs me. Ok, it bugs the crap out of me; there’s not a lot of practical advice on how to be helpful or speak to someone who is grieving. Are we really going to spout Joseph Smith’s advice to not mourn when our friend looses a baby, a spouse, a parent?

Still, I think this is a great opportunity to talk about some subjects we Westerners are often uncomfortable with: death and mourning. (more…)

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Young Widows in the Church: Are they disadvantaged?

Posted on May 19, 2008. Filed under: Mormon women | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Young Widowby Jessawhy

A recent tragedy in my stake has renewed my questions about the church’s stance on sealings in the afterlife. Our stake president’s son suddenly died at age 34 leaving a young wife and four small children. I can’t even imagine the pain that this family faces and the months and years ahead of trying to cope with the loss of their son, husband, and father.

Although I’ve never met her, I put myself in the shoes of the young widow. How would I feel if I had just lost my husband? I’m sure her grief and concern for her and her children’s future is overwhelming. Still, I wonder if in a few years will this woman want to remarry? There would be benefits to having a father-figure in the home. I hope that she has the opportunity to find a loving man who will be a good husband and father. However, I wonder if her chances are lower somehow compared to women who have never been married in the temple. Because of her sealing to her deceased husband, she is not on the market eternally, even though she may be available for the next 60 years or so. Perhaps this concept is of very little importance to potential mates, but perhaps it is. The church emphasizes the eternal nature of families so much that men may find it less desirable to marry someone who could not be sealed to them eternally. Therefore, I think that a young widow is potentially disadvantaged in terms of remarriage. Of course, the dynamic is different for a young widower, since men can have multiple wives sealed to them for eternity (although they may feel they are betraying their first wife by marrying again). (more…)

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President Hinckley Passes

Posted on January 28, 2008. Filed under: announcements | Tags: , , , |

According to a recent DeseretNews update, President Hinckley passed away at 7 pm tonite. Perhaps you can each share your stories about the prophet and how he impacted your life.

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Posted on June 27, 2007. Filed under: death | Tags: , , , , |

Watch your husband. If you are lucky—should he die in your presence—scoop him up and shovel him into the cellar; give him the kiss of half-life to keep his circulation going; stick a needle full of blood anti-coagulant into him; then cool his body with ice packs which you should have prepared earlier. Wrap him in blankets and freeze him with dry ice to minus 150 degrees Farenheit. Now move him into a capsule of liquid nitrogen which will freeze him to minus 320 degrees but—and this is the hard part—don’t drop him, for should he accidentally slip to the floor (cold cellar tiles, frozen spouse), he will shatter like a ton of glass—a million icy shards of husband everywhere—terrible mess.Then, rest in hope that cryonics, or “cryopreservation”—using extreme cold to preserve “living” tissue—will keep him intact until future medical skills can de-ice him and reverse the cause of his death, whether the icky ticker, the organ moribund, the circling C of cancer cells, curling like a finger, beckoning. (You say he died of old age? Nonsense. It is not legal to die of old age, no death certificate can say that; you must die in a clinical category.)

Of course, people have always wanted life after death, in heaven or in books, through fame or through their children.
-Jay Griffiths, A Sideways Look at Time.

In the PBS Documentary The Mormons, prominent intellectual Harold Bloom stated:

Of all religions that I know, the one that most vehemently and persuasively defies and denies the reality of death is the original Mormonism of the prophet, seer and revelator Joseph Smith.

Out of the whole documentary, this statement is what most stuck with me, perhaps because I’ve been pondering my own mortality as well as how I might cope with the death of, say, my husband. Joseph Smith seemed fairly concerned with death–many of the revelations he sought and recieved seemed to be well-suited to ease his anxiety over death. It is easier in many ways to believe that those things we are attached to . . . our bodies, our families, our friends, will continue on just as they are now.

On the show Six Feet Under , which looks at myriad ways people deal with death, and with living, a grieving woman asks the funeral director, “Why do people have to die?” His answer: “To make life important. None of us know how long we’ve got, which is why we have to make each day matter.”

A while ago I took a class on all the various aspects of aging. The professor started off the class by asking us, “If you could take a magic pill that would make you live until you’re 150, would you?”

Some in the class answered that of course they would. Others considered that the relationships that make life meaningful would all be gone by then, so it might not be worth it. Still others said that they might become lazy, knowing they had much more time to live out their life. A sense of urgency or responsibility might be lost. As much as the capriciousness and unpredictability of death might frighten me, knowing the exact age I would die stirs in me an even greater unease. Not knowing spurs me to make each moment count, to be here in this moment, every moment.

I can’t say how I will react when major tragedy and loss comes into my life, as it most inevitably will. Nor can I say how I will feel when my own death seems sooner rather than later. I’m sure it will test and transform me in ways I cannot currently conceive. However, I think facing into the abyss rather than closing my eyes to it is what will ultimately help me do what work I have here and now. I am grateful for this limited, mortal body I have. The fleeting fragility and tenuousness of life, like a short-lived butterfly or spring flower, is what makes it most beautiful and precious.

What do you think of Harold Bloom’s statement?

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A Matter of Life (Support) or Death

Posted on December 7, 2006. Filed under: health | Tags: , , |

After a couple of days off, I returned to work with a renewed sense of vigor. As usual, I arrived a few minutes early and checked my assignment. My eye then wandered to the patient board, and noticed that a couple of the regular names were missing. And I felt … relieved.

I’m a pediatric intensive care nurse. I work at a level one trauma center in southern California. With the latest technology, continuing research and up-to-the-minute trained staff, we treat some of the sickest children on the west coast … so it’s not all smiles and balloons. We manage children, who have temporary organ dysfunction, with medicines, machines and therapies that sustain or mimic the brain, heart, lungs, stomach/intestines, kidneys or skin until the organs recover or can be repaired. We all live for that moment when a patient is able to transfer to the floor, or go home altogether.

However, sometimes we get children in the PICU who are just dying. Not in the vague, kind-of sick, “we’re all closer to dying than we were when we were born” type of dying. No. It’s the incurable, unavoidable, painful, life-support dependent, severe brain or other major organ injury, and drugged type of dying. Trauma, incurable cancers or metabolic disorders, near drownings.

Sometimes a lot of what we do in the PICU is help the parents and family begin the process of grieving and letting go. Most families do a lot of praying, and there are a lot of friends from church and community who come to visit and say their goodbyes. It can be peaceful. We can withdraw life support, let the families hold their child during the last hours, give them privacy and peace in which to say their goodbyes, providing medicines that keep the child comfortable until the end.

However, sometimes the child is just so sick that the end is very traumatic … code blues, defibrillators, chest compressions, chaos, parents keening with grief. Sometimes the parents are just so overwhelmed that even the idea of a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate, in the event of a code blue) or withdrawal is untenable. In which case, as long as the child is not clinically brain dead, we continue to do everything we can to sustain the child’s life. Even if we don’t agree.

There’s generally a lot of praying in these cases as well. And it’s generally very determined. Parents at the bedside chanting. Loud group prayers. Demanding miracles. Which leads me to wonder, what ever happened to, “Thy will be done?” Most people believe in the concept of the soul, and that we will continue to exist after death, and that generally good people go to heaven. It’s what most people live for … to die as a good person. So, what is it that moves these parents to prolong their child’s suffering? Is it fear that there is no heaven? Fear of loneliness for themselves? A need to cling to the barest scraps of life? I don’t know, and I can’t really judge them. I just wonder, and hope to provide as much comfort as I can.

As for myself, I’ve already had the talk with my parents and siblings. None of us has any desire to live on machines in the event of a terminal illness with no reasonable hope of recovery, or a severe insult to the brain that would leave us mentally incapacitated. It’s just not worth it. Our philosophy? “I’ll see you on the other side.”

So, what are your thoughts on life support and death? Do you have an advanced directive that spells out how you would like to be cared for in case you are incapacitated? Have you talked with your family about how you would like to be treated if incapacitated? Keep in mind that advanced directives can generally be trumped by a living relative, so being in accord is important. Have you ever had to deal with making these decisions for a loved one? Do you have a will? Do you have insurance … health, AD&D, life, etc? I know it’s not the type of thing that people ever want to think about. But it’s literally a matter of life and death.

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Exponent II Classics: December Departure

Posted on September 18, 2006. Filed under: Classics, Mormon Life | Tags: , , |

Grandma’s stuffy house smelled of stale garbage and dust. The golden December sun made a brilliant window-print on the worn quilt that covered Grandma and the floral couch. She was in a semi-coma; the doctor said that she may live for several hours or even a few days. Her final words were: “No hospitals, no hospitals.”

I realize that no one gets a written invitation to a death, but I felt like an intruder as I watched Grandma die. Her sons and daughters-in-law were rightfully there, as well as Kent, her unofficial favorite grandchild. But as a granddaughter-in-law that had shared less than one-tenth of her life, I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious, like a seventh-grader in her first P.E. shower.

I sat on the kitchen chair in the most remote corner of the tiny room, feeling guilty for not visiting Grandma a month ago when she first started to fail. “As soon as the baby comes,” I had told Ken, “we’ll go see Grandma.” But Spencer came late, and even though I held my week-old son that day, I knew that she would never see him.

Grandma’s breathing was shallow and irregular, and after every breath, I would wonder, “Is that the last breath? Do people usually die so quietly and submissively, or is the last breath a violent gasp like the fireworks finale on the Fourth of July?” Occasionally Grandma would make a low, gurgling noise, and her body would shudder as if her spirit were struggling to break free. Then everyone would gather around to see if perhaps she would gain consciousness and say new final words.

I wanted to ask her what it felt like to die. Sore and emotional from the labor of a week ago, I wanted to know if dying is like giving birth. Is death, like birth, a longed-for deliverance, the beginning of a new life? Does an infirm, eighty-six-year-old widow anticipate death the same way an overdue mother-to-be looks forward to birth? I felt that we were timing her breaths like labor pains—never knowing which would be the last.

Grandma’s skin was a lifeless, grayish color, and her hair was thin and yellow-white. I tried to picture her twenty-five years younger with a freckled, blond grandson hollering through the unlocked screen door. Kent grew up next door to Grandma, and I knew that she was the part of him that I loved the most. She was pancakes and syrup when he skipped Sunday School at her house. She was earth-brown fingers that showed him how to garden. She was corny jokes and a box of stale chocolates, an unclipped, sliver-haired poodle, and his first (and only) sip of beer. Most of all, she adored Kent, and I loved her for that.

The afternoon flowed slowly and peacefully. The clock chimed every half-hour. The furnace silently turned on and off, making the already warm house seem unbearable. Aunt Mary served dry tuna fish sandwiches. We whispered about the weather and Christmas and if the funeral should be on Thursday or Friday. The peaceful melody of the room smothered a screaming voice within me, “Grandma, I need to know, ‘How does it feel to die? Are you afraid?’”

The sun slowly faded, and a dim lamp made Grandma’s face look waxy and artificial. For a few moments, it seemed as though her breathing had stopped. We checked our watches. Then we watched her take one final, troubled breath, struggling and straining for air like a chocked newborn gasping for life outside the womb. Afterwards, there was a silence. In the peaceful moments after Grandma’s death, the room turned dark and cold. I silently mourned as I sensed that my unanswered questions, like the tiny flecks of dust illuminate by a dim lamp, would slowly fade but would never disappear.

Annette Evans
Mapleton, Utah
Vol. 14, No. 4 (1989)

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