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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.


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.”

Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest; and despair most sits.

11 Feb

In an attempt to soothe my aching head over my impending unemployment, I did some shopping on the weekend. (Most was needed stuff, and not for me. Sigh)

I picked up some cheap books-the bookstore having a 4 for 10$ sale, which makes it a “who cares if it sucks” sale.

One book in particular caught my eye, “A Year and a Day“, by Leslie Pietrzyk. It’s the story of a 15 year old girl whose mother kills herself, parking her car in the path of an oncoming train.

And oh, it makes me cry on the bus almost every morning so far.

I’ve searched for books on motherloss that would really hit the right tone, and for the most part, they don’t. They try to hard, they don’t understand the little missing pieces, or the fact that the larger hurt is underscored by the silences death brings. This book…it brings us to them. Tearing the house apart searching for recipes-I’ve done that myself, searching high and low for that crumbling Five Roses cookbook my mother had when first married, marked by flour and grease and her fingers. I never found it.

The anger. The lashing out in strange ways, at friends, at those who profess to care but have problems (seemingly) less than your own. The repentance. The confusion. The utter inability to process something as simple as Christmas. Having to be the adult. Having to not say what you want to say, wanting to scream at the top of your lungs,

“She’s DEAD! Not lost, not passed away. GONE.”

The vestiges of my former self, my younger, more fragile doppelganger, they live in this book. My memories came alive reading this, tears spring unbidden at the repeated “I’m fine.” through the book, the mirror of my adolescence, the constant refrain of “I’m ok, I’m fine” when all I wanted to do was fall into the arms of the speaker.

Alice, the girl in this book, she can’t fall either, the hurt in her heart far stronger than the need for comfort. The dry distance between her needs and wants, and the crippling prison grief becomes, especially at so young an age. Her need to comfort, and almost protect the pregnant 16 year old Paula, her helplessness. Her scorn for the one person she lets in, the one person who allows her to mimic her mother, Joe Fry. Her sweet pleasure in his gift of an acorn for her pocket, as she fiddles.

I could have been Alice. Well, except for the part where her dead mother speaks to her.

There’s a part where her brother has ran to Boston, and returned, and he’s talking about how he thought he saw her in a crowd, but realized it wasn’t her, and that this, THIS was when he knew she really wasn’t coming home.

I’ve seen my mother, in faces, side profiles, coats. And realized that despite not remembering her, not much at all, her face was imprinted on me, her movements. She’s never coming back either.

Seeing this written, truly seeing it as I have, it’s a blessing. It’s recognition.

It’s like home.


Yes, I am losing my job.

Some of it’s performance. Some of it’s having a poor manager, some is the needs of the business are outstripping my abilities. There’s a lot to it, most of which I don’t wish to get into publicly. I will say that as someone who has been with a company for over 8 years, it hurts. It hurts how this company treats tenured employees, and seems to consider tenure and accomplishment meaningless unless you’re an ass kisser.

I was once passionate about my job-loved it, loved that I helped action change for millions of customers. But in the last few years, that was smothered, as my job became more about making things “look good” than about actual change for Joe customer on the street. Things changed, my manager changed, and I no longer felt part of any team. Just another sucker doing shit work for a paycheck.

It hurts. I’ve been so proud keeping a job for this long, many years of it unmedicated, and succeeding that way. It’s almost like things only went south once I started achieving some measure of stability. Go figure. But I’ll never be uber organized, I’ll never be perfect, especially under pressure. I recognize these things in me, and realize that now, this isn’t the place for me, and at least for the time being, I need a job where I can just enjoy helping someone, a job which doesn’t find me working on the weekend and after “work” on a regular basis.

I don’t want that, and I never really did.

So I’m kinda scared, but kinda excited as well. I’m getting a reasonable severance, so I can’t complain, and they’re keeping me on till the bonus payout so I can get whatever payout is owed. So they aren’t completely inhuman. Having to sit through conversations about helping report automation learn the reports I was producing-that sucks. Hard. It’s like everything you worked for is taken away so easily.

I never truly felt like I was my job, and I’m glad of that. I’m happy, sated almost, to be done with this job, the constant panic and rush, never feeling like I had time or opportunity to truly do what I felt my job was. Excuses maybe, perceptions. But only hearing the bad stuff from a boss for months does this to you. Wears you down until you ARE that bad employee.

So we’re moving on. I hope to find something simple for now, easy, no stress. I’d love to take a month or two off, but I’d rather have a laptop. If I have an easy job again, I might start writing again. Reading Piertrzyk’s book has made me realize that I really do want to write that memoir of my childhood, even if I never do a damn thing with it.

Losing my job is making me realize all the things I want to do, things that are so much bigger than pulling data for someone.


This morning, walking to school, Vivian tried in vain to climb a snow-hill I promised her she could climb the day before. She tried and tried, and I grew irritated, knowing I was missing my bus. Finally I had to drag her off the snow hill and push her forward.

“You NEVER keep your promises to me!” she screamed. “You promised!”

Promises are funny things. They change when you least expect it.

“this is the wavelength which connects us with dead men and the dawning of new beings not yet come to light. “

1 May

On the bus I pass a bridge with that unfortunate year chiseled into it’s side.


The year things stopped.

As always when faced with that year, I’m amazed. That something began when something else ended. That something was lasting. That someone was born, even on the day she left us. I stare hard at the bridge, wondering what blessed it with creation.

Irrational I know. But I can hardly be the only person who counts lost years, the years hence in things, in births, in incredulous “how can someone born then be ready for university?”

It doesn’t seem a lifetime already. Wasn’t it just 2000 a minute ago? Wasn’t I just in high school, dropping out of university a year ago? Weren’t those trees just planted, the lawn tended?

Shouldn’t everything else have stopped as well?

That’s what slaps me most of all. The fence that year provides, the utter confusion at the fact that while everything came to a shattering halt for me that year, other people moved on. While I changed, when I was changed, others simply continued, unaware, living. I gawk because I forget that while my life has been centered around a loss, other’s haven’t been, or have perhaps, and I just can’t see it.

Grief is transparent. We can walk through it, talk to it, make love to it. But it’s still there, like the air we breathe, the air sticky sweet around us on a summer night. I can’t see it hovering, unless I look, unless I stop and take the time to see that everyone, or nearly everyone has a year branded in the space above them-1989 or 2005 or 1974. But it shimmers so, becomes fairy like so much so that you barely hear it’s giggle above the tears, you barely see her for the stoicness of her owner. You have to see, really see, and ask, really ask. Then it becomes clear, the words tumbling free.

“I lost….They died….I hurt….I miss…..”

The human condition, right? Suffering, pain, grief. Joy being so sparse and brief sometimes. We should adjust and move on, get over it.

Get over the label grief brands us with, a date seared into our brains. Get over the alteration of ourselves, us at our core beings. We are changed by death, something shaved off the sides. You’re never the same. Your giggles turn to bubbles as if you’re underwater and lost. Your hopes fade into the sides of buildings which are there until they aren’t, and you notice in passing, 3 years later. Bridges and age of majority dates take new meaning.

Everything you should have, suddenly has new meaning, or no meaning.

Spring is supposed to be about renewal, about celebrating an opening earth, warm and welcoming. But for several of us, for different reasons, it’s not. Spring has a shadow behind it,  a mystery reminder that what giveth also taketh. That newness is only at the expense of last year’s left over crop. For some the ache is new, throbbing, still leaking sap. For others, myself, it’s an old wound that aches from time to time, but is mostly healed. Each of us those, is irrevocably branded by these events.

We’ll forever watch the sidewalks for our loved ones, stare out of the corner of our eyes for they who look like someone should. But it won’t be them. It will never be them.


As a teenager, I dreamt I was chasing my mother through a store, her back to me, her blue purple coat standing out against the endless bottle of shampoo. Around and around racks we went, my voice calling for her, echoing back at me. She refused to turn and acknowledge me, and allowed me to chase her instead.

She disappeared from my sight, leaving me wailing and defeated.



25 Apr

2 days.

I can place myself in my mother’s shoes. Watching the grass spring into place from the picture window in the front of the house from her vantage point on the borrowed hospital bed. The legs of which dig divots into the plush carpet that will take 2 weeks to fully disappear. Her breath won’t remain in the house that long.

I can hardly remember the last two days, merged as they were into the days that came before. The emergency ambulance rides, the hasty packing, me slipped to the side, quiet so no one would notice. I hardly remember our family as a foursome, as a team, together, as we were meant to be. There was a crack in that picture already, a crack dug deep with cancer and hopelessness and dreams.

My memories, like Mad’s, are sparse, but thankfully, I have a few that are golden. The crackling late afternoon light pouring in the side windows as I tried on new clothes at 6 or 7. Chocolate covered fingers in the kitchen, licking the bowl, watching my mother bake and cook and feed the people who would come to feed up, the stereotypical casseroles splayed across our doorstep, cards attached, pieces of tape on the bottom of the cheap ceramics with names, “Brenda”, “Mrs Bishop”. Driving to Kingston in her blue car, holding in the nausea, not wanting the Pepto Bismo that would make it all the more worse.

I remember her hand, and mine it it. A downtown street, a sunny warm summer morning, her soft sandals slapping her feet, her dress swinging. Stopping to talk. Stopping to talk. A warm muffin and ginger ale at the cafeteria in the store my father ran, the laughter of a group of women as they talk above my head.

The warmth of her hand, the strength of it. The softness, the yielding, the smell of her hand creme, the Charlie on her neck.

I don’t remember hugging my mother, or kissing my mother. She wasn’t affectionate that way, not that I can remember. But lord, she was lovely. She was womanly and graceful and strong and sweet, in her way. She was kind.

In the summer, we’d sit on the front step, await the squirrels who would inevitably come to her, who would climb on her shoulders, snatching peanuts from her breast pocket, the breast that would eventually come off and be replaced with a facsimile I would play with. She never worried that they would bite her.

“Sit still and they’ll be gentle” she’d remind me.

And it was true.

She loved to laugh. She loved to prank. From kinking the hose until I’d stand over it so she could let loose the water then, to sitting in the front row at mass, marking the sermon with friends to rapping on the wall, making me believe in witches, she had a devilish sense of humor.

I think of these things instead of the 2 days before. Instead of the cold dampness of the stairs I sat on. Instead of the panic and fear and terror that ran through our house, circled the voices telling me the just go to school, rang through my head when I was pulled out during spelling by one of her Priests, taken to a car to silently watch the highway with my brother as we drove to what we knew was inevitable.

I shall think of none of these things. I shall think of my mother as the woman who loved me, who craved me, who wanted me. The woman who loved her little girl, who taught her that glasses can sing, who taught her that strength isn’t only measured in muscles. I will think of my mother who my first born is named after, in part. I will think of my mother as the vibrant woman introduced me to Hitchcock as a child, yet refused to let me read Frankenstein.

My mother, Dianne Joanne Marie, has been dead 19 years 2 days from now. And I miss her still, as I always will.

“She’s too young to see that as we gather losses, we may also grow in love;as in passion, the body shudders and clutches what it must release.”

15 Apr

Mother I wish…..

I wish many things. I wish you had explained things to me better. I wish I would have known more than that nebulous “I’m sick”, wish I would have truly known what Cancer meant-not in terms of rogue cells and less than functional cures, but in the human cost, in terms of what I was to lose.

Or perhaps it’s better that I didn’t.

Mother, I wish you had told me you loved me. My ears don’t remember hearing those words. I know you did-my core knows that you loved me and wished for me and asked for me and one day I was there for you to love me. But I can’t recall hearing the words pass your lips. I have no notes in your handwriting, no secret messages left encoded in the wallpaper. I have one thing in my possession that crossed your fingers, and I treasure it, even if I can rarely bring myself to touch it.

Mother, I wish you had told me about love, about how it cuts both ways, how it endangers me. I wish you had told me it was worth it, so I wouldn’t have wasted years convincing myself it wasn’t, and that I was unworthy and unready.

Mother, I wish you would have told me how wonderful finding your one true love was.

I wish you would have had “the talk”. You know the one. Instead, I learned from cold books, hidden in a corner of a library where no one would find me. I wish you would have left some warning about cramps and blood and sex so I wouldn’t have felt so bloody alone curled up on a damp bathroom floor crying.

Mother, I wish you would have told me about you, your past, who you were before your family became the second part of your life. I saw drawings, art-were you an artist? What dreams did you have? You had dreams, a farm girl from southern Ontario, I’m sure you wanted to escape. Was my father your escape on Saturday in a Drugstore?

I do so wish you would have told me how much I would come to love my children, how much you loved yours. I wish I had a piece of your love to carry on with me, to share with my children, something more real than my stories. If only you had written something down for me to carry forth.

I wish you had admitted you were dying before it was too late. You had such hateful hope, and this hope prevented you from truly preparing us, for saying those things we needed to say. This hope kept you from preparing for a future you were not in. That hollow fucking place I’m finally out of. I’m so very angry with you for this. You didn’t want to face what was happening. I admire your bravery, but I’m angry at how you left us.

Mother, I wish you would have seen a second doctor when Dad told you to, when you first found that lump. I wish you would have taken it seriously, even if the doctor didn’t. You had such faith in these people! They fucked up your leg as a teenager, and they fucked up your life as an adult. Why did you believe in them so?

Mother, I wish I would have just appreciated you while you were there, instead of being the shitty little kid I was somedays. Dad would tell me to knock it off, and I just didn’t get it. Not really. It hurt, not understanding why we couldn’t go places, why you couldn’t get out of bed. Why you took so many pills and spent your days getting sick.

Mother, I wish I could have shown more compassion, more love. I wish I would have been more loving, but I just didn’t understand. Even I couldn’t yell those words, those “I love you’s!” until the machines were winding down. I was scared that if I said it, you’d die.

I guess I was right.

Mom, more than anything, I wish I had known you. I have fleeting memories of a talented, strong woman, but I never knew you. I’m told that I was always by your side, your constant companion. I’m told that you loved me more than anything, loved your family to distraction.

Mom, I wish I knew these things for sure, and not just in my mind, and sometimes even my heart.

I wish I didn’t miss you.

I wish we had beaten that cancer.

I wish things had been different, and you were still here, making your legendary poppy seed cake instead of me cursing the world that made you never write the bloody recipe down. Cursing a world in which the taste of that cake is as mythical as your voice.

I wish your knew your grand-daughters, their songs, their games, their idiocies.

Mom, sometimes, I just wish…..


(Title is a fragment from a fantastic poem by Julia Spicher Kasdorf)

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be made strong, in fact. But the process is like all other human births, painful and long and dangerous.”

4 Apr

Cranky, pissed off, unhappy, lonely, vengeful, angry, sad-with a dash of hypomania thrown in.

Sometimes the pills work, sometimes, not so much. It bleeds through.

I’m constantly wondering-what is the pills? What is the bipolar? What is just the fact that it’s April and my mind focuses on one thing-my mother, the day she died, her last days-and I see the mother’s day shit in store windows and I think of her face, puffy from treatment, her grey boots, her withered hands, her naked body the day she died, the absorbent pad underneath her.

Am I angry because of this? Am I angry because I have devoted zero time and energy to the fact that this April is our tenth wedding anniversary and I feel spent and unable to care? Am I angry because I’m so lonely right now, because my anger locks me in, makes me a prisoner? Am I angry because I cannot share this, not really, because it needs a reason and goddamn it sometimes I just want to be angry, then sad, then weepy just because I have feelings and some days things just hurt.

I have no real reason to be unhappy, or pissed off or sad, other than a sinking feeling that I’m missing something, and I don’t have the time to figure out what that is.

All I know is that I fucking hate April. Renewal and growth my ass.

I hate this. I hate all of it. This fucking grief, an never-ending cycle of it, this dull throbbing ache that eats away at my every movement, judging me…”Don’t yell at the kids-you might die tomorrow”. The sucker-punch of a little whiny fool inside me, wanting to moan and bitch about her loss, and how hard it was. The knowledge that since I was a little girl I’ve had to suck it up and deal with it while the people around me are free to whine about their perfect little lives and vastly lessened pain.

Lose someone! I want to scream-feel your heart ripped from your chest and forever altered-feel yourself die! Anguish-feel it, really feel something for the first time in your little fucking lives feel something REAL.

It’s not as it was years ago, when as a mute child I screamed why into a sky that had no answers. It’s not as it was years ago when I awoke from a suicide attempt convinced that that day wasn’t a good day to die, and I had only myself to count on, since no one, NO ONE around me was listening. It’s not as it was when the never-ending chorus of “just do it-die die die” played in my head.

But it’s still angry as fuck, harsh and hard and bitter and on days like this it’s a pill I just can’t swallow. Why me. Why the FUCK is this life mine. All the beauty in this life becomes so hardened and pale to me most days, because it’s blinded by a wound I can’t seem to find a way to close.

I can be rational. I can use logic and tell myself that life isn’t fair, and this is how it is. But some-days, I don’t fucking well want to.


The sun is beaming in the sky today, flooding my work area with light, and that slight lift up feeling you get from the first few days of real sunlight, the knowledge that winter has retreated and sister spring is asserting herself.

I hate it. I remember the sun of that month, and it wasn’t healing. It was harsh and white and brittle and it hurt my heart to see.

I’ll never grow up will I? I’ll always be that little girl curled up on a couch in a family room, eating junior mints and pretending her mother wasn’t dying on a cold rainy spring day. I will always be that sad little girl.

Difference is, lately, she’s just angry.

“The timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it.”

1 Apr

 This year, this April marks 19 years without my mother. With her, but not with her.

The dead never really die you see. They hang around us, clammy on our skin, infesting our hearts and minds and memories. Every step I take, every word I breathe-they are formed and guided by her.

I have been on this earth longer than I knew her. I cannot remember her voice, or her touch. I mourn and desire a ghost. I mourn a woman who knew me not, who I hid the more painful moments of my childhood from. I mourn a woman who sent me into hell.

And I miss her. I ache for her so. In that primal way, that most sacred need-the arms and the voice of a mother. I’ve dreamt of her-arms wrapped around me as I moaned and whimpered, in a delivery room, her hands guiding and helping, the red emergency lights blinking their obvious terror at the wrongness of it all. I ache for the woman I should be, I could have been, had she not left, had the cancer not ravaged her body so, stealing her breasts, her movement, her life.

It’s not a dagger point any longer this pain. It doesn’t twist inside me, it doesn’t shake the barley in the fields. It merely twitches now and then-a glance from my daughters, a moment that feels so familiar that my eyes well up for no reason. This pain gently strokes my heart, a reminder of the shrieking horror I’ve come through, the maelstrom I survived.

Of course, it could have been worse. I knew that then. The girl I knew who lost both of her parents within a year-that was worse. The kids raped, not just molested. That was worse. The blank eyes of the children who had two parents who just didn’t get them, didn’t love them. The daughter of divorced parents, who had a mother who broke her heart every 6 months.

Much, much worse.

 My mother loved me. My mother waited for me, took my into her arms and raised me as she could. My mother did not want to leave us, my father forcing the doctor to tell her the horrible terrible news that it was no use, and she could let go and die. My mother was not a lay down and die kind of woman, and I’d like to think that those instructions are what killed her, not a desire to leave me.

But isn’t that the wish of every bereaved child, parent, lover. That their love would be enough to sustain their dying? That we be ripe juicy fruit, plums, peaches, mangoes, waters dripping into dry mouths. That we could give them strength.

There are many things I resent my mother for, many things I am still angry. Her leaving. Being unable to tell her when her favorite neighbour was doing horrible things to her daughter. Never feeling good enough for her, girly enough, perfect, careful enough.

But I loved her. And I still do. And I miss her terribly every single day-no matter how old I get, I wish her for strength and grace near me, I wish for her courage.

I wish for her.


“She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.”

16 Feb

I miss my mother today.

It’s subtle. Days, weeks, months-time will fly by with nary a thought or a word of her. Then a day will come where I’ll be enveloped in that long lost grief, held down and forced to bear it. And I’ll be that 11 year old girl again-weak at the knees, confused, upset and hollow.

Rosalyn spent the day climbing over me, up me, around me, her thin arms stretching behind my neck as if she was trying to become one with me once more. She spent the day reminding me what I’m missing, what I had once. Arms that no longer hold me. Lips that will never again say my name.

I crave for my loved ones to call my name, so that I’ll remember the word on their lips if ever they pass. To hear the syllables float softly into the air before me to linger, so I can hold them close.

I miss the smaller intimacies that motherhood brings. Someone who brushes your hair without hurting. Someone who knows how brown you like your toast. The socks you like. The exact color of your eyes and why you hate mousse. My daughters remind me of this some days, days like today when the sun, finally the sun! poured in like maple through the windows and glowed on their honey wheat heads, luminescent.

I remember weekend days like this with my mother, the slow pouring of hours, like honey. We’d watch old movies, cuddled on the couch. I’d have a sandwich for lunch, we walk downtown, stopping to talk, the waltz of a small town main drag. We’d sit at the bar, tucked in a corner of our house, and she’d play music on glasses filled with water as I’d sit, entranced. The sun would blaze through the windows, and it was like life would never end.

Things end however. Too soon, they end.

Today I could feel her hands in mine, dangling around me. And I missed her. I ached for her, for this mother I barely know, this mother mine who I’ll never see again, a woman whose memory forms much of what I believe women should be, much of what I think I should be.

Her spirit, her will was in those arms of Rosalyn today. And it took all I had to not weep quietly in a corner at their magic.

12 Months

8 Feb

On a site many people are talking about a mother is dying.

Maybe not today. Or tomorrow. But cancer is eating at her, and it’s unlikely she’ll win.

She poses the question-What would you do if you knew you only had 1 year left to live? Spending the last 2 weeks or so struggling for breath and ignoring the usual paranoid feeling that it would be something horrible, I stopped to think about it.

The kneejerk answer is stay home with my children and husband, die surrounded with their love.

But when I think about it, when I think of my mother, that’s not how I would want to spend the last days of my life.

My memories of my mother are mainly of her in a bed, sick, or of our daily routines, the grocery store, my father’s store, the fabric shop. They are the little usual things that don’t stick out in your mind and so don’t stick our 20 years later. My mother suffered from too much hope, living in denial about her illness until my father forced the doctors to tell her that yes, she really was dying.

I have no real baseline for who my mother was-her likes, her dislikes, her dreams. What she wanted for me, who she saw me as becoming. I remember she drank vanilla ensure since she couldn’t taste it anyway. I remember she had a special fork because it was lighter and didn’t bother her teeth. But I don’t know what she read.  I think she loved Elvis and Liberace.

If I was to die-if 12 months was all that was handed to me right now, I would spend the time with my family doing things. Leaving memories for my children, in books, on tape, but also in action. We would finally go whale watching, so they could realize that big things can be gentle things. We would go camping so they could discover the world around them, feel part of a larger place. We would visit my mother’s grave so I could tell them about bravery, about sacrifice, the only things I know of my mother. We would walk where I grew up, the old streets where the stone buildings stay warm into the evenings in summer and a cool breeze sweeps up the river.

I would write them poetry, reams of it so their father could hand them out slowly through the years, so my voice would pass like the wind into their memories and souls. Each would tell them how my body knows theirs, recognizes them, and misses them.

I would love my husband so they will know what love looks like-that it’s falliable, scary, wonderful and breathtaking. And we would laugh. We would laugh at a life I’ve never fully appreciated, or been thankful for.

I would buy them all the books I believe are important to read. Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang. Dune. Cosmos. The movies they need to watch. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Heathers. Delicatessen. L.A. Confidential.

I would spend 12 months making sure I die with as much me left to them as possible. Losing my mother young meant losing a part of me-who I was as a baby, as a small child. Losing all those dreams. I lost track of what being a girl, and then a woman meant. She left me no guideposts, no meaning.

Mostly, I’d want to spend 12 months making sure that my daughters, my lovely, willful, intelligent daughters knew that the light that shines around me is not the sun-it’s my love for them, the clear glimmers of how my my heart would break if I was to die on them.

“what do you like about your childhood?”

6 Feb

When I was very little, 4, maybe 5, my bedroom faced the river. I couldn’t see it from my window-all I could see were the rundown backs of the downtown strip, all dirty wood and spotlights, gravel driveways and the detrius of the drunks of the night before. But the sun would rise in my window, without fail every morning.

I was terrified.

When the sun rose each morning that summer, it filled my room with shades of gold, amber, oxblood. My heart would seize as I stared into the glare through the cheap pane glass, replaced only that summer because of my stupidity. Screaming, I’d summon my mother, who would stare blankly, kinda annoyed, from the window to me, sitting up in my bed, bawling.

“Mom! the world-it’s on fire!”


In many respects, I had an idyllic childhood. I spent hours in the backyard, creating kingdoms and fairy tales and stories of women kicking ass. My mother stayed home when I was younger, bringing money to the household as a tailor. The sound of her sewing machine routinely filled the house, hemming pants and darting skirts.

She was always there. Even when she went back to working outside the home, she was only behind the house. I could have stayed home, but I preferred to sit in the flowershop with her, watching entranced as she colored carnations green for St Paddy’s Day, arranged flowers for funerals, soaked the Oasis in water, let me touch the Venus Fly Traps.

My memories of my father are tied up in the little things as well-walking to the store so he could check the door. Riding on his shoulders , on a warm easter morning-one of those mornings that remind you it was worth waiting through winter for Spring, me in my tiny white sandals, him complaining that his back hurt.

I never rode on his shoulders again.

What I love about my childhood is that no matter what else was going on, my sense of home is a sense of safety. In my memories, our home was always full of light, but it’s not light.

It was love.

We weren’t, and still aren’t a touchy feeling talky family. (With the exception of me apparently) Sure there were bear hugs and beard rubs at night before bed, but I don’t have any vivid memories of the words ‘I love you” being spoken. And yet, my childhood memories spill over with love, and security and hope. All the best things you want for your children.

My memories of my parents as a couple are especially bittersweet. Knowing they were happy-happier than the parents of many of my friends, and yet losing each other. It makes the memories hard sometimes, and then, I am grateful they are few and far between.

I love remembering a time when I was just happy. Not confused, not upset, happy. Safe and secure, and totally unaware of what was to come. That my parents could do this for me is a wonderful gift, and the memories are held in reserve for the days that aren’t so good. So I have a safe place to land.


“It’s not on fire.” she said, “It’s just the sun, rising to say good morning.”

“The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm. “

30 Jan

Julie asks “What’s a pivotal childhood memory for you? And how do you carry it with you now?” for her Hump Day Hmmmmmm

My childhood memories are a mangled mess of horrible things, and beauty. Quiet, peaceful times like sitting with my father in our darkened living room, my tiny body pressed against his as we spoke softly as stared at the Christmas lights glowing in the corner. Holding my mother’s hand as we walked to the store my father owned for her daily coffee with the girls. Hours spent in the backyard, regardless of season, alone in my little worlds, spinning universes in my hands, weaving people to life between the ferns.

In many ways, I’ve considered my childhood to be idyllic, with the exception of a few things. Mainly I remember being very naive, very innocent almost. I was a shy quiet little girl, scrawny, all arms and legs and wild hair, stuffed into dresses only when absolutely necessary. Wide hazel eyes that took in everything. I was afire with curiosity for everything around me, reading everything I could find. (At least, until my mother found what I was trying to read and took it away)

I was your average, intelligent little girl. Who had the misfortune of having a mother diagnosed with breast cancer in the late eighties.

My father tells me that they found the lump fairly early, but that the doctor didn’t get excited and my mother didn’t press the issue further, or see another doctor. She accepted his word that it was “just a cyst” and moved on. I don’t know when it go bad enough that she went back, soon to suffer under chemo and radiation. I just know that it did.

I went with my mother to those appointments, to Kingston General, the hospital it turns out I was born at. We’d ride the elevator up to “her” floor, to oncology, and she would pat me on the head, and leave me to sit with the old men and women who mostly filled the waiting room, with the cookies and puzzles. It was comforting to be surrounded by age, but people who would watch me, smile fondly when I was excited at completing a section, offer the last Oreo since they knew I liked them. Always cookies.

Sometimes the nurses might let me play Space Invaders, hidden away in the children’s rest room. I blocked from my mind the idea that kids could be sick too, yet played the game as the posters on the wall suggested-imagining the invaders were cancer, and I was defeating it. Yet it was my mother’s cancer I was trying to destroy, not my own. It was my pain I was trying to annihilate, even if I didn’t know it then.

My mother would reappear a little while later, looking pale, and would hurry me out the door. It was a bit of a drive home, and she wanted to get there before the vomiting started. She never puked in the car. Out the door once I think. But we always made it home. Later, the Cancer Society made her accept someone else to drive her-the radiation made it too difficult for her, but pride kept her from asking for help.

Later, I’d hold my mother’s arms as we walked down the uneven driveway. I’d carry her warm vomit to the bathroom. I’d help her dress, get her boots on.  Before she died, I remember we had one last conversation. I played with the cookies on the table (always the cookies at the hospital, near oncology or palliative care) I don’t remember her words, or her face. I know that I pushed her in a wheelchair down a long corridor, but I cannot remember what words were spoken.

But before this, maybe in the midst of all this, I lost something. Perhaps it was when Air India Flight 182 went down, or much later when Pan Am Flight 103 went down over Scotland. We sat in the living room, sunlight streaming in through the windows, as we watched footage of a plane in pieces, strewn around. We were curling my hair for church, me sitting ramrod straight, my mother always managing to burn my ears since the one side never cooperated. We stared at the TV for a moment. She continued on with what she was doing, while I stared.

“Why do people do that?” I asked her.

“I don’t know.” she said.

In that instant, I shot from being a child, thinking the world revolved around me, to being a person, aware and awake in the world. I could grasp the meaning in there being many dead. I could relate to children dying, being hurt.

I could fully feel the fear I had of losing my mother. My mother was sick, and she was most likely going to die. I was going to be left without a mother-our family was going to fall apart, I would hurt, my father would lose his love.

She would die.

I don’t mourn the loss. It happens to everyone eventually. You can’t stay little and clueless forever. But I can’t help but wish it had happened in a way that was less violent, less drastic. It’s always felt like my childhood was ripped away from me-that I tried to hold on to it, but life just wouldn’t let me. I woke up that morning a child, and went to bed that evening a lot older and wiser.

But not necessarily happier.

It’s funny-I’ve had doctors say they don’t believe that I could possibly remember this, but I do. It shaped my life. I suddenly knew that bad things happen-at any time, to anyone. It’s no one’s fault. You don’t get cancer from being bad. You don’t die in a plane crash from liking the wrong people.

Things happen.

Life happens. As does death.

“Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, it is only time we have. “

14 Jan

The clock ticks, the wind blows outside, I sit listening to the smoker breathing of my father across the table from me.

He’s 69. I think. He will be 70 years old this year. 70 years on this earth. When he was born, a war was just beginning. The world was changing. He was my age when man walked on the moon. This age I feel so old and worldly at. I look behind me and think “man, where did that time go in such a hurry?” and yet I look at him and the time, seems like it’s spun itself out so long across the decades.

He must think of death now, or perhaps he’s accepted it. Perhaps 19 years ago when he sat at my mother’s deathbed, while he sat and murmured that he loved her, that he cherished her, that he was happy only with her he realized his own mortality. Perhaps he faced death in the corner of that room, near the window facing the brick walls; and he had a conversation, speaking of love, devotion, pain, fear, ache and loss. And maybe, for once, death understood, took it under advisement, let it rattle around the brain pan for a bit. Death, perhaps understanding a little clearer, maybe took a step backwards, felt the utter crap that was our loss that day, and gave my father a break.

I’d like to think that. I’d like to believe that my father’s extra 40 years on this earth, his survival through losing a brother, his parents, another brother, his wife, a good friend, that these things shore a person up, give them some insight into the human condition that I just can’t muster up. I really want to solace myself with the thought that maybe my father fears nothing, that death doesn’t frighten him.

But then I wonder if he worries about my mother, if he dreams of an afterlife so he can dream of her.

I no longer have the comfort of that dream. With the full loss of any faith, with the dropping off of my catholicism went the belief that my mother would find me in the afterlife. I do not believe that there is a better place. I do not believe that she is waiting for me.

But will I hold firm to this when I’m 70? Will I be so adamant in my belief, no my knowledge that nothing is there that I will remain unwavering, shooing away the priest who’ll think I need last rights?

I remember that, with my mother. The priest arriving, in black, always with the black, my mother’s personal friend, Father Paul, young and vibrant and, well, kinda hot, if you were eleven and trying to make sense of things like cancer and mastectomy and chemo. He had a small black bag with him.

The led me out of the room for it. From what I understand, she had her last rites a few times. How many times is too many? How many times until your god says”bah, die already! I’m watching Oprah!”

I was in another room eating Junior Mints, while my mother had the rites of the dead performed on her, while machines pumped out stale false breath from lungs that hadn’t worked for hours. On a corpse, the laid out the last words her body might ever hear, as I chewed on candy, watched mindless TV. As my father likely contemplated the forever alteration of his life, the meaning of his own ending, as the priest droned on and the machines kept their steady rhythm, I curled my feet under my slim child’s body, and pretended there wasn’t a voice echoing in my head, telling me “She’d Dead.”

Death hid in the corner of that room too, the “Family Room”, musty with prior years when smoking in hospitals wasn’t such an oxymoron, coated in that familiar green haze and plastic. He whispered to me that day, no melodrama, just a conversation, an acknowledgement.

I would never fear death. I would fear pain. I would fear a disease that slowly eats me from the inside like acid or venom. I would fear loving people, letting myself be loved. I would fear living. But I would never fear death. I would face him head on. Death had already taken the one thing I loved and needed in the world. What more could it take?

Now that I have children, a family, a husband, I understand my father’s obscure pain even more. What’s losing a parent compared to losing a wife? What’s losing a brother against watching your daughter cry out for her mother, knowing nothing but her mother would still those cries? What’s to living if you cannot soldier on and claim some sort of victory from death’s hands?

70 years. 70 years, full of love, heartache, loss, joy. I hear the clock tick, and I can see in my eyes a moment, a moment in time, a moment in life. The joy in bringing home his long awaited daughter. The sweetness in watching her with her mother. The ache in watching her howl her loss as the machines were switched off. The terror and sadness at realizing that life has come to this. The pure bliss of a granddaughter, then another. The silvery calm of this time, of the now, when everything has finally come to a rest, where the screams have died out, resonating only in our hearts. A place where we can sit, and think of better times, better moments between us.

A soft, sweet spot for all of us after all this time.

Death is the mother of Beauty; hence from her, alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams and our desires.

21 Nov

“Your grandmother loved horses. Your grandmother was even worse when she combed my hair-she gave me afro perms! Your grandmother hated mice. Your grandmother was the bravest person I will ever know.”

I tell Vivian stories of my mother like she’s real, like she exists and is just away on a long trip somewhere, maybe riding camels in the Sahara to bring Ngiri his Jungle Drums, maybe in Europe, drinking milky tea in some fabulous cafe.

That’s not right. My mother wouldn’t have wanted to travel. My mother would have rather been holed up somewhere with her sewing machine, maybe some pencils to draw with, some opera music. She’s sounds pretty awesome as I detail what I do remember-creative, open to new, “intellectual” things. But the truth, the things I’ll leave out until the girls are old, those things are colder and harder to remember.

Like how she relied mostly on corporal punishment, or at least that’s what stands out in my mind. How she had rigid ideas about what I should be, do or look like. How I was wrong for liking “boy” things.

I’m no more immune to making my mother a saint, or a devil than anyone else. When I was younger, I transferred my anger at her for leaving to anger over the fact that she’d hit me sometimes when I misbehaved. But I was wrong to judge her choices, and her behaviours. I was a stubborn, defiant precocious child who pushed each and every button imaginable. I was also shy, timid and mostly in my own head.

Now that I’m a parent, I understand my mother on a level I never did before. I understand the spanking. I understand the desire to mold me into some image that she held so dear-after all, she waited for a little girl for years. That I turned out to be the complete antithesis of the girl she envisioned wasn’t her fault. Her fault was her inability to let me be the girl I wanted, even if at the time, what I wanted to be was a boy.

She wanted many things for me, I’m sure. I stare at my daughters and try to imagine all the dreams my mother held for me, all the moments she wanted to share and yet lost. All the futures that weren’t.


“I love you Mommy, you’re beautiful.”

“You’re beautiful too Viv. And strong, and smart, and awesome.”

“Thanks Mum.”


I have dreams too. Dreams of cookies at Christmas, skating on crackly ice on black and clear nights, summer afternoons spent lazing in the backyard. Graduations, weddings, grandchildren. I see it stretching out in front of me like a ball of yarn, unspooled and tangled.

But dreams can die, or be broken. Knots form. Children have a tendency to not do what you think you want. All I want for them right now is their happiness-will that change? Will I become hung up on the colors they prefer, they boyfriends/girlfriends they choose, the friends they become attached to? Will I deny them my love over something as trivial as what they want with their life?

It is their life. The one failure I believe my mother had was not acknowledging MY life, and my right to find it. I comfort myself with the knowledge that adolescence would have been incredibly difficult if my mother would have been alive, although not as difficult as it was without her.

But I never grew to hate her, as so many friends did, at least for awhile. So many people threw those vile words “I hate you!” at their mothers for such little grievances, no new jeans, no lunch packed, no new haircut, while I sat and pined and wished I had a mother to hate. I was spared these indignities at least.


Someday, I will take Vivian, middle name Dianne for my mother, I will take her and show her. This is where your mother grew up. This is where your mother lost a piece of her soul on a rainy April morning. This is where I began. This grave is where I grew older. This river is what washed away a multitude of tears.

This place, this town, that town I turned my back on so long ago, that place is where I really begin.


14 Nov

In my head, in my weighted thoughts I’m sitting in a classroom in Grade 3, staring out the window at the wet mushy ground, new mud after winter, buds on the trees. My face is cradled in my arms, it’s quiet time, and I’m good at quiet. When I’m quiet no one can see me, or feel me.

Earlier that year, Michael’s mother had died. I remember this only because one day Michael got really mad, and threw a desk at the teacher, and was never seem again. Michael was poor, and the collective feeling seemed to be that he was trouble because he was poor, not because his mother had been sick most of his life and had just died. No sympathy for the destitute. I can still see his blond hair shaking on his head, the terror and the rage in his face, the absolute loss of control as he flew around the room.

His terror gripped me, and from time to time I thought about it, about my own mother. Staring out that window in spring, my mother in hospital for yet another treatment, my own fears and worries swirling in my head like mud. It could be my mother. My mother might die. I felt a kinship with him then, despite never seeing him since, despite disliking him before that. Suddenly I knew him, I understood his anger and his dark moods.

And yet I feared it. I feared becoming like him, unruly, untouchable. Alone on the playground not because of personality, but because others are frightened. Sitting on a bench all through recess, staring.

My memories are sparse through those years. I’ll remember pieces of early grade school, before life collapsed in on itself, like the desk Micheal threw that year. Watching a space ship explode, and understanding death. Grasping rather suddenly that sometimes you can’t just go home. Voices would ring in my ears reminding me how few my memories with my mother could be.

Despite those things, I argued every.little.thing. to the nth degree. I pushed my mother. I toed her boundary of what a girl was. I caved on my first communion dress.

I think it’s still at my father’s house, covered in tiny x’s and o’s-how important this dress was to her, this dress, and my headpiece, a crown of baby’s breath to sit in my chemical curls. That day mattered to my mother, despite it mattering nothing to me, even then. She passed down her favorite rosary that day, one which sits near my bed, waiting to be handed to my daughter, one of them, when the time is right. That rosary is the one piece left of my mother, the one tie to my past that I have, a tie to a better time when I stared at someone else, and thought how glad I was that the pain wasn’t mine. Not yet.

My head on my desk, I thought of all those things as the water dripped from the eaves of my school, and the stray cats hovered around the garbage bin next to the corner store across the dirty road. My mother waited two blocks away for me to walk home, sitting on church steps, her head in her hands, as I, untrustworthy dawdler, came across her.

I had my own desks to throw, later.