My cousin Maureen
November 15, 2007
My cousin Maureen is dying. I went up to Boston to visit her earlier this week, after receiving a phone call on Saturday evening from my aunt, who told me that, after falling out of bed one morning last week and being too weak to get up, Maureen was found to have a brain tumor, and that the cancer had already metastasized and spread throughout her body.
I spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights getting poor sleep, fighting a strange mix of toxic feelings, and thinking of all the pious and edifying things I would say when I saw her, none of which, thank God, I actually said. I sat in the room while other relatives talked mostly about the weather, the beautiful view from the hospital window, and cooking.
Maureen celebrated her sixtieth birthday this past September. Her family threw a birthday party for her at the historic Wayside Inn in Sudbury; I asked if I could attend, and was told I could. Later that evening I wrote a poem, which I subjoin.
Maureen never married. She taught nursing for some years at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, until chronic health problems forced her to discontinue. For nearly two decades she rented an apartment downstairs at my aunt and uncle’s home in Brookline; for awhile, during the late 1980’s when I was working on my dissertation, I lived upstairs from her, and it was at that time that I began to know her better. A strongly independent woman with a large heart and a sharp intellect, fiercely loyal to her friends and long nursing, along with her physical wounds, the wounds of real or perceived slights.
I had sent Maureen a copy of the following poem and had not heard back from her, so, when I saw her on Tuesday, I asked her if she liked it. She broke into a big smile, and said she loved it; she said it captured the mood of the occasion very well.
That is the best critical review I could have asked for. I reckon it is a sufficient imprimatur for me to reproduce the poem here.
Please remember Maureen in your prayers.
* * *
The city as an artifact of time
is what each tree that lines the boulevard
embodies in itself, and what the stones
declare, which speak the generations past
and present which have had their being here,
who are as much a part now of the place
as are the stones and trees and autumn weather,
a part of its inestimable wealth.
From the Wayside Inn we drove this night
along the old Post Road, then down Route 30
into the city, past Regis College
and Boston College, then onto Beacon Street.
Upon our left the T showed its new cars:
green, glassy, angular. Upon the right
a church where I once sang, then Star Market
being refurbished, where my uncle turned
(hitting the curb) onto a road that took us
down past the high school where my mother went,
then round a bend to the Sioras home.
It was a tracing backward of the route
of Paul Revere, at least in part. The cause
of this journey was a celebration
of my cousin’s sixtieth birthday, my
cousin Maureen. Her mother and siblings
were there, with niece and nephew, aunts, uncles,
and me. A lithograph of Longfellow
hung on the wall behind my aunt Theresa.
Maureen, pale and fragile, but dignified,
wore a corsage, a white dress and sweater,
a red and orange kerchief. Her sisters
laughed and chatted, joking with their brother;
the niece and nephew bantered with each other
and with their parents; my uncle spoke to me
about how people used to buy postcards
instead of taking pictures, and how he once
bought someone’s postcards for a bargain price,
and what those postcards said. Yet Maureen
was all the while the center of attention,
the reason for our being there, a kind
of silent witness to the mystery
of life and death. Her niece tied the ribbons
of opened presents upon her left arm.
The food was good. Maureen thanked everyone,
and smiled upon receiving certain books.
We showed our love as best we could, and she
appreciated it graciously.
She looked a little stronger than when I’d
last seen her, and she seemed, upon the whole,
to enjoy the whole thing immensely.