Archive | motherloss RSS feed for this section

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.”

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.

There

8 Feb

 

bebeme

In the air, this sweet break from the cold, rivulets down the road with winter dissolving, floats forever ago, a place disappeared, a land where the nights were long, crisp journey’s into another world, where time lasted and spun it’s magic around my ears. This air, reminds me of the warmth in our kitchen, the images of my mother’s hands across my back, on my head, in the sink, dishes clanging as I sat, underfoot, studying the patterns there. This air, it marries us across the years, the me then, the me now, handfasted, tied with thread and IV lines.

This air, it burns my eyes.

flowers

Taking advantage of a state of hypomania lasting more than 30 minutes (and explaining away my need for sleeping pills last night) I rip apart the bedroom, old clothes sorted out into a garbage bag, magazines on to the porch, to give away, to save for that day all trash is allowed, anything, maybe even the monkey’s on your back. I shift the bookshelves, notice the “unread” pile has grown to 20 or more books, smile. See my lonely photo album, the only evidence that I had a childhood, somehow tucked under the cat’s sofa, ragged and old.

Rosalyn, who has been “helping me” by laying on the futon and rolling around with Bride Barbie, sees the album and is drawn, as all children seem to be, by these frozen moments trapped. 

“That’s me!” she screams at the baby pictures. I find myself correcting her, but not really, so entwined we seem, so much the same, the air between us thin and enraptured, time meaningless. She sees me in full ballet regalia, the hated tutu, the flower hat my mother made that I wasn’t allowed to wear in the recital.

“I want to look like that Mummy.” she mutters, staring intently, eyes boring through the photo. Her grandmother deserved this child, she who loves pink and Barbie and babies and ballet, everything my mother wanted and wished for in a daughter, none of which she got. My mother deserved this granddaughter, who would have made her so proud, so happy, so fulfilled in all the ways I never could. Rosalyn deserved my mother, deserves her still, to embrace her in the ways I cannot, and possibly never should.

meandmom

I turn, find the one lonely shot of my mother and I, the only picture I have of her holding me, the only one where she’s smiling, where her face isn’t forced for the camera’s or fighting back the pain I know she suffered. She’s gorgeous-my mother was beautiful and I try to show Rosalyn, try to make her understand how lovely and perfect my mother was when I was her age, how I must have crowed “You’re the bestest mumy EVER!” to her in the mornings but I just can’t find the words, all gummed up like marshmallows in my throat and it won’t make any sense, not now.

Possibly not ever. How do you explain an absence to someone who’s never felt it? What’s the point is deciphering that which will never be?

My mother was who she was, and all the things she wasn’t and never would be. She loved me. Maybe I only have one picture and it’s fading and cracking but she’s sitting as I sit now and holding me as I hold my girls and I know, without doubt, her heart glowed for me and shone in the darkness that were her last days.

She loved me. That I can tell Ros. That makes sense.

meorros

I point to another shot, curled up in that hideous chair from so long ago, pointed at the television. Shot taken while I was in the grip of the nightly news I imagine, legs pulled under, wearing only underpants, despite my hair being neatly pinned back.

“Ros, who is that?”

She knows it’s me, but waits, looking into my eyes.

“I hated them too, see? No pants. Hated pants.”

“Like me!” she sings, grinning.

“Like you Honey Bear. Just like you.”

The air shimmers, and I can taste the air in that room, liver and onions perhaps, my mother’s ribs, a Sunday dinner of hamburgers, chips and illicit soda. It’s warm and secure and snug around my shoulders like one of those granny square afghans you find in the thrift stores now and again, the work wasted on the receiver, or maybe dead. We’re there together, Ros and I, but it’s her little legs on that chair, my hands holding the warm milky tea and buffing my nails before bed. We’ve merged and danced into each other, my childhood, my memories becoming hers, settling in to a quiet corner where in 10 or 20 years she’ll find herself telling a story about a little girl in a room full of amber light and love and they’ll never be able to tell what’s mine and what’s hers or where it’s all gone.

They’ll never know for sure.

mom

It breaks my heart to never know my mother. I’ll stare at her eyes in photographs, thinking I’ll know the secret if I look at her long enough, that somehow, I’ll absorb enough of her to really know my mother, for her to mean something more than the sum of her loss.

But you can’t know the dead. You can’t know the people they were-you can only wave to the people you want them to be, the people you think they were once, before everything happened. I can stare at her face, the before face, the one before the chemo and the radiation and the pain, the pain of knowledge, the pain of leaving, the pain of facing your life ending, a plane crashing into so many lives. I can’t know that. I’ll never know that in the ways that kept her up at night or guarded her eyes as the days grew closer.

I will never know my mother. She will be that perfect garden in a picture, all beauty and tragedy, curves and angles, youth and hope. She will be annectodal memories for my daughters, the one we cannot hurt, the one who lives forever in our hearts and fingertips and the glittering spring leaves in the broad maple behind the house.

The one that got away.

momsick

She was happy once, that I can convince myself of, even when I stare at a face yellowed by treatment, frightened by what might come, and yet absolutely resolute in her ability to ignore what will be. Hope via ignorance. How very catholic of her.

momhappy

She was happy once. God fucking dammit, she was happy, and alive and beautiful and she was my mother. Sometimes the air arches back and around, like today, and I imagine her, young, like I am, newly blessed with children, just breathing in the air, glad to be alive, remembering when she was young, and all the stories she’d some day tell.

She was happy there.

“The ending of sorrow is the beginning of wisdom.”

23 Jan

The questions are simple and familiar. I respond in a cadence I’m not acquainted with. The woman speaking, the woman sitting there, in the most hated of black tights, she’s not someone I’ve known. The answers pour from her mouth like oil, slithering, her laughter meant to charm and bewitch, entwine. Her entire demeanor screams “Like me. I’m fabulous!”

Where the hell she came from is news to me. I haven’t seen this woman in, well, ever.

Days later, having “a serious conversation” about stuff like end dates and payouts, I hear her again, making it clear that I expect what’s deserved by law, and also, by courtesy and fairness. The voice also stands firm and lets it slip in a very subtle way that if the letter of the law isn’t followed, there is no concern in taking it somewhere that could get very complicated.

Her entire demeanor screams “Go ahead. Try and fuck my shit up. I’d enjoy the fight.”

She’s news to me as well. But she fills up my chest like nothing else and I’m perversely proud of the woman who finally found a hill she’s willing to die on. Her back is straight and for moments, I imagine this to be the woman I should have been all along.

Fearless, breathless and utterly charming.

****

Kate wrote  a post last night that hit upon something I’ve been thinking about all week. Sorta.

2009 is twenty years since my mother died of cancer. Grief has underpinned my life so much in the past 20 years it’s not funny-it’s crawled into bed with me, held my hand as I brought new life into the world, rattled my cage at any sign of newness. And it hangs with me still-my need for attention after those formative years spent worrying about everyone else, everyone else thinking I was strong enough and didn’t need to be weak. My fear for my children, my fear for them because of me, my worry that anyone I come close to will screw me over, not might, WILL.

These are itches in my brain that I’ll spend the rest of my life attempting to negotiate and move past. They are part of me. They are no longer strange glitches to acknowledge and then push off the coffee table, they are part of me, and learning to worth with them-that’s the struggle.

But the hardest part, the plain grief, the shuddering quake in my chest, it’s long gone. There are days when I feel wrong almost to be ok with what was, sullen and rude to not still feel that cold hand inside me. Days where it’s easy to imagine she is gone from me, totally and irrevocably lost to my ears and fingers.

The pain allowed the mystery to stay true and follow. Strangely I miss that, the only communion we had, her voice lost amid the trees and the ducks in summer, my ears deafened by children and chili and Sunday mornings lazy in arms.

20 years now, and she is really truly gone from me. I see her everywhere, her image, her doing, her will, her morals, rising up in my like some terrible voice. My thoughts are sometimes her thoughts, and it’s like the years have compressed and for just a second, we are the same people, just two young mothers trying to make it all work. Moments as these are understanding and forgiveness, as years ago they were anger and sadness.

I get it now. Perhaps that’s why the ache is gone. I understand, fully, the sacrifice she had made for us, for herself. I understand the woman who stared at her child, wondering about the years ahead. I understand that for the woman in me to unravel and become, I had to start letting the child die, let her free after holding on to her for dear life for so very long, the only thing I had known was safe and loved me back.

They had to tell my mother to die. In no uncertain terms my father asked her doctors to tell her to let go. Her will was that strong, the fire in her belly and heart so warm and unwavering that she wouldn’t believe she was leaving us, not until there was really no choice, and she made the long trip home to die.

I understand now, that she spoke with a voice she had never heard, and felt it buffer her from the inside, to stay, to last just a little more, the sweetness of life and love just so right. I understand now that this voice is more than just the woman i was meant to be. It’s my birthright.

The last, and most tender gift a mother can give her little girl.

We are searching for meaning in the meaningless.

13 Jun


Cuppa?

Originally uploaded by thordora

I’m not a big stuff person. Sure, I like things. But if they go missing, or break, I don’t miss them much. A small “huh” usually suffices, unless we’re talking about my Rainbow Brite doll that I lost years ago, or the hockey stick my brother broke when I was 7 or so.

Stuff just is. I’m not a collector, or a hoarder. My slob tendencies aside, I don’t have a lot of things. I have books. I have music. I have few clothes, little in the bathroom and I can count on one hand the things I’d be saving in case of fire.

Both my father and I believe that death imprints upon you a sense of urgency and need, an awareness of the bigger world looming around you. Things are meaningless to him as well. We like nice things, expensive well made pieces of furniture, sculpture, a perfect light fixture, emotion cast in bronze. We want to respond to that which we own. After losing my mother, little things trickled into the background. You might still want that Wii or those shoes, but you just don’t care enough to save up for it or fight some bitchy lady in an aisle for it.

Those concerns are swept away, replaced by more morbid thoughts, conversations about dying with a 5 year old.

Today, spurred on by this lovely bout of hypomania, I cleaned the counter where everything goes to die, and the shelving around it. On the top shelves live my mother’s tea cups.

All through my childhood I coveted these. I was only allowed to touch them every few months when she took them down for cleaning along with her copper pots. As a child they were delicious to look at, colors so vibrant, flowers so perfect. Each English Bone China, likely worth very little. But when I was allowed to hold one briefly, they may as well been eggs from the golden goose. They were treasure. They were special to my mother and I was allowed to hold them.

For years I didn’t have them, until I moved into this house and my father arrived one year with them.

“You always loved them, and it’s time for you to have them. Otherwise they’ll get broken”

I nearly burst into tears at the sight of them, at the feel of the cold china in my hands, the smoothness of the handles, the delicate folds and bends. My mother’s industrious hands were all over them, and briefly, she was with me.

Tonight this happened again, that bubble flashback in time to simpler things, standing next to the reassurance of my mother, her hands methodically yet cautiously cleaning her tea cups. I found my own hands caressing the china, her arms and thoughts moving through mine.

Vivian asked to hold them and I reminded her they were special and she wasn’t quite old enough. She asked me why they were special, why we had to be so careful.

I told her “Because sometimes a thing can bring a memory back so real that it’s like you’re there. And sometimes sweets, I just want to be with my mommy so bad I need something special to take me there. These are all I have left of my mother, and I need to be careful.”

She asked me if she’s be gone if the teacups broke. I told her no, she’d still be in my heart, but that then the specialness of holding something her hands had once held would be gone.

With that wisdom only the small seem to carry, she nodded and walked away.

They are only teacups. But they are also gateways to another place, another time entirely, where the sun shines heavy on a winter afternoon. Things are meaningless, without the stories built in.

“Age is opportunity no less,than youth itself, though in another dress. And as the evening twilight fades away, the sky is filled by the stars invisible by the day.”

3 Jun

A perfect day Elise: PJ Harvey

I’ve always loved this song. The tension, the pacing of the story, the vividness of the setting despite so few words. It would play itself out so clearly in my head.

To imagine that it’s 10 years old-meaning I’m ten years older. That it still has the same kind of hold on me…

I think a lot about aging, on how I still feel 17 inside, where it counts, but my knee kills when I jog and I can’t eat raw broccoli anymore. I think of it as spaces, bubbles that intersect, co-mingle, but never truly merge. We float into each age, effortlessly in some cases, kicking and screaming in others. Are some of us old souls, unfazed by the passage of years, knowing that they are ultimately meaningless, while others are young, too young, and are angered by responsibility and necessity? Do our stories ever merge?

I spend a lot of my time in public staring at other people. I always have. There’s something fascinating in the little tidbits people let slip. How they adjust their underthings when they believe no one is watching. How they drink their coffee. How they smoke a cigarette. If the person with them is a lover. Who they are, who they’ve been. A story in each individual spark, waiting to be told. A life lived. A baby suckled. A child held, and released. A teenager who danced, or lied to join the war. A young adult, faced with marriage, a job, or the agony of choosing their life work. And old man, staring at his hands and wishing. The loves that danced between, the loves lost, the lives stolen, children snatched.

Artwork that has never seen light. Music never sung. Voices squandered. I imagine every single one of those people a book, covered in rough leather, bound tight to be opened. It’s a mighty cliche, but I see volumes stacked on a shelf in these lives, the moments left to memory that only become real when spoken.

Old age has never scared me. I never imagined that I’d turn into a wrinkled crone, handing apples out to fair maidens. Maybe the image I hold in my head of my mother forms my view on aging-that it means grace, and dignity and wisdom. That it represents coming through and out from the events that tear your life asunder, and arriving at a delicate moth wing of a place where the air is cool with petals and sweet wind and you can breathe and just be, convinced that you are who you should be and that all else matters little. In my mind, my mother is this person-secure and stable in herself, clinging to the mast inside, spine firm and rigid, yet just curved enough to weather the storm.

Of course, she never completed her voyage. She never became a crone in the strictest sense of the word. Her art, her songs, her music died inside her, and has left me searching ever since in the faces of the old for pieces of her, slivers in grey eyes, giggles on blue dresses, a smirk in a corner. My guide in age has left, but has also left me fearless, aware that I walk into the unknown, head high, playing out my own story.

I am roughly the age now that she was when I was adopted. When I was placed in her arms and told “You are her mother now.” When my life became hers, when old age meant my grandchildren surrounding her on a chair listening to her stories about how frightened I was of some silly old Venus Fly Trap and how I couldn’t be trusted to walk home alone, my head in the clouds searching for dreams and leprechauns.  Right now, she would have become a mother to a daughter, and her hopes, her own questions for mortality and aging, for then, and forever and someday would have crystallized into one moment, one song –

I love you.

Age is meaningless. I look into the eyes of my children, and see my mother looking back. Not through blood, but through will and spirit, through the eyes of the older gentleman that seem to say “You’re doing just fine” through the mouths of the old ladies who dote and squeeze and love so unconditionally that I want to run screaming into their arms asking HOW! How did they do this, losing sons, husbands, sisters, friends, until it’s just them, waiting, biding their time and asking where did it all go? In their eyes my mother is 16 and dancing to Elvis, waiting for her true love.

In their eyes, future and past tell their stories to each other, and bubbles burst into the air, showering us with quiet memory. And I wonder where 10 years have gone so quickly.

 

“Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge and affirm that it is fitting and delicious to lose everything. “

29 May

I’m sitting in the waiting room to do my stress test, staring at an older woman, and a younger man. He’s going on and on to her about his stroke-how it felt, what happened, matter of fact like, as if telling a fable he’s told a hundred times before.

She’s desperate for it, for his pain and suffering. She’s desperate for an opening, a chance to say “Me too, but”. You can smell it. I smelled it when I walked into the unit, all full up of the infirm, and sometimes the not so infirm, people waiting to be told if they’re dying, if their breaths are all used up, if they are not so solid, not so balanced on terra firma.

They watch the young people when we enter. I feel eyes on me, misty eyes with more memories than time I’ve used up. I don’t belong. I’ve entered their space, their world. Weekly check up’s maybe, casual familiarity with nurses.

The youngish man leaves to do his testing, handsome in a mature way, but scared, settled by scared. The woman sets her sights more firmly on me, and I make the mistake of mentioning a sudden wave of nausea a few days past, similar to what he described. The clammy skin-she reminds me-you have clammy skin when this happens.

I smile and nod, absently, but she launches into what sounds like a practiced speech about losing her sister last year. Funny thing was, as she spoke, I realized she was speaking of someone I worked with, sorta, someone who worked for our company, who had a sudden heart attack while working from home. I casually said I’d love to go like that, quick, simply, no mess.

Oh how old ladies can glare.

I mentioned that I new here sister’s daughter in law, and her babies, and how lucky she was to be there when they were born.

“But she doesn’t get to see them grow up. She doesn’t get any of it.”

For one hot blinding second, I wanted to stand up and scream at this woman, wrapped up in bitterness and all the wrong kinds of anger and screech that my mother never got to even meet mine, that she wasn’t lucky enough to be given that time. My mother didn’t know it might happen, didn’t have something wrong with her heart from day one. She was snatched. She didn’t have a chance to be an old bitter lady in a hospital.

That of course passed, and I moved on to reminding myself that relativity is looking into what you despise and forgiving yourself for hating it. Something in this woman ached endlessly, rattled her bones and held her trapped in her little world. She was waiting for death it seemed, eyes at once shrewish and hopeless. She was transparent, in my memory she’s like the skin of a snake, discarded and hanging from a tree.

Finishing my test, with the usual “nothing wrong here-you’re fat, that’s why you can’t breathe” lecture to bid me farewell, I walked again through the lobby, through the 70 and 80 and 90 year olds who followed me out with their eyes. I had an urge to run back and ask them to tell me one magical thing about their lives, one thing I should do, one thing they could have never lived without, one regret. I wanted to ask them to bless me with the knowledge of their years, so they could remember they’re adults and not the children the medical staff treat them like. I wanted them to remember when their hearts beat strong and they were more than cast offs in the wind. I wanted the color to flow back into their eyes and their skin.

But I was late for work, and besides, the TV was on.

 

(Title taken from Affirmation by Donald Hall)

“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.

1989.

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.

 

Crank Pot

28 Apr

I am unbelievable foul today. I’m tired, I’m fighting with the scratch in my throat and I’d much rather be curled up in a coffee shop rereading Jane Eyre for the 100th time. And oh the people around me. This is NOT a people day. I’m tired of people, especially people talking nonsense about the TV and whining about gas prices.

Sorry people I have ZERO sympathy on the gas prices for cars. I know too many people who have set their lifestyle according to their vehicle instead of setting a reasonable one according to accessibility. We manage it, and manage it well, as can many people in a city setting. So the whining-NOT COOL. I’m not being all superior but really, stop living in places so bloody removed from everything. Stop gasping at me for walking 4kms to work. Stop being part of the problem, kwim?

I grow very tired of the office environment. Thankfully, I’m usually able to get myself somewhere with limited contact, but not always. It’s not so much the people as it is the insipid conversations. Last time I heard a conversation about reality TV? About 10 minutes ago. Last time I heard one about books? uh…..yeah. Too far back to remember.

See? FOUL. I don’t usually ever talk about work, but today I’m tired and cranky enough to do so.

I kept myself busy yesterday, until I realized it didn’t matter. Time has finally softened the blow to a soft kiss. I muttered my usual benediction to my mother as I fell off to sleep, I miss you, I still love you, but all and all, life moves on, as it should.

Anymore it just reminds me how fucking terrified I am of dying young, dying on my daughters, leaving them adrift and afloat. Learning to not anticipate the worst, it’s hard. It’s like relearning how to walk, trying to dispel that hovering cloud. Most days, I can. But other days-it’s a voice always in my head. Cherish what you have. Enjoy it, hold it. It could be gone.

Maybe it’s not so much morbid as it is just good preparation.

I’m cranky.

Nineteen

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.

 

“Memory becomes your partner. You nuture it. You hold it. You dance with it.”

5 Mar

The other day I bought the first season of Six Feet Under, one of my most favorite shows ever. (Watch the series finale. Try not to cry. Go ahead, try.)

We watched the pilot last night, something I haven’t watched in years. In it, the father died in a car crash, killed instantly on Christmas Eve while trying to light another cigarette. Most of the episode if the aftermath of that, and the family tensions that unfold.

Generally speaking, the show makes me cry. Shocking I know. Watching the scene where Ruth breaks down at the casket, and howls in such a plaintive, sad way, watching Claire running from her grief, the agony of losing a parent-watching David bottle it up until he nearly explodes, only then feeling free to break down. I’ve been all those things. I’ve been all those places. I’ve watched my family dissolve through these stereotypes, these standards of grief.

It didn’t get to me-it made me feel comfortable, at ease. An old friend telling stories I could relate to, and understand. The little girl in me is mostly ok with all of this now, 19 years on, she’s come to grips with those cold clods of dirt she threw on top of the coffin, the rattling sound the small stones made down the sides, the flowers tossed in afterwards. She’s ok with the fact that no one helped her through it-mostly because no one else could. They were all so lost.

She’s let it go.

What she mours is more complex, more painful in it’s knifelike shards.

Near the end of the episode, there’s a memory sequence of the Nate and David as small boys, playing in the front yard. Their mother sits on the steps, their father waters something, spraying them from time to time. The sun is yellow, warm, like a topaz transposed on the sky. The boys run and squeal and time means nothing, time is sealed in a box they aren’t allowed to open.

My little girl mourns those days. Sunny, perfectly outlined days. Moments that live in memory as a smile, a hand on a shoulder, a beard rub, a car wash. Sitting in a living room in June, watching the sun dance through the air, all the dust moving in some hidden ballet through the house.

The loss of those days-the crack in the window of my childhood-that is what I mourn the most. The clean days of just being, the treasures in a bookcase, the small treats from your mother. I miss and mourn those.

So it was harder to stay still and not cry, watching to small boys run laughing on their lawn. Because I miss my little girl, I miss those memories. I miss them meaning nothing more than what they were, instead of being a prelude.