What you owe her

for Lisa

Now that she’s gone, you tell me,
you sense that there’s more you should
have said, more you should have asked,

but she has died after a long life,
and you can’t begin to think of all you
wish you’d said, much less what you

wish you’d asked. Walking around
her vacant house with its baby blue
kitchen counter tile, putting out food,

as she did, for the raccoons and
the cat who may or may not be feral—
doesn’t matter—the woulda shouldas

ping-pong through your grief. You
shoulda told her, repeatedly, that she
gave more than you acknowledged,

and though you thought you thanked
her, again repeatedly, assured her that
you were listening, you do remember—

likely not everything she told you but
so much. You realize that, near her end,
she did not feel important, that what

she wanted, more than anything, was
to know that she’d made a difference—
not in the lives of those she taught

or helped or loved in hundreds of ways,
big and small—but to you, that what
she craved, more than anything, was

your admiration, though you did so
much for her, day after exhausting day,
the hole of a lifetime’s underappreciation

still needed filling. You showed her
again and again how smart and funny
and worthy and important she was,

that she did good, that she did well,
that you miss her in ways you
didn’t expect—that you owe her

nothing, you owe her everything
now that every day is mother’s day,
now that she’s not here, though you hope,

in ways you discover daily,
that she is.
She so is.

Photo / Jan Haag

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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4 Responses to What you owe her

  1. Sue Daly says:

    Moving. Tears. Love the conversational style, like you’re

  2. Gloria Beverage says:

    Grief makes us feel so inadequate at times, especially when we’re missing our moms. We are so filled with shouldas and couldas that we forget the happy moments. Well-spoken, Jan.

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