We all have many dates to keep track of. For me, there are some that have resonance without my immediately knowing why. And then I remember. Earlier in the month, I realized July 21st was in the back of my mind. Then it came into focus as an important personal day. It’s the birthday of my sister-in-law, Susan Polly, who died of pancreatic cancer in December of 2011 after a difficult, yet important and somehow graceful year. We emailed each other frequently during her illness and I miss her. I know her family is marking this day with both sadness and the legacy of laughter she left them.
July 21st is also the day my father died. It was two years ago, and he had lived a very, very long and good life. I think of him with pride. He was a complex man who became more transparent with age, his sweetness and charm more often than not banishing the ghosts he’d accumulated in nearly a century of a life filled with challenges and accomplishments.
To honor this day, I’ve asked my wonderful friend Patricia Zontelli for the loan of her wonderful poem,“The Parents Are Leaving.” I’m reproducing it here for the Polly family and for my parents’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren—and my brother and me. It’s also for everyone else who can identify with the spirit of its words, especially the Turner family for, with the odd timing of life, my husband’s older sister, Sheila, has just died after a many-years struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s. She had a warm and generous heart, and this tribute belongs to her, too.
The Parents Are Leaving
by Patricia Zontelli
They think we don’t need them anymore
so they are quietly departing this world
through black slits in night skies
or as dust motes, rising to the sun.
They do, however, return.
My mother still climbs a stairway
to check if I sleep
or if I want. My mother, dead
eight months now, her eyes, her hands
still searching for peace, she
dances swift then slow in the air
of this high-winded autumn morning.
We are part of the same waltz, time
suspends us in its midst: autumn
trails summer, winter
behind autumn, I follow roads
my ancestors followed,
scattering their bounty. Outdoors,
my mother bends with the trees
setting down without ceremony
small crackling gifts.
Note: “The Parents Are Leaving” is from Patricia Zontelli’s Edith Jacobson Begins to Fly, New Rivers Press, 1992.