Portraits of My Mother
(this page still in process)

Barbara E. Gormley Koslow Davis
 (June 24, 1925- May 23 2007)

Portrait of My Mother


My Mom died Weds. May 23, at 10:15. She stopped eating and drinking 5 days before she died. My wife  and I spent most of her last days with her and helped her through the difficult last hours when she was having trouble breathing and threw up blood. She was peaceful at the very end, as her breath slowed and then softly stopped and she let go. We had ‘Hospice’ help us too and they were warm and their female chaplain did not mind being kind and loving to a couple of compassionate atheists like my wife and I. She helped care for the baby as Barbara was in her last hours. That was very kind indeed. We flew back to Cleveland with her ashes and buried her next to my Dad.

I cared for her in nursing homes for the last 5 years and for some years at her house prior to that. Her suffering was deep and long and profound. I learned how horrible and exploitive the care of the elderly is in this county. We should all be ashamed of that, but few are willing to look at the truth about it. She was a good person who cared about people who do not have power, which is most of us. She was very smart and well read and loved gardens, animals, art and music. I miss her conversation. She was a joy to talk to. She graduated summa cum laude form Wellesley College, gave birth to six kids and had two husbands. She needed me and I cared for her and I will miss caring for her. I loved her deeply. Before she died I kissed her face and hands and told her how much I loved her. My wife did that too and she was surrounded with love. I don’t think Ill ever quite get over her loss.


Elegy for Mom


Part 1

(Mom speaking)


Goodbye air, goodbye breathing,

Goodbye mouth gasping for breath,

Goodbye blood thrown up on the sheet

Goodbye son hovering over me

Wishing I would not die.

Goodbye living, goodbye life

Goodbye to the front tooth I lost as a girl

Goodbye to my first white dress

And the low cut red dress I wore for my husband

that hung in the closet for 30 years.

Goodbye to the flowery red Moo-moo

I wore during the years I was pregnant

when I had my last baby in 1960.

Goodbye Wellesley College

and red lipstick and fingernail polish and

high heels and politics.

I loved talking about politics.

Goodbye to roses and azaleas

and all the gardens my green fingers loved.

Goodbye favorite couch

Where I tucked my legs under me

and read so many good books.

Goodbye consciousness and existence.

Goodbye to the kittens for whom I made

labyrinths out  of books when I was a kid.

Goodye Mei Lin, my favorite cat,

 who died the day of the seizure I had two weeks ago.

My brain is collapsing form within

and I”m helpless sliding into absence.

Goodbye all the men who loved me

Clay Ragsdale and Dave Davis and Chuck

Goodbye especially to Jerry,

the one I loved the most

Who I lie next to in death.

Goodbye dawn and Long Island

And memory and the day I met Jerry

at a basketball game when I was 14

and we went to Scoops soda shop

and I loved him my whole life long.

Goodbye to his blue eyes and our children

And all the days I was lonely or happy

Or lost in my mind to a disease

I never knew the name of.


And the oak trees I loved

and had to cut down in the front yard

and our dear white dog and

Goodbye pain and sunlight

and my hazel eyes.

Goodbye everything and everyone

and silent stars and the rarity of breathable air

this precious life breathing out

with my last breath

is all the life there is.

Goodbye earth and

Goodbye dear son who watched out for me

for so long.



Part 2 (me talking)


Goodbye mother, Mom,

my oldest dearest friend.

Goodbye to your cold forehead

---my warm hand looked so red

stroking your blue forhead--

as you lay under

a white blanket in the funeral home.

Goodbye to helping you walk so painfully

down those nursing home halls

---so many nursing homes---

 where I visited daily,

and all those dear drained faces

and the underpaid aides who loved you

despite your illness,

all said how special you were.

Goodbye unsanitary halls
and sagging heads in wheel chairs

and waiting for nothing and neglect.

Goodbye Alzheimer’s and accountants

who exploited your weakness.

Goodbye good and bad doctors and nurses

and health care that doesn't care

and stole your money and your carpets

and left you with nothing but a sheet

to burn you in a cardboard box in a crematorium

and never came to visit you when you needed it most.


Goodbye mother, 34 years since the love of your life died in 1973.

24 years since you lost your second husband

And gave up on men, fearful of another death.

“I just can’t go through it again” you said

Goodbye Mom, who wanted to die so long

she learned to love life and

held to it with so much will

who wanted us to help her walk---
just a few weeks ago---

the two of us holding her under the arms.

Goodbye to her eyes and holding her hands

And rubbing her shoulders

Wheeling her wheelchair

outside to sit with flowers
and sun on her face

And how happy she was eating a chocolate-chip cookie,
the baby laughing beside her.

And all the days I pressed my forehead against hers

And she shook her hands with glee,

when she heard me say
 "Mom, its me Mark"

—when she was no longer able to see-----

and there was still a person in there

hardly anyone else seemed to recognize,

as she lost the ability to talk and walk

and I fought dragons for her right to be a person,

to keep her alive----

fought dragons to stop those who tried to harm her

and I who don’t believe in dragons

fought them day after day for 7 years,

without hope of thanks or treasure

but because I loved her.


Goodbye Mom, from your son who you breastfed

And introduced to the universe

And for whom you made sandwiches

wrapped in the the waxed paper

of the wonders of childhood

and brown paper bags carried

with a love of life you gave me.

And how many times you defended me and stood up for me

and helped me though school

and never asked me to say thank you

or asked for the same in return.

How gladly you gave and how I gave back

and how good it was to have this love

that was simple and mutual.


Goodbye Mom,
 who didn’t want to die as you died

and whose eyes went blind while still seeing

and whose hand reached for me out of death and

held on to mine
 and I held on as long as I could.

Goodbye Barbara

Who only days ago reached out for your

granddaughter’s cheek

and touched it with the tenderness

of the red roses petals you loved

Goodbye Mom,
whose hand reached for me out of death

and I held on and didn’t want to let go

and your breath slowed down and suddenly

your last breath,
 in and then out

and you were no more

you simply stopped


I kiss your face all over.

I kiss your face,

I kiss your face.


June 2007



Below are two poems about my mother, who I cared for on a daily basis and who had advanced Alzheimer’s disease

My mother loved the sea
Especially the Atlantic off the  Long Island
of her childhood
but the Pacific too, wild and rockier.
Blowing sand in the dune grass
and the cry of white gulls
across the blue horizon
her lonely heart sought a land of love
even as she longed for the sea.
When she was a child, she said,
her father hovered near her
when she waded into the waves
and her brother told her too,
"Don't go out too far"----
I stood watch over her too, in my turn
as she waded out too far
into the waters of dementia
and held her back with loving hands
giving her a few extra years of 
Those who should have thanked me
for the care of her
never did,
and the ocean began to close over her head,
the day her four ungrateful children
seized her from her house
and began drowning her in nursing homes
with chemical lobotomies.
I have been trying to hold the ocean back
ever since,
But the waters begin to overwhelm her 
Her eyes murky with medications
and her speech like talk underwater.
She is suffocating under their "care"
And I am trying to give her air.
They hired medieval doctors in modern white coats
full of their own 'expertise' and so 'up to date',
who apply chemical leeches to her brain
in an effort to bleed her back to health.
The nursing home 'industry' corrals her into
a pretty prison for human cattle.
They prefer their patients drugged into oblivion
easier to 'manage', they say,
and have destroyed her personality
while they take all her money
and keep her penned with other living corpses
wandering the halls aimlessly
looking for their lost homes
and homelessly stripped of their dignity.
Someday their stories will be told
in narratives like victims of the slave trade
and the abuse of the elderly for profit
will return to haunt
the houses of the greedy and ungrateful.
Imagine, what kind of people
want to drown their own mother
in a sea of drugs?
Are these the same people---
of the same mentality---
that drown the earth in chemicals?
These are the people that harm animals
these are the people that hurt the innocent.
I have no relation to them----
they are none of me.
They knocked her down
like an animal in the road
and I alone see the panic in her eyes
like a wounded deer run down
and I run my fingers through her hair
and hold her head against my heart.
I've done all I can to stop them.
Imagine stealing your own mother's heart
and leaving her alone 
to wander in her own lost mind
voiceless as a ghost with no hands.
They are already counting her money
and sift through her objects
planning for the day she dies.
A True Romantic, she lived for love,
like "Moonlight Serenade", Frank Sinatra,
The swing of Benny Goodman, and the songs 
of Nat King Cole and Harry Belafonte.
If she weren’t so shy,
she might have been a singer
because she has a good voice.
She was smart too, 
smarter than her two husbands
But she suppressed it
As many women of that time did.
Her grandfather wrote a book about
important "colored" people in 1933.
"Who's Who in Colored America",
He traveled all over the south, on trains,
talking to the people, gathering information.
Far ahead of his time,
and her brother loved Jazz and philosophy
and both had a spark of their grandfathers
forward seeing humanity.
I admired her concern for social justice
education and democracy
And how she would stand firm
Against the most repressive republicans.
I loved her liberal and caring spirit
her acceptance of not always following rules,
her generosity
her feisty refusal to submit
her love of animals
and her regard for the weak.
Whatever her faults, and there were a few.
She was one of those rare things
A good hearted human being.
A large part of her died when my father died.
That was 1973
And I thought the ocean would overtake her then
But she fought her way out of it.
and I helped her.
It took her years to recover.
I was left to care for her grief 
when her second husband died too
since her other children mostly ignored
or abandoned her.
Once again she fought back the invading sea.
Some who I knew criticized me
for loving her too much
But I will never apologize
for loving her good heart,
her generous mind and
her love of love and life.
She was not only capable of exalted ecstasy
but of the deepest grief
and in a culture that cultivates
drugging the range of human feeling
I loved her wide scope and ability to ride
the troughs and crests.
Besides, she lost her husbands,
she was alone, and I felt compassion for her.
Even when I moved away for a few years
I did not leave her
and missing her conversation
called her often.
She was not just my mother
but a friend of my heart
A lifetime companion.
We loved and cared for the same white dog
And she stood by me
When I was attacked
And faced my sufferings with me.
I faced her sufferings too
and learned how to soften her grief
making some peace with her sorrows.
She never quite got over the loss
of the man she loved
and the ungrateful neglect
of some of her other children,
especially the cruel malice
of her oldest and youngest sons
and the happy-face hypocrisy
of her daughters
who smiled sweetly as they betrayed her.
She loved gardens
And gave me a love of plants
And put a little green in my fingers
Teaching my hands the feel of soil.
When my father died
She condemned roses
And I doubted she would ever regain
The gardeners joy in life.
But it returned.
I stayed with Mom and Mother earth
And my siblings resented it.
She gave me the gift or understanding
and they hated what I came to know.
She gave me gifts and I gave her time
Lots of time and attention
running my fingers through her hair
caring for her as she lost her mind.
I became virtual  father to the earth that bore me
caretaker of the ground from which I came.
They were jealous of the garden we made.
They were lost in 
a landscape they did not understand.
They were lost to me, and to her
and they put her in a chemical straitjacket
so she couldn’t feel flower petals anymore
or even recognize my face.
I now clutch flowers alone and
hold bird feathers to my eyelids for comfort.
I dream I see her flying
and I see her good heart
still glittering behind
her vacant and wounded eyes.
Imagine stealing your own mother's heart
and leaving her alone 
to wander lost from her mind
voiceless as a ghost with no hands.
I have become the memory of her broken heart
I am the hope of all that she loved.
Blowing sand in the dune grass
and the cry of white gulls
across the blue horizon
her lonely heart sought a land of love
even as she longed for the sea.
My mother helped me to weave
a coat of Many Colors,
not like the one Joseph wore,
in the Bible,
not ponderous with Patriarchy,
and religious delusions,
but a simple garment I wear my heart in,
made of the light of soft sunrises
and evening primrose.
It is a coat of earthy rainbows
the color of hummingbirds,
green transparencies,
an abalone shell,
and a white dog turned pale blue
by twilight.
My siblings hated the coat
and wanted to destroy it---
jealous as Joseph's brothers.
If I can help it
I will not let them bloody it,
or throw me in a well.
And if I can
I will drag her from the waters
they are trying to drown her in
and let her stand on the shore
holding an abalone shell
if only for a little while longer
so she can see the sea
from a clear distance, 
once again.




She is locked inside this mirthless house
her life is loss, lost mind and home
lost her two spouses.
I alone am witness to the gruesome ways

her dignity is abused, day after day.
All  her life savings gained fair and square
did not go for her bodily care
with all her money gone and nothing to show
but an empty mind

she is exploited by nursing home CEO’s
who commit the legalized crime

of stealing from the innocently sick--

stealing wax form the candle’s wick--

and suck from these elders unjust wealth
and leave them bloodless and steal their health

and ride the freeway in a velvet Mercedes

while in her wheelchair she sits in feces.
The Nursing Home smells like shit

but everyone pretends not to notice it.
Cared for by Mexican aides who are afraid to say
what really goes on, put upon,
overworked, given little pay
exploited by a system
that profits from bedsores
and cares little if they fall
on the shinny floored halls
and break their hips or crack their heads.
If patients are dead
the CEO’s can’t collect Medicare
so they keep them barely alive
deny that scabies are everywhere.
And so long as no courts are notified

or they are sued because the patient died
they cover up, neglect, ignore the gloom,
etend life is a suburban family room.
Happy Acres, Suns
et Home,
palsied hands, s
kin and bone
Peonies, Roses and Begonias
all is a pose

to hide the preventable pneumonia,
dripping from my mother’s nose.

My mother’s head sinks in her hands like an old shoe
Her lost thoughts do not know what to do

the idea of going from her mind is gone
She sits without knowing why she longs
for what she cannot begin to say.
Her hands are not sure where they should move
Her face seems inside a plastic glove
they use to clean up her smelly mess.
Its such a shame they cannot guess

what a wonderful person once there was
her mind wrapped in layers of gauze
who now in a wheelchair sits
prone to panic and speechless fits
drugged for the convenience of the nursing staff
she has forgotten how to laugh,
how to cry,
how to know
what is high, what is low
her mind is a silence filled with rack
and kept in a  chemical straitjack
restrained even from expressing her pain
she does not remember how to speak my name.
She knows my hands by how they touch her face

and her hand in my hand I let her place

a hint of the person who once was free

but now is a whispering tear of memory.








Copyright © 2006 Mark Koslow. All Rights Reserved.