Spiritual Care Counselor Bette Birnbaum is often moved to poetry by her experiences with families in hospice. Here is one of her recent poems:
She learned early on not to throw away love
but rather amass, accumulate, assemble, and accrue it.
She remembers the painful ritual.
Every week her mother tossed her precious stuffed dog in the trash,
and every week she rescued the frayed toy from the bin
just moments before the garbage workers hauled it away.
Her mother chided: You don’t need that thing anymore.
And she would think while hugging the dog tight: Oh, yes I do.
Collecting was her best revenge.
Collecting full-bodied ceramic angels and Lladro nuns,
colorful teapots and figurines of beagle dogs,
penguins large and small, soft, porcelain, and plastic,
Snoopies, Belleek china, Warriors swag.
And even badgers, including the taxidermied, snarling specimen
standing watch over the stacks on her dining-room table.
Each piece has pride of place
in her house groaning with so much stuff that it would take a month to dust
and by the time you were finished you would have to start over again.
She collected relationships:
family members, friends acquaintances,
and was just tickled that 20 women with her same first name
regularly collected for coffee in a café near her country cabin.
It didn’t matter to her that she was too sick to go–
the gathering principle was thrill enough.
Now, bald-headed and burning-eyed,
she is dispersing her love.
Slowly, deliberately, she decides who will get what,
sharing the story of the items one by one
while she supervises relatives who carefully wrap them in tissue paper
and nestle them in their original boxes
which she saved, of course.
The objects become denser and weightier with the anecdotes
her people will repeat by heart after she is gone.
Long ago she learned that you don’t throw away love
but rather hold it close,
and when the time comes you make a gift of it,
because love is the gravity holding you here.