Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Painting Pictures with Words

Yesterday I received the sad news that my uncle had passed away from ALS, (a disease formerly known as Lou Gehrig's disease).
I was reminded of a poem my mother wrote, shortly after Uncle Jerry was diagnosed. Her words painted a picture of that strange moment... when you are temporarily frozen in time and space as your mind comes to grips with something.  An experience that was repeated, for me, when my mom told me about his passing.
As I went back and found her original poem, I realized it was written less than a year ago.  It seems like too short a time to prepare for this news.
Words have to power to sooth and comfort us as much as they can startle us and hurt us. Not that it offers any explanation of why these things happen, or insight about the afterlife or existential meaning. But I read these words and feel understood, connected through a common experience.

(With her permission), this is my mother's poem:

Suspended Animation
by Kathleen A. O'Brien

The phone rings:
“I have something to tell you.”
How the mind can race in the void.
How the hands of the clock pause.

Time stops, like a Jack-in-the-Box at the last crank.
The moment inhale converts to exhale.
The expectation, the blood pressure spike,
when words are pitched into space.

“I wanted you to know before
you found out from someone else.”
The roller coaster apex before descent.
Vacuum of feelings as the mind computes.

Like an unopened letter
from the IRS,
Like flashing red lights
in the rear-view mirror.

On the phone:
news given,
yet not accepted.
What to say now.


  1. So sorry Kate for your family's loss. Such a beautiful poem by your Mum. Love to all xx