Three score years and ten — a poem

Celia Taylor relaxing on a mountain top in climbing gear.

Celia on a mountain. I think that’s the Franz Josef Glacier behind her, but please set me straight.

That’s enough said Celia our mother.
The Bible says
that three score years and ten
is our fair share of life, our span.
Always pick your quotes with care
and share with care, and that’s the one
she chose to share with me.
“Don’t let me be a burden, she said
I cannot will not shall not be a burden to you dear
I’ll walk out the door on my own two feet
I’ll leave before I start to leak
and burble and dribble and reek.
At the age of 70 I will be more
than a faint allusion to my self
I will still be my very self itself.
Let that be the age at which
I’ll peak, I’ll be complete.
Later I’d have nothing more to give
I’d be a taker a breaker a faker
my eyes would fail, my legs would fall
and worst of all my wit would crawl.
No no no I’ll die intact
never a burden, always a star.
This is my desire, dear daughter,
so listen with both ears.
When I’m three score years and ten
take me to the Franz Josef Glacier
and leave me there and turn your back.
When you turn around at last
I’m gone, I’m done, I’m down a crevasse
one last fling and I’m off your backs
I won’t be a bother to you any more
I’ll slip through a crack, I won’t be back.”

I didn’t drag her to the ice
nor did I have to hide my eyes
while she squeezed down a chimney
to the Hades of her choice.
My mother died on time at 70
yes, on New Year’s Day
in a common or garden hospital bed
and she was a burden to herself by then
and the glacier shrivelled year by year.
Who can plan their death in detail
decades in advance?

Pick your confidants with care
certain ears for certain truths.
Celia picked me when I was twelve
to hear her truth about dying.
Safe, for no-one believed me.
Sad, for it was sad.
Cruel, for her truth was heavy.
True, but only for Celia, and who knew why?

Audio file (mp3)

PS This is a true experience of mine, and a strange one. Thank goodness Celia didn’t make me promise to help her exit early from her life: that would have been a heavy load. She just expressed a strong desire and I felt more privileged than pressured. I wonder whether you have ever been in a similar situation. Maybe this post reminds you of something in your own life…

Alternative audio file (m4a) if you couldn’t access the first one

Photo from the Taylor family archives, poem and recording by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. That means please do share and reblog, but always name me as writer.

25 thoughts on “Three score years and ten — a poem

  1. Paula Light says:

    My mom’s decline and death was a shock to everyone including herself. Although she was 75, she’d always been strong and healthy, with only minor ailments. My dad was the one with issues going back decades. But my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and four months later gone. I miss her every day even though it’s been 10 years.

    1. I am sad for you. Perhaps if we miss someone every day, they are in a way still with us. The suddenness must have made her death traumatic for everyone.

  2. My mum said she wanted to die in her sleep and she got her wish in her 82nd year. It’s been four years and I miss her very much. Thanks for your poem, I love it.

    1. That is such a good scenario, getting what she wanted. And we do want different things. Thank you Kay.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I am saddened by the portrayal of old age that Celia handed on when you were 12. At 70 myself, I am in no way ready to leave here.

    1. Well, that is true and I don’t know why she held that view. Fortunately, this is just one piece of her mind at one time. My overall memory of Celia is of a vibrant, energetic, positive, adventurous woman who made the most of every minute!

      1. And I remind myself that seventy in those days was considered old. It’s differ et for us now, right?

      2. Elizabeth says:

        That is reassuring.

      3. People are complicated, aren’t they… I mean we?

  4. I know someone who isn’t well and talks about ending her life. She has two adult daughters. The scars she would leave would never heal.

    1. So difficult. And you know, I have no idea whether Celia felt like this all her life or just for a while.

      1. Either way, it’s painful.

  5. I think we all deteriorate at different ages. When my mother left suddenly at 72, I was reminded by someone that we were only promised 70. At 70 I was still strong and active. At 80 I ran up the stairs to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Deterioration slowly began at 85, and now at 90, I still feel there is more to give though perhaps not so often. My grandmother often said she did not want to become a burden to my mother, so she remarried at the age of 76. Your mother sounds a remarkable woman.

    1. You are so right. Wow, that Eiffel Tower story! And Kayti, you know you still give heaps in your blog and no doubt in person, as you must be aware.

  6. I am reminded of my Grandad by this wonderfully written piece. He never spoke about how he felt as he declined. Just little comments. One actually makes me smile and I still think of him now when I see a pair of all leather mens shoes . We would always say. “Grandad you need new shoes” and he would reply ” Too expensive and I won’t get my wear out of them ” 😉😉. I think he worried about Nana finding him dead on her own. He had terrible emphysema and one weekend when my aunty and uncle were staying with them,he got up for the toilet on the Sunday morning and collapsed in the hallway and died. My Mum is not one to speculate or believe in anything out of the ordinary. She was brought back to life twice a few years back. I quizzed her on it know.. what she saw. Nothing apparently. Just nothing. Anyway I digress. But what she firmly believes is that Grandad knew how bad he was and somehow caused his own breathing to stop that morning so Nana didn’t find him on her own ❤❤. He was a proud man.

    1. Oh my. Indeed that could be true. After all, your Nana surely knew him as well as any.

  7. cedar51 says:

    It was the 1970s my father was being treated for lung cancer, mother said “no one is to tell him…” I guess the truth, but I’m pretty sure Dad knew – anyone who had to go to Waikato hospital for treatment in those days must have known. He probably didn’t want to rock her boat, so he said nothing…

    But what he didn’t know was that Mum/mother was quite ill herself. My older brother and his wife (also now dec’d) said that she must get help. But she was adamant that Dad was more important….

    Dad died, finally Mum went to see about her problems…but by then it was far to late! Her gall bladder was shot to pieces and she also didn’t live long.

    A few days before she died, finally my brother told her that I was coming home with my then husband (whom neither had met)…we had wanted it to be surprise, and actually no one had told us either how ill she was.

    I arrived in Melbourne (after a 3day bus ride across the mostly unsealed Nullabor) I was knackered and we were faced with a telegram on her demise!

    (I can’t tell you my thoughts…it makes me angry even all these long years later…)

    1. No wonder. The things people do when they think they are protecting others. Silence is not always golden. I hope I can learn from this sad story.

  8. lifecameos says:

    My parents did not discuss death at all, but they did both say clearly that they were to be cremated and their ashes scattered. They had both heartily disliked being taken to family graves on Sundays, as children. In fact when we had done this for each of them it seemed wrong to have no mention of them, so we had bronze memorial plaques put u[p for them on the memorial wall at Purewa cemetery, close t their old home in Auckland.

    1. Sounds like an excellent solution. You also have needs!

  9. Osyth says:

    Aging is a lottery. None of us know whether we even will age, how we will age, who will still be there. This poem captures the poignant and heartrending truth that so many of us share …. that our parent (in my case my father) go when their time is up not when they decree and certainly not how.

    1. Because this has always been true, how odd is the notion that everyone should die at the same age. Nobody is average. I admire how you can be philosophical about your father’s untimely death: not easy.

      1. Osyth says:

        It’s been 15 years and it still depends on the day, of course, whether I can be philosophical or whether I just despair. We are, after all just human.

  10. so touching, I felt every word of this.

    1. Thank you Denise. That makes the dangerous business of sharing my memories worthwhile.

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