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Tonight will mark three years since I lost my mother, Patricia Herzberg, to lung cancer and Covid. Below I post a poem that I wrote shortly after she passed.

The poem's title comes from one of my mother's favorite prayers, the Memorare, in which the person offering the prayer seeks the aid and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary during a time of great need. Part of the lore around this prayer is related to St. Francis de Sales. Filled with despair over the fate of his immortal soul, St. Francis began praying the Memorare and credited it with soothing his angst. I'm sure that my mother prayed it many times during the last several months of her suffering.

My poem basically has two sections written in markedly different styles, making it intentionally disjointed, though not very pretty. The first section of my poem, written in five-line free verse stanzas, is a description of my emotions at my mother's death, revealing my own angst about life and death.

My poem's second section is an attempt to answer my son's question about the afterlife. I mimic Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening" for several reasons. An obvious one is the winter setting, which connects with the cold rain in the first part of my poem, though gentler, the way we try to quiet our spirit after experiencing loss. Also, Frost's juxtaposition of sing-songy iambic tetrameter with the more serious theme of loneliness on an unfinished journey seemed to fit my attempts to explain a serious topic to a child, including those that adults struggle to make sense of.

Our world, humbled and shuttered.

Millions sick and suffering.

And then my own mother,

Weak from cancer,

And her toxic treatments.

On my screen, I watch her wither,

Those brutal, closing days:

Muttering her misery,

With un-opening eyes,

Granted one final fleeting visit.

Through sterile gloves, I stroke her fingers.

The foggy mask muffling my sobs.

Her tiny body, heaving and broken,

I whisper my thanks, then grant her leave.

But I stay not, too weak to linger.

From the graveyard, I wander, orphaned.

Soaked by icy rain, I plod homeward,

Un-cheered by my neighbors’ Christmas lights.

I hug my sons, sad and sweet,

And through tears, gift a grateful smile.

One asks, “Dad, is there a heaven?”

Years of Catholic schooling

Leave only wisps of faith.

At a loss, I channel Frost,

Trying to answer his quandary.

Is there a Heav’n? I do not know.

One day I hope to get there, though.  Despite my doubts, I often pray

That I may reach it when I go.

If this is all there is for me,

Then marked as very blessed, I’d be:

With two fine sons, and many years

Of good health and prosperity.

Yet I wish more than this brief stay,

To laugh, to love, to touch, to play;

So missing those whom I have lost,

And long to hold again someday.

Is there a Heav’n? I wish I knew.

But know this truth, I surely do:

Today my joy is here, with you.

Today my joy is here, with you.

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