The book is closed, the pages read,
The heart, the hand that kept and fed,
The journey walked, the words all said,
The wall is done retaining —

The shadows lengthen, as they will,
And winter slinks in, with its chill,
No more is added to the bill,
For all that’s left

Is staining

Friday morning, 3:13 a.m.

He worked with wood in an old workshop in the back of the house. A lathe, a saw, a sander. It always smelled like lumber and sawdust.

He would carefully match and fit grooves and notches. A shelf, or a cabinet would gradually appear, perfectly smooth surfaces. Built thoughtfully, to be a sturdy as possible.

I watched, silently, with the eyes of a son. Wood, that old and sacred material, shaped slowly and purposefully. An ancient rite (with a smattering of modern tools thrown in) that had been going on for many hundreds of years.

At the very end, when the work seemed finished, he would stain the wood. I knew that staining was very much like painting, but painting wood was a surface sort of thing, and staining was something deeper, more thoroughgoing. Or at least, that is how it seemed.

All around our house sat the products of his hands. Our stereo cabinet. Bookshelves. Mantle by the fireplace. Even a harpsichord. He thought through them, shaped them, built them, stained them.

Friday morning, 4:47 a.m.

My brother arrived here Thanksgiving around 3:00 in the afternoon. However, our mother had been asleep that entire day, and she stayed that way after he arrived. She had been up the prior two days, if you can call being moved from a bed to a chair, eating a few bites of food and staring at a TV, “being up”. Which I do, because she was alert and aware, and speaking.

He and I, who hadn’t seen each other in over five years, went to dinner after visiting hours. We talked, ate, and walked around for a few minutes after. My brother, my sister and I own a series of memories that no one else in the world is privy to. We didn’t talk about those, though. We mostly talked about the sort of random subjects we always have. And laughed — a lot. That felt good.

I have spent the last two-and-a-half weeks trying to do what I could for my mother, which is not much, because there is not much that can be done. I will now leave that to him. Our sister did the same thing for two weeks before I arrived. We will all return here at least once more, when the inevitable happens.

When someone has died, you sometimes hear questions, like: what is worse, a sudden or a slow death?

Answer: the death where someone dies is the worst kind.

In fact, I don’t even know what the question even means, other than it is still one more example of humankind’s fascination with turning everything into some kind of perverse competition.

Friday morning, 7:17 a.m.

Around my mother’s room in the nursing home are what is left of a lifetime of accumulating the kind of stuff people accumulate. She collected burro figurines, and there are quite a few of those. Pictures of my father, and her three children. A few other family photos, including one of my wife and me.

When she and my father moved west, they got rid of a lot of stuff. After he died and she moved into an apartment, she got rid of still more, then still more when she went to assisted living, and still more when being moved into the nursing home.

Whittled away, liked edges of wood. Everything fit into notches. Nothing left but the staining.

I don’t know if she will be awake today, or if she will ever wake up again. But I know she is just about ready.

Just about ready.

Friday evening, 5:38 p.m.

She did wake up, Friday afternoon. Smiled at my brother and me, and introduced us to the social worker as her handsome sons.

Asked for something to eat and drink. Told us now glad she was to see us.

I know I’ll be back here soon. But I guess I’m ready, too.

To go home, that is.

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5 Thoughts to “Staining

  1. I love wood stain.
    And I think the analogy is pretty good too 🙂
    I really really don’t look forward to being in your situation. But if I’m ever in it, I hope I can be as practical and as present and as memory-filled as you seem to be.
    Have a safe journey back.

  2. Like most sons and daughters I’ve been there. Now I find I am divesting myself of things that I’ve held precious, but which will be nothing more than an inconvenience to those left behind. When I and my 2 sisters got together, after Mum died, we had a really great time, skipping to the various offices to sort things out, remembering the good times, and reverting to childhood. Peace, and blessings to your mother, and to you and your family.

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