Updated: Feb 7, 2021
I think so often of the poem my mother asked to be recited at her "Going Away Party," (as she insisted it be called), Death is Nothing at All (see poem below). From the first moment I read the poem, which I found the day she passed away amongst her things, I knew immediately that it would serve as a continual source of reassurance as I moved through my grief over her death. I was filled with gratitude that she left it for me, for us, as a confirmation of her love and beliefs. I know that she chose this particular poem, purposefully, as a compass of sorts, on how we should navigate the dark waters of grief, brought on by her death. There are endless sayings and poems on death, with varying tones of sadness, that she could have chosen. But instead, she chose this one. This was her stance on death and it was unequivocal.
In the five months since she passed, it has become evident to me, time and again, why it was this particular poem she chose. She chose it not only to reassure us of her continued presence in our lives, which is the overriding message of the poem but also because of the ease it has given us, in continuing to live our lives while still honoring her memory. I believe that even without the direction of the poem she left behind, this is how we would have grieved her. Even in death my mother and I were aligned in our beliefs and points of view.
The children and I go to the cemetery to visit my mom every other weekend, or so. We always tie it in with a visit to Descanso Gardens, where we discover a new trail we have never ventured on or more recently, take note of the new blooms on the camellia bushes and trees, which are at their peak in these winter months. We wander through the thousands of bushes and marvel at the varying shapes of the camellia blooms, all in magnificent hues of pinks and whites. We take long walks through the park, sit on charming wooden benches under the shaded canopies of large oak trees and immerse ourselves in the tranquility of this beautiful place. No matter what has transpired in the week prior or what challenges we may be facing in the week to come, we always feel more relaxed and optimistic after our visit.
As the time draws close to three, like clockwork, we wind down our visit, make the long walk back to the car and begin the ten-minute drive to Forest Lawn to visit my mom.
We look forward to our visits. The minute we pull up, the kids jump out of the car and gather whatever flowers or gifts we have brought. They run to where my mom and grandmother are buried and check things out. The last visit, two weeks ago, my mom's gravestone had been newly-placed, which was a lot for us to take in. This week, we noticed that our flowers from the previous visit were still in the vases, looking a bit weathered and tired, but there nonetheless. We enjoy our visits and find them to be uplifting and a wonderful way to connect with my mom.
But here is the strange part. We have come to realize is that my mother knows we are coming. That's right, she knows we are coming. Without fail, and almost always at the same spot on the 101 freeway heading east, on comes Let it Be by The Beatles. This was one of the three songs she asked to be played at her funeral, so it has now become her song. Rarely do we hear it in the two weeks between our visits, but then, without fail, as we are heading to see her, on comes her song. It has become quite predictable and comforting, rather than spooky (as admittedly, it was at first). We are becoming accustomed to her not-so-subtle acknowledgment that she is anticipating our arrival. Less shocked each time it happens, we are now comforted by her letting us know that she is looking forward to our visit.
Yesterday, we brought a lovely picnic blanket and laid it out next to her and my grandmother. After carefully placing Valentine's Day gifts we brought, on their graves, we all sat down and settled into some quality-time with Granny. The kids told her stories of what happened this week (a return to part-time school for the three little kids and an exciting project shared by Garin). We told her about some of our favorite meals we prepared this week (Indian food, homemade pizzas, and a delicious lemon ricotta cake). We shared our plans for the Super Bowl today (I am making one of my favorite stand-by recipes that I created especially for the Super Bowl when I worked for the Los Angeles Times Food Section). We shared some funny things that happened this week and also some of our more challenging moments. We just shared our life with her, as I would have when I used to call her on the phone. It was that casual. It was that easy. It was that natural. Just as she had wanted it to be.
As the sun started to set and it was time to go, we all put kisses on her grave and said our goodbyes. We told her we would see her again soon and how very much we loved her. We folded up our picnic blanket and headed to the car. As we started to make the peaceful drive down the long and winding roads, out of the cemetery, I reached over and turned on the radio. Let it Be started to play. It was Mom saying goodbye to us this time, we surmised. She wanted us to know who happy and appreciative she was for our visit.
The pleasure was ours, Mom.
Death is Nothing at All
by Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!