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here is the secret nobody knows

6 Oct

I whisper to speak of her, the gilded spectre of a gutted angel that my mother has remains in my mouth. To give her to my daughter, to explain how a woman, not just any woman, but my mother, survived and tried to thrive as her body betrayed her, gave out, held hands into the wind to let blow the seconds she had left, into the wind like so many crumbs.

Her teacher had cancer. She had long hair she tells me, but no longer. Why does this happen Mommy?

Cursory explanations, rogue cells, the memory brushing my eyes of verdency dropping to the floor of a bath tub, the hollow look of a woman with no eye brows, the acceptance I held to the just is. The vomit and the weakness and the size 6 boots she wore that winter, mincing up the laneway in the dark, leaning on me.

Leaning on me. I was just her age then, 8, then 9, then 10 then she was gone and the memories I have left to hold, the crumbs given are so few that I can’t even piece together who she was any mre, just a figment, just a second in a life.

And just like that, 23 years fall away and unbidden tears fall and Viv sees them, frowns and I can’t not tell her, I can’t not let her know that everyday somehow, my mother is with me and I miss her, desperately sometimes, wistful others, because she was my mother and even after all this time I love her and how can’t you? How can you stop loving someone, even when they’ve been gone so long their voice is a mystery and their dreams are nothing more than the heights climbed in sleep?

When she asks why I cry it’s for her, and them and my mother and the grandmother she’ll never be, the nightmares she never shushed for them, the dresses she never picked out, the interruption, the godfucking awful end of all of it. The shuddering finale that left us all wounded, bear trapped in the woods and maimed, leaking blood and water even years later.

I tell her all these things, I see her as a that newborn, I hold her close and wonder that her skin is still just that soft and her hair new and shining and waiting and the ache roars up my chest, like an arrow through my throat and I feel my mother then, I feel her loss, I feel her fear and her wonder. I see her arms about me. I remember leaning into her, fire on a cold night I remember, years and days and ages later, I remember her love for me. I understand it’s meaning.

I understand what it gave me, and I hold my angels now closer, bare to the heart, knowing. I carry her heart.

Dear Mother

13 Apr

They’re beautiful.

I see your ghost in them, your poised hands behind their heads, guiding. I see your steel in them, your voice, the eager trill of your bravery. Rosalyn picks her clothes with care as you did, Vivian carries your devil may care, skillfully harnessed behind motherhood and cancer, but there nonetheless like a whisper in your hair. I saw it then. I see it now, in her bones.

You miss them. I know that. In that bed, through those last days in the blue room by the front door, your futures melted into mist, dervishes in the sunlight that sighed through the window seat your love built for me. What’s it like when tomorrow slips from your fingers, buttered by grief? Did you know their names then, their voices? Did they hum for you long before they ever did for me?

I fucking miss you.

I shouldn’t. I should be grateful Dad convinced you to let go, that you were released before..before I was more aware, before the pain would have hurt me too, before you became less my mother and more that creature in the bed. That thing you became more each day, the cancer, the sick, the broken. The un-soothed.

But dammit I miss you. I miss you as a mother, someone to tell me to stop coddling Rosalyn’s lazy habits or to make both girls pick up their rooms. I miss you as a mother who would nod sagely when I complain about there never being enough time, and how they grow to fast and soon, they won’t even live here anymore and will have lovers I don’t agree with and opinions I cannot change.

I miss you as a woman too, a woman I have never had in my life, never allowed in. Someone who would have explained bras and periods and lust, someone who would have tossed me Midol and said “suck it up princess”. Someone who would have understood daughters, through the eyes of one. I am missing a wheel, skipping a generation. I have lost the middle part to the manual and am alone in figuring out what goes where and what to do with backtalk and deliberation.

I cannot parse this without you it seems and some days, I miss you so fierce I break into tears near Starbucks and swear I can smell your perfume.

You would be so fucking proud of me, of all of us. You would love them wouldn’t you. You do love them. You love them through me, because of me.

Mother, I miss you. I miss what we don’t have, I miss that I stay up late and wonder for you, try to figure out who I’d be if you were here and there was no need for a burning heart with your name on my shoulder. There are two of me out here, the me before, and the me I am. It’s curious to think you’re responsible for both, and we all sit wearily together somewhere, drinking milky tea as we buff our nails.

You would be 65 this year. You would be retiring, planning your advance, singing in the bathroom, cooking poppy-seed cake for the neighbors who just married. You would see love as I see it in your eyes on your wedding day. Pure, to be savored. Joyous.

Do you miss us too? Do we fill you with joy, somewhere, somehow?

I am now as you once were, a young mother, youngish I suppose, still green around the gills but hopeful, a dancer in particles, a movement in time, hands together, the dusty light of a living room at sunset. I don’t have your gravitas, or your faith, but I like to think I have your strength and your honor, and perhaps just a little of your grace.

I miss you like I miss the pieces of me which left that day, 22 years back, in a cold catholic room in an old Ontario town.

Dear Mother.

Mothers and daughters are closest, when daughters become mothers.

7 May

I was 25 and unwieldy my first mother’s day, pregnant but not showing, being fat and squishy in all the places skinny girls start to get taut and glowy around 6 months. I was browsing in the bookstore with my then husband, bemused, fingering the childbirth books, fantasizing about my perfect birth.

Feeling the echoes of my mother, where she should be. A year before this, I had dreamt of her with me as I birthed. I did not give a child, but in hindsight, I gave myself over, releasing her spirit and splinters of her memory from me, bursting forth in light and ache. Perhaps I am a prophet. But that day, I felt only the loss, the emptiness of new life without the guidance of an elder, of a mother, of my mother.

I will never feel as alone as I did that day, surrounded on all sides by mother daughter duos giggling, bonding, drinking latte’s and tea, eating scones and generally, absorbing the air I could no longer breathe.

I made a conscious decision that day, to finally accept my pregnancy, to finally come to grips with my transition into adulthood, to the mother, to the person I would become. I wasn’t just bringing new life into the world. I was healing my own, finding it with groping paws and empty promises.

I picked up a pregnancy journal, and decided it was ok to become someone’s mother.

***

I said I was going to ignore Mother’s Day. And, it’s very likely that I will, knowing there will be no cards or flowers or well wishes, just like every other year-difference being is that this year I don’t have to be mad at anyone about it. It just is.

But it feels off to not acknowledge it.

It’s not razor sharp anymore, that pain. I don’t walk dazed through my days, like I’d fallen down a set of stairs and hit my head and could only see the stars before me. The pain lessens, nearly disappears, leaving me only a reminder of who I’m not, what I could have been, how it all could have been so different.

If I look at the clearly, my mother never dying would have likely meant me never wasting my teen years embroiled in drugs and drinking and confusion. My mother never becoming sick would have meant I would have never moved to Northern Ontario. Never bought a magazine. Never met the father of my children.

Never had my children. My mother’s death directly created my daughters.

As I tell Vivian, frequently-light and dark are only two sides of a thin coin. So it seems, are life and death.

I cannot curse her death any longer. I cannot curse my loss without acknowledging what I have gained. Who I have become. The lessons writ large on my heart, in my skin, by losing her all those years ago. I am a mother because I have no mother.

Ten years ago, when asked, I would have said I would give up anything, and everything to have her back.

No longer.

Becoming a mother has given this to me-a love broad enough to hold my pain, the ability to understand her sacrifice, her pain, her ache, while watching my own recede in the distance like the sun setting in August. Becoming a mother has allowed me to let go in my own way, sitting late at night with a daughter under my child, curled into my body, secure in the knowledge that Mummy loves her, and will never let anything harm her.

I miss my mother. But I’m proud of the mother she has helped me become.

****

Sometimes I stare at the sky as I walk home, and marvel at how big it seems in this province, how spacious and grand. The wind pushes the clouds around, musses my hair and I’ll feel, briefly, like I’m 17 and impossible and wrinkled with pain. The sky smells of tomorrow and I feel my heart pause, sure of her breath on my neck, her perfume on the breeze. Her voice whispers around me, just past hearing, and the world rights itself.

I’m solid again, and grown.

She’s with me everyday, as she’s part of me. I have become her. My daughter’s hold her attitude in their eyes, her bravery in their hearts. My mother’s humour infuses my days, dry and startled.

We are our mother’s daughters.

21 Years

26 Apr

I’m not there but I can trace the streets with my fingers. Technology gives me tentacles, allows me to walk the streets of my home town yet again, stare at the front door I open and closed so many times, the curb I drove my brother’s bike off one dewy spring morning, into the side of a passing car. The steps I sat with friends on fiery summer nights, or with my mother on cooler fall afternoons.

The shutters are falling. The siding is grimy and stained. If houses are metaphors, this one matches my life. Full of memory, dingy at the sides, but still standing.

***

She’s there.

In my mind, in my frosty memory, it’s April 1989 again, and she’s laying in the front room, her blue room, on the hospital bed my parents procured from somewhere, her body wasted and yet bloated. She had come home the week before, her doctors forcing her hand, blunt with words “We can’t help you. You are dying. Give up.”

It was not in my mother’s nature to give up on anything. And so her last wish was not denied, to die at home, to spend her last days in the home she built with her lover, her husband, the one she brought her children home to, my first home. Her beautiful sitting room, strewn with the chaos of death-the drugs, the gauze, the tiny cans of near food in vanilla. The pale sky of carpet she laboured over choosing became compressed and dirtier by feet, vomit, life.

I watched her final days there, much as her sister and my father tried to shield me. I saw my mother naked for the first and only time there, flailing and seizing on her bed as her, the woman I knew, finally left me. Some of me expired with her, sailing towards a sky, cloudy.  A crack in a lifetime, the line in the sand of before and after.

I stare at the house I grew up in. The house she died in. The house I ran away from, feet pounding on distance and action-had I the ability to sprout wings I would have, and flown straight into the sun. Even my dreams rarely brought the solace of her, and slowly I have forgotten her voice, her touch, what it meant to be her, to be my mother.

But her ghost still echoes, across these years. Sunlight around her like a halo, possesses my memory. Her distant smile, haunted somehow, wistful.  The heft of her, the sense of solidity, security, like a vault I could land in. Years I never got to know, stories she never told me-all hover like fireflies over a night field in that house, beautiful and untouchable.

It’s been 21 years. I am not a small girl any longer, rigid in my strength, weak behind those doors. I have been alive for longer than she was with me, only pieces of her left to remind me, whisper gently that I have a mother, that she loves me, and she misses me more dearly than I can imagine.

I love her still, and that house, and that yard, all the places our hands and feet touched, even silent on that burgundy couch lazy Saturdays, watching movies as the rain poured. She’s in that house, her breath trapped in the corners, behind the blue wallpaper, inside the steel stairs.

And she’s in me, forever.

She’s home.

About now, then

27 Apr

If this was then, she’d be dead by now.

It would be early evening, and I would have been preparing for bed, or more than likely in our small, insular town, peeling casseroles off the front porch. Left quietly by the well meaning, a card tucked inside, the sides still warm from hands that departed before any of us could say thank you, or at least stare blankly at them, wondering why we were the only ones who felt like the earth had moved so much in so little time.

I would have come back from a friend down the street, after standing, shell shocked in front of the fire station telling them, “It’s over, she’s dead now, I’m fine.” The stark frozen words that exited my mouth that day. I would have done my part, and my duty, a play I signed on for months back, my staring role, I would have been there, as my classmates stared, gaped really, and the teachers tried to find a nice way to find out why I was there, my my 11 year old self was so unbowed by the events of the day that I was ready, and willing, to be someone else for awhile.

“She’d see me” I’d explained to my father “At least this way, she’d be able to see me.”

About now we would have all been sitting in the quiet of our house, oddly empty when filled to the brim with so many people, the stillness eerie and pressing upon my shoulders. Maybe we stared at each other, the knowledge of my mother’s cold body tucked into a corner somewhere, behind a tree perhaps, where we didn’t need to see it.

About now, I’d be thinking about the day, how it started with a seizure, and a neighbour after the ambulance left. How I muttered she’d be fine and slammed the door before I had a chance to cry. I’d be thinking of my brother, standing in the schoolyard, my mother’s favorite priest (and mine, truth be told) in the car, waiting, the teacher nodding sadly, her hand stretched out to me. The long drive there.

The cold hallways that never changed. The stench of death. The transience on that floor. Even the furniture was uncomfortable.

About now I’d be thinking of that fragmented moment when the machines died, and I screamed and crumbled to the floor, and the stale me that was froze in time, and became merely “ok”. About now I’d be wondering if it was a dream, and she’d come walking around the corner and tell me to tidy my room.

It was all in the book they gave me, months before. Or months after, I never touched it, not for a long time, not willing to admit my loss, our loss, not really, shock taking months to ooze itself from my pores. 

About now I was already feeling sick and tired of being a grown up, being brave, like I could anticipate my life, and how I’d need to split it between having fun and doing what needed to be done. How tired I would become of doing all the things that needed to be done, of paying attention where none was paid to me. Of being a woman when I never really got to taste being a child.

About now I’d be wondering if her fake breast would be buried with her.

About now I’d spend my first night a daughter without a mother, a child bereft, left in the arms of a broken man. About now I’d realize I was on my own, my desires and whims and sadness only for me, never to be shared or held for me, never to be borne by another.

About now I’d have broken down like the child I was, and wept myself to sleep.

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief

20 Apr

I crest a hill with the hard morning light in my face, that brittle iced sun that awakens me on my walk. I’m thinking about my mother, and I’m thinking about me and outloud I whisper

“20 years”

as if it’s a ghost and saying it quietly enough will keep it from hurting me.

I am 31 going on 32. Then, I was 11 going on 12, that netherworld between girl and woman, the inbetween, the sweet snuggled in the midst of sour. I had budding breasts and the turbulence and growing cowering inside me, stuffed down small where I didn’t need to feel it.

Today I’m staring down an ultrasound and the sniggering voices reminding me that cancer in the lady parts runs in my blood. I avoid the rotting breasts of my adoptive mother, in exchange for the knowledge that the women in my family die painful deaths from ovarian cancer, when it doesn’t move so fast as to not bother with a name.

My husband reminds me that bad things do NOT always happen, that sometimes the coincidence is just that. I stare around me and see a family I love deeply, a marriage I treasure, a life I’m growing into more and more. I hold my breath, feeling the shoe as it dangles, and I wait for it to fall.

Twenty years cannot erase the itch in the back of my neck telling me that bad things happen, all the time, and it’s only a matter of when, not if. I may be quiet about it, I may not mention it, but in my heart, I wait for things to fail. I trust not that everything will work itself out, despite the proof in my life that things do, with or without help.

I am mostly healed. I miss her voice, and I tear up when my daughters ask me why my heart burns for her. I envy other women their battles with their mothers, the silly disagreements I’ll never have. I don’t remember her holding me, or kissing me, ever. I mourn those. Some of this, I won’t ever be over-you never get over loss, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. You would never fully get over losing a spouse-why should we a parent?

I am healed in the knowledge that she loved me, was proud of me, and would be proud of me. That she would adore her granddaughters, be pleased to spoil them. I am safe in the knowledge that my happiness would supply hers, even if we disagreed on the source.

I am healed knowing that she did what she thought was right, so many years ago, when a doctor told her not to worry. I am healed knowing she fought, for herself, for me, my brother, her husband.

She teaches me lessons from the grave. To go to the doctor when I think something is wrong. To go again when I’m not convinced of what they tell me. To do the tests.

I’ll still worry until cleared, until the odd rattle and churn in my belly stops. The old fear of losing everything I never knew I wanted, it hangs over me like a droopy belly, pregnant with fear and terror.

She was braver. I can be braver still.

Tell me a blue story

4 Mar

“Tell me a story about when you were a kid. Please Mom?”

She loves to hear the sordid details of my mistakes this girl, suddenly all legs and arms, stretching to the sky before my eyes. She begs to hear of when I didn’t listen to my parents, of when I did something stupid but fun. She asks after my life, my childhood, as if it’s something meaningful and real.

I remember some things, little of others. Some tales she might never hear.

She loves the one about my father telling me not to take my favorite book in the entire world to school, my Strawberry Shortcake book, since I’ll likely misplace it. I had convinced him I wouldn’t, and took it with me anyway.

Yeah, I lost it.

She grins when I tell her how sad I was, how upsetting it was to not only lose it, but to know that my father was right all along! I remind her that this moment, when I was 5 or so, has stuck with me all these years, a lesson that sometimes, our elders do know what they’re talking about.

“Tell me about your Mommy.” she then asks, her eyes shining up at me as we lay on the floor, propped up by elbows as we absently play with wooden dolls and comic characters.

Tell me about your mother. Tell me something meaningful-remind me you have a Mother, that she was real, that she existed and loved you as you love me. It’s what’s she’s really saying, clearly glimpsing the void in my background that others don’t have. Tell me you aren’t missing something.

I always tell her she was beautiful, and show her the pictures to prove it, the infinite eyes, the surety in her face, the strength. The radiant joy on her wedding day.

I tell Viv her grandmother loved horses and plants, things that grew, and I ache with the echo of calling her “grandmother”, a title she never had the chance to wear. Vivian sees my blue rosary, given to me by my mother on my first communion. She asks of it again, fingering the beads in her hand. It’ s old, made in Italy, and I’m pretty sure my mother was given it on her first communion. I treasure it beyond almost anything else I own, despite never using it, and rarely touching it.

picture-0058

I tell Vivian her grandmother gave it to me on a special day, one she was proud of. My fingers remember the movements, but not the order of saying the rosary. I don’t keep it for that. I keep it for my daughters, but I keep it for my mother, in mute acceptance of who she was, and the knowledge that I’m exactly who I should be. I just tell Vivian it’s one of those special things I don’t want her touching, because her grandmother left me so little.

“She’s dead right? She died?” she asks, clearly, with no emotion. Most of my family think I’m morbid and insane for talking so easily about death with her, with both my daughters. But it’s frayed my life, it destroyed it, and at a time when no one was able to talk about it. I’ll never be in that position with mine.

“Yeah Viv, she’s dead. She’s been gone a long time now.”

“She was…sick?” That uncertainty. No matter how many times I try to explain fucking cancer, I know she secretly worries, my little panic attack of a daughter.

“Sometimes people get really sick, and they fight and they fight, but the soldiers in their body, they just can’t win, no matter how much medicine there is. Your grandmother fought and fought, but she just couldn’t do it forever. It happens Vivian. Everything dies. It’s normal.”

“But that’s sad.” she looks at me earnest. I nearly lose my shit looking into those brown eyes, those endless little pools.

“Oh yeah sugar-bear. It’s so sad. But it’s life. I miss my mom, but she’s still around. In me, in you, in my heart. She’s never truly gone.”

I say this a lot in the hopes that I’ll believe it too.

“Tell me another story about when you were a kid Mommy. Tell me something new.”

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