For What Do You Hunger?

Do you ever feel such deep hunger, as if an internal famine, and for some reason nothing in the cupboard seems to satisfy? 

I remember sitting beside my ailing mother (it could have been this exact day), a year ago, eating an entire McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with fries, but still feeling empty.

I couldn’t stop. 

I didn’t want to stop.

I wouldn’t allow myself to stop and evaluate my hunger for what it was, I knew I was not only feeding my grief, but despair, and an intense fear of living in a world without my mother.

How could I live in this world without my mother?

It’s not possible.

It would be like a perpetual power outage, no light, no heat, no refrigerator. I’d be camping in my own life. I hate camping. I’m more of a Marriott girl who brings her own pillow. 

I refused to admit her cancer was a battle we could not win, but intuitively I knew the truth, I chose to bury it under layers of food, attempting to insulate myself against a brutal reality, we are all dying, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

Reality is such a jerk.

After a pound of See’s candy I’m still not sweet.

It has been seven months since mom took her last breath and I refuse to put away the sympathy cards. Total housekeeping fail. There are boxes stacked in my closet left unopened because it would be like ripping the scab off a festering wound. I recently learned that wounds are places where vulnerabilities are exposed, like it or not, they become our ground zero. 

And bandaids are useless when the injury is deep.

Recently Nancy and I have been attempting to do Mom’s taxes (when you’re done laughing please continue reading). The numbers have to come from somewhere, apparently these sources are available only to us, and therefore I hate it all the more. 

I don’t want to figure out her taxable income or add up all the medical expenses. Calculating depreciation is outside my skill set, I could spend my entire life itemizing her deductions, but it is my deeply held belief that she had nothing but good will. And receipts. Lord have mercy, the woman kept her receipts, every single one. 

Including one for the last gift she gave me. 

Oh how the memories linger with the bills. I’m holding one in my hand for an ambulance that drove her to the hospital after she fell and split her head open. It was a ten minute drive – how does that cost over a thousand dollars? That’s when we discovered the cancer had spread. The truth is I would have paid anything not to have made that discovery. 

She kept the custom made helmet from her radiation treatments. Nancy and I decided there was no possible reason to keep it and we tossed it in the rubbish bin before we could change our minds. I don’t miss the helmet. I miss the woman who thought to keep the helmet.

April is looming so we’ve been gathering the information, using our cell phones as calculators, but the solution is underivable. 

The solution is underivable because I can’t have what I want.

And it makes me hangry.

Mom and I had so many “important talks” before the silence took over. I’ve come to believe all those hours sitting side by side without a single word passing between us may have been more meaningful? 

Feelings can be so loud. 

“The universe, I’d learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back,” writes Cheryl Strayed. 

“Shit,” writes Cheryl Oreglia.

Strayed also mentions, “this is not how your story ends. It’s simply where it takes a turn you didn’t expect.” 

“Shit,” writes Oreglia. #deep

The On Being conference with Krista Tippett was the unexpected turn or maybe it would be more accurate to say it exposed a new path. 

Oh how I wanted to call my mom before, during, and after the gathering. She was the best listener I have ever known and she loved a good story. 

I remember as a young girl coming home from school, to find mom waiting in the kitchen, just where I left her. I would scramble through my memories for a story, thinking she had been standing there all day, waiting for me to return. I’d spin some exaggerated tale, make her laugh, and head to my room knowing my work was done. 

Guess what? She had a life of her own. A teacher, organizer, philanthropist, environmentalist, conservationist, athlete, member, neighbor, friend, spouse, mother, and so much more. 

I thought she stood in the kitchen, waiting for me to return, and on some level this is true. 

“Acceptance has everything to do with simplicity, with sitting in the ordinary place, with bearing witness to the plain facts of our lives, with not just starting at the essential, but ending up there. Acceptance speaks in the gentlest voice. It commands only that we acknowledge what’s true.” Cheryl Strayed.

So what is this new path Krista Tippett has inadvertently shoved me down? 

The whole On Being experience is as if I’ve had an internal climate change, I’m feeling extreme atmospheric pressure, my barometer is totally off, and I believe my ice caps are melting. 

I feel an intense call to action and this is what scares me the most. 

My classes are different but I don’t think the students notice. I’m still asking them to come into the room, leave their armor at the door, but to consider poetry as a form of prayer (I read rupi kaur yesterday and almost cried), I’m demanding compassionate responses in the face of a destructive reality, asking them to hold joy along side their anger, to frame their arguments carefully, with love instead of hate, and maybe that’s all I can ask of anyone. 

I do realize I’m teaching me.

If I can’t have my mom than I’ll also be more demanding of you. Sorry not sorry. If I find you more satisfying than a hamburger you’ll just have to deal. I want our conversations to go deeper. I intend to linger when I hug you, reaching into those uncomfortable places, maybe opening some old wounds. I want to laugh until our stomachs ache and we find ourselves in the murkiest places, heartfelt, full, satiated. 

I want to live so vibrantly, that even though my light has left the world, we can be this for each other, sappy I know, but true nonetheless. 

So what will satisfy this eternal longing?

I’m thinking it might have something to do with nourishing the heart, not gluten free, but with ingestible things like civility, generosity, compassion, empathy. 

A eucharistic way of being in the world that acknowledges human connection as our most powerful tool for enacting change

Krista Tippett often asks, “are we not of interest to each other?” As a way of approaching civil conversations, “speaking together differently in order to live together differently.” This is a frightening concept in a world where we prefer to remain polarized, isolated, and broken (the whole planet is having a meltdown). 

“Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway,” says Cheryl Strayed

I’ve heard it referred to as courage, Aristotle called it the first virtue, because it makes all the other virtues possible. 

I called her Mom.  

“Blood is thicker than water, my mother had always said when I was growing up, a sentiment I’d often disputed. But it turned out that it didn’t matter whether she was right or wrong. They both flowed out of my cupped palms.” Cheryl Strayed

I’m Living in the Gap, drop in anytime, I could use a hug.

Notes: For your nourishment. 

I Believe

By Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry, I tell my students,

is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves

(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”),

digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,

emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find

in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God

in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.

Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,

and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)

is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?


Leave a Comment

  1. Thank you so much for the way you've shared the gap that used to contain your mom. My mom died about fifteen years ago, and I thought I had got used to her being gone. Then, thanks to Facebook, I met up with a man who was like my kid brother when I was a child. He's on the other side of the world to me (in S.Africa- he's in New Zealand). It's great being in touch once again for the first time since we were kids. And yet what is the hardest part for me? Not being able to share the news with Mum! Thankful Thursday & Click to Tweet


  2. Hi Shirley, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I suppose we never get over the loss of a parent but somehow we learn to live along side this unwanted circumstance. I was talking with my sister yesterday, she driving home from work, me in the lounger at home, when I hear a catch in her voice. From her rearview mirror, corralled in traffic, she sees a man who looks exactly like our Dad (who passed away almost a decade ago). It shakes her to the core. We snuffle for a moment, than build each other back up, but both of us wanted to call Mom! So glad you've connected with an old friend and you gave me the honor of sharing the news with me. I'm overjoyed for you!


  3. This was really moving Cheryl. I'm so sorry to hear about your mom, what an impossible situation. Stay strong and keep pushing through 🙂


  4. Thank you Sarah for your kindness. It has been a difficult journey but I’m learning a lot about the preciousness of life, the speed at which time passes, and the importance of those we love. If grief is the result of being in relationship I’m forever grateful for having been so wonderfully loved.


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