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“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.

“The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory.”

20 Jan

As I sat, folding laundry this morning, I stared over at my kids, at Rosalyn transfixed by Wonder Pets, Vivian attempting to help me fold. It occurred to me that despite my having no real memories of that period of my life, my mother still did all the work.

She listened to the screaming. The whining. Did the potty training, tried to get me excited for new foods. She helped me learn to dress myself, learn to talk, learn to read. She wiped away the tears when I fell down, she praised me when I did something new.

And I remember none of it. My girls, will remember little if none of it.

Vivian is finally entering an age where memory will start to be retained. She also has a memory like a steel trap. She still remembers, vividly, dislocating her elbow when she was 2 or so, not even 2 if I remember correctly. It was that scary and painful that she can still speak to in in detail. But now, the mundane will be collected and stored for later, and I find myself wondering just what she’ll remember. Will she remember all 4 of us on the couch, watching a movie? Will she remember my threats to throw her father’s (clean) underwear on her head fondly? Will she remember the perogies she had for lunch?

I can’t control what she remembers, what she keeps for later. But I know how much I mourn not having those memories, and not having someone around to help reinforce what little I have. I don’t know what’s real, and what’s fantasy in many cases, because it only involved my mother and I, and I can’t validate it. So I try hard to make moments that will impress themselves upon her, shared giggles, the warmth of a shared need for contact, a look in the eye together. A bond that maybe even death could never shake free.

Because I worry about death. Not obsessively, not like I once did, but I still worry “What if?” What if I die before they’re old enough. What if I leave them without me, without my words and arms to remind them of how much I loved them, here and now. What if they never hear my voice as adults. What if…

I can’t build a life on what if, but I can prepare for all contingencies. So I do. So we sit and tell stories, we tickle, we love, we appreciate, awake and aware, what we have right now, so that maybe, we won’t forget when we’re older.

“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.

Sickness or Health

23 Nov

I have the Fidel Castro of head colds. It will not die, relent or change course. It’s hanging on for dear life, and making me cranky, tired and just plain irritable.

As an outgrowth of this cold, I have a pulled muscle in my neck from sneezing. You heard that right.

When I get sick, and I’m grumpy and having trouble dealing with my children, I have a hard time imagining my mother sick from a chemo treatment dealing with me. I asked my Dad how she did it, and he just shrugged and said ‘She was a tough cookie’.

She was. She would have to be. While I’m laid out sniffling and feeling sorry for myself, I try and imagine the kind of strength it would have taken to deal with a whining 7 or 9 year old girl, or even just a normal little girl, who wants to do things and go places.

A friend of my mother’s told me that we were inseparable, that my mother took me everywhere, that she loved me. And she did. She’d take me with her to chemo treatments when really, she could have left me with my brother. In light of the fact that I’d get horrible car sick, maybe she should have. We’d go shopping, we’d go sit in the cafeteria in the store my father ran, I with ginger ale or chocolate milk and a muffin, her with coffee.

We’re not so dissimilar now. I can merge myself into her, into that mothering concept of blending your child into your life. I can sit in her shoes and wonder about tomorrow, wonder what it might bring if I’m not there. She had the agony of hope then, as I do too about my disease. Mine isn’t as misplaced as hers was though.

I often wonder where she found the strength to fight for so long, if it’s because we’re adopted, and her struggle for kids made her want to stay here even harder, or if she was just plain old stubborn and didn’t want to listen to what the doctors wanted to tell her. I get sick and I barely have the strength to hang out with my kids, who generally have no sense of when to shut the hell up because someone is sick. Where did she find hers?

I wonder too, if she knew I’d end up thinking she was one of the strongest and bravest people I’d ever know, or if she worried I wouldn’t know her at all. She would have had so many memories of me, while I have so few and fleeting memories of her.

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.

“Grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life. ”

14 Nov

I think of being an orphan frequently. It fills my thoughts some days, others, I barely feel it.

When my father dies, it will be my brother and I. Two people with a tenuous connection made by law, and little else. Not even blood between us. The rest of our family has flittered off into the distance. You hear vague words, brain tumour, heart attacks.Maybe a Christmas card. Little else.

I’ve built it this way. More distance, less danger. Less danger of becoming entangled, of caring. Their stories aren’t mine anyway. The story of my blood is carried by far more indifferent people.

************************

On a drive to play bingo, I sat in the passenger seat smoking, foot on the dash, hand out the window, watching the trees fly by as we sped down the highway. We sang along to Mr. Mister, as I cringed at the cheese factor. We always sing together in the car-it’s the one nameless thing my brother and I do together. No one mentions it. We just sing.

A song comes on that reminds me of my mother. I flick my cigarette out the window, and question my brother. Did she like me? Did she think I was nuts? Was I the child she wanted? What did she like to do? Inside my head I was screaming to know her, to relate to her on a level other than sheer physical comfort and things.

“Stop asking about her! Why do you have to keep talking about her?!”

He slams the door to the car and walks quickly into the hall as I sit stunned in the car, silently crying. I know why he does this, I know he hurts too.

But I hurt just as much dammit.

*******************************

On my 13th birthday, my brother gave me a card. Inside he wrote about when our parents first brought me home.

You moved into my playroom. I was mad about that. But I was excited to have a baby sister, and I’m excited now to help you grow up!

I had nothing to write in his birthday cards aside from “nah-nah, you’re old!” I felt strangely unhinged from my brother, never quite in tune. Detached. I never have loved him. It’s like I can’t, and I’m not sure why.

Perhaps because after my mother died, we had nothing to even vaguely connect us. I remember little of him from that period. I was far too wrapped up in my own anger and pain to notice anything on my periphery. But you’d think my brother would be there, holding me up, right?

He never was. The only thing that drew us together later was our drunk of a father.

*************************

He didn’t start ofF a drunk. Genetics predisposed him to be one, but my mother kept him in line.

One little death will change all of that.

Night after night after night of 2am wake ups and cursing and swearing and screaming as my father denigrated my brother, called him names, spit at him, disowned him. I got off lightly having only to deal with his sudden need for contact and tears. But my brother-my father nightly destroyed him.

After one terrible night, a long night spent screaming in my bed room, then crying, the three of us, my brother and I stood drinking tea in the kitchen, blurry eyed and exhausted.

He started to cry.

“Why does he hate me? Why?”

I had no answer, save that he didn’t. Not really. He saw in us our mother, his love, the one thing forever lost to him. And he hated us for it. But what to tell a brother at 4am after he’s been called less than dirt, and dead to his father?

We stood in that kitchen for what seemed like hours, trying to come to terms with the fact that our father was just as human and just as broken as we were.

****************************

We have a common lexicon. Things we can casually joke about, politics to talk over, music to make fun of. Bill Cosby to laugh at. Things that, at a glance, make us siblings. But we don’t have that deeper pull to each other, just a gleaming emptiness that threatens us when we talk about “what if’s” What if Dad dies while he’s here with us during the winter. Who gets the house.

We don’t speak of what will happen between us when he dies.

I envy those with bonds that run deep, bonds that cause passionate fights over small figurines and places at the table. Bonds that transcend other people, that build meaningful roads into the future. I have none of these things. I have threads, threads that fan out around me, threads I can barely hold on to anymore.

They fray. How they fray.

DEsk

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.

“my mother died friends are uncomfortable”

13 Nov

Oh honey, I’m so sorry.

One of the worst parts about losing a parent is trying to handle your friends. To this day I can still remember the helpless looks on the faces of the people I knew when I told them my mother was dead. Surely the matter of fact way I said it didn’t help, but I was in shock. They looked at each other, then back at me. “You’re kidding” they said.

“nope.” I said. “She died a few hours ago.”

If you want to get rid of your friends quickly, that’s a good way to do it.

I was in shock at first, and likely unable to register what I was doing to my friends, the few I had. Most avoided the topic, preferring to stay as far away from it as possible. One held me up as I ran from church, bawling during my mother’s service.

They are uncomfortable because they are scared it could happen to their mother. They’re uncomfortable because they do not want to hurt you, and do not realize that silence will hurt even more. Open up to them. Talk about her-talk about her illness, her death, the funeral, how much you miss her.

I was never open with my friends. I always tried to pretend that it didn’t bother me, that I was strong enough to handle it. I wasn’t, not really, but people bought the act. Only now, years later, did I discover that people really believed me when I said I was strong enough.

If I had of opened up to a friend about it, if I had of taken the time to explain what I couldn’t deal with them saying and knowing, and what I couldn’t handle, maybe it would have changed things. Maybe people would have seen when I needed help, seen when a little girl needed her mother more than anything else.

Your friends need you to be strong for them in a way, just long enough for you to tell them what you need. What support they can give. They will give it if you ask, but you need to ask for it.

Things will improve. Soon, life will be almost as you knew it. Almost.

It’s snowing.

10 Nov

I complain about the early snow, but really, I don’t mind. How can something that coats the ground like smooth velvet be bad?

Remember that excitement when you were small, and the first snow hit? How even half a centimetre was a cause for joy and wonder? The world was changing! The air became heavy and moist, your breath would hang on it for what seemed like hours. Even the sunlight would be different, clean and cutting.

I would spend hours sitting in my backyard, playing at nothing and everything in the snow. Building forts, having grand adventures, all those things a lonely kid would do on a snowy afternoon. I’m come back in the house, frosty, with snow packed down my boots and in my sleeves. My nose would be red, and I’d stand on the forced air vent to warm my toes. My mother would make hot chocolate, and tell me to stop hogging the hot air.

My best memories of my mother are from winter, the cold clear nights when she’s flip the porch light on and off so we’d come back in the house, the steamy kitchen, fragrant with dinner, curled up on the couch on the too cold nights, reading or watching the news. She was such a warm presence then, a steady warmth I could count on to warm me no matter how chilly it got outside.

It’s snowing today. I hope I can make some warmth for my babies too.

“Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face.”

1 Nov

My earliest memory of my mother is one of fire.

When I was just a bit older than 2, the church up the street from our house went up in flames. Being a regular small town gal, my mother dragged me along to watch the flames. I remember staring from the other side of the street as the structure went down.

After that, I don’t remember anything until I was 5 or so, and someone was at our house to evaluate me for school, testing and talking. I wore a red and blue dress that my mother had made.

I remember flames, I remember dresses, and yet I hardly remember my mother’s face.

I wasn’t born to this mother. I was given, and received. A gift, a long awaited, joyous arrival. Something special. I was told repeatedly throughout my childhood that I was different, and special. That I was chosen. That I was wanted.

My childhood was full of the knowledge that I was loved. I can think of nothing better. But the trouble is, often I can’t remember being loved-I don’t remember hugging my mother, I don’t remember being affectionate at all with her, aside from cuddling up with her to look at the Sears catalogue on grey Saturday mornings. I can’t remember hearing her say she loved me, although clearly it didn’t matter.

I don’t remember the little things, mostly. I remember that she loved her tea milky with lots of sugar, and I’d drink the little tiny bit she’s leave cold in her teacup. I remember that she didn’t like color on her nails, preferring clear polish. She had a fork that she preferred. But what I don’t remember, or really even know, is who SHE was. Why did she take me to that fire so young? Why was it important to go?

I found drawings once that my mother had done, before my father threw everything out. She could enlarge almost anything by hand, and had a great talent for pencil drawings. Did she dream of doing anything with it? Or was she happy living in the shadow of my father’s incredible but wasted talent for painting and sculpting? What were her dreams?

Surely she didn’t want to be sewing hems forever, as she did to bring in extra money. Years after she died, people would come to the house looking for Dianne to alter their pants. Usually I’d be the one at home to tell them she was dead, had been dead for years. Did she touch people that much that they’d remember her after all that time? Was that what she wanted her legacy to be?

I want her voice back. I want to hear it again. I want her soft arms to encircle me, I want to smell her perfume. I want to play in her closet again and sit under her dresses, stare up at her jewelry. I want to pin together all the pieces and cobble up a full mother. I want to look back into the face that I love and meet her head on, as her daughter, as a mother.

My father tells me she would be proud of me. He reminds me often that she loved me. But she didn’t know me anymore than I knew her.

“Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits. “

18 Oct

The last few lovely days of 2007 are upon us, and we bask in it’s sunshine, the soft warmth of fall, the automatic scent memory of wood stoves and crushed leaves in our noses. The trees shine yellow, orange, purple-my candy dreams come to life around me.

Conjure up if you will, a target smile of comfort, blissed out eyes, closed off into their own little world. This is where I am most at ease, most alive. During the transition between life and death, summer and winter, I find my place. A child born of that division, forced to acknowledge it forever.

But I don’t mind. Fall lingers in my pockets like an old favorite of a book, nothing too chewy, nor too easy, but just right-just enough to make you ponder and think, make you wonder. Just enough to help you fall off to sleep each night.

If a season can be home, then autumn is mine, with all it’s nooks and crannies.

 **********************************

We trudge off to the park, as we do most nights, dragging Poppi along, trailing sticks and cigarette smoke.

“I don’t trust you on the road Poppi.” Vivian states as he pushes Rosalyn down the street to the next sidewalk ramp. “Get off the road.”

Bemusement fills his face. “Little Dictator” he mumbles as he plods along. I grin silently.

***********************************

We watch Rosalyn toddle along from slide to slide, veering between her favorite red one, the fast one, and the shorter yellow one. She hops when she runs, almost like a rabbit, but cuter, that irrepressible toddler spirit humming along.

“Mom would have loved her.” I blurt out. “She’s just so adorable and girly…”

“yeah.” My father says. “Think of the pink frilly dresses she would have bought. Oh! The pink!”

And it’s only the truth. Love might be equally shared, but everyone has a secret favorite, a child whose heart matches theirs just that little bit more, the child who just gets it, the child who fits just right into the crook of your eye. Rosalyn would have been that child for my mother. The daughter who wanted skirts. Who wanted little girl things. The cute little girl, loving and warm.

A little part of me is jealous, even of the relationship they would have but couldn’t. My mother would have understood this child in a way that I can’t, ways I might never. I envy that.

My father and I sit quietly for a few moments, lost in thought, watching Rosalyn go up, down, up slides. Perhaps my mother watches as well, putting down her sewing to hover around Rosalyn’s head, making sure she doesn’t fall too hard or too far.

I like that idea.

“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

4 Sep

I write to void myself of the thoughts I cannot bear to keep.

My mother seizing off her bed on a cool April morning.

Pictures of me, naked as a child on someone’s bedroom wall.

My father, drunk at 2am, pissing on my bedroom door, and the loathing I felt as I swore and screamed at him, my sympathy defeated by my fatigue with life.

Burying my mother. A coffin in the hard ground, my sobbing echoing across the gravestones. The tears I cried at that grave.

Realizing I wasn’t what my biological mother wanted or needed in a daughter.

Watching someone murder kittens, being too young to know how to stop him. Being so desperate for contact, some sort of friendship that I likely wouldn’t have stopped him if I could have.

Realizing a friend was trying to kill herself, listening to her life drip from her mouth on the phone. Getting there just in time. Explaining to a friend’s 3 year old sister why Gisele was in the hospital, and why I was crying.

Crying. So many tears. So much time, lost and wasted. So many years I spent tired and sad, wrapped up in the memories of days I cannot change, people I cannot affect, events I cannot alter. I cannot take my innocence back, I cannot wipe clean those pictures. I cannot erase the hundreds of little ways to grieving, lonely people hurt each other. I cannot take back my stupidity or helplessness. I cannot be strong enough.

Slowly, I begin to realize I never could be.

I write because my life begs to be written. Because my life should serve as something more than a reason for me to be depressed or angry. Because lessons learned should be shared.

Because I cannot stop myself.

ppasept07button.jpg

My lullaby

3 Sep

My mother was dying the Christmas of 1988, I just didn’t know it then.

Just like I’d never gone, I knew the song
A young girl with eyes like the desert

That Christmas I remember for 3 things.

  • The softness of the clothing. My father went out of his way to find soft accessible clothing for my swollen, sore mother. It was all some version of pastel in my mind.
  • My grandparents and Aunt were there. We never had company for Christmas. Ever. We never went anywhere for Christmas. Ever.
  • Feeling oh so grown up from the camisoles my mother bought me.

My mother had decided that it was time to show me how to be a woman. We had previously gone to the snooty ladies dress shop to look for underthings for me. I was growing up. Things were sprouting.

I was excited. My mother was finally looking at me as a person. I was slightly unnerved by the look in her eye at times, the look of sadness, watching her ponder me. But I chose to ignore it as I fingered the expensive dresses, linen, lace, the tender tootsie shoes in rainbow colors. All the pieces of woman my mother stood like. Her staunch, classic face, which grew more and more pained and morose as time wore on.

My memories of my mother do not include smiles. Not near the end.

I prayed that the days would last
They went so fast

Christmas morning was a mess of presents, but only after church. The adults had gone to midnight mass, as was the tradition in our house, that beautiful service of dark skies and stars, the cold snap of air as the bells rang through the night. My mother however, had no energy for that, so we instead went to the morning mass, the restrained impatient one. I had no desire to go. I wanted to stay and open the massive haul of presents under the tree, the one that comes from having extra relatives in the house.

I don’t remember the service, but I imagine it was like every other one in that massive, lovely church I grew up in. The choir singing to burst their hearts, the light lilt of peace and faith hovering over heads. My mother’s face, seemingly pain free as she reveled in the glory and wonder of her own personal god. My mother believed. She really did. No matter how sick, how tired she was, she dragged her bones to church, with me in tow generally. Her eyes would be transfixed on the altar, and many times, they would bring the host to her. She wanted so badly to be healed.

When we returned home, we opened everything. There was a small look of sadness on my mother’s face, seeing that nothing my father had purchased would fit. The look of pleasure and pain, all at once. Pleased that he had thought of her. Upset that he would be sad that he didn’t get it right. Looking back, I know they knew then what they pretended wasn’t going to happen. There was no remission. There was only waiting.

I want to be where the sun warms the sky
When it’s time for siesta you can watch them go by

 

My mother never wavered. She never showed pain, not to me. Discomfort, frustration, the obvious irritation and sadness at making her daughter, her young daughter help her get her boots on and off and carry her bowls of vomit. But she never really let me see what was happening.

Christmas morning, I received 2 camisoles that signalled my entrance into womanhood, my baby steps there. I pranced around my room, listening to the radio on my new tiny boom box, singing, taping things just because I could, back when you had to tape songs off the radio. A song came on that I would carry in my heart the rest of my life, because my mother stood watching me as I sang it.

Tropical the island breeze
All of nature wild and free
This is where I long to be

Martyr to mother

26 Aug

Lea called me the other night.

Remember Lea? The one who knew my mother? Apparently she’s committed to filling me full of memories of my mother, what she knew, how she knew her. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable in some ways.

I am most decidedly uncomfortable with anyone who tries to mother me. I find myself feeling like  little girl, out of control, helpless, weak. So I get a little weird. It’s likely why I distance myself from most women. I don’t have the common language, and any women older than me, I automatically defer to.

At one point, she asked me why we had never connected in order to grieve together before. I said I didn’t know. She guessed that it was because I seemed so bloody independent and strong, like I didn’t need it or didn’t care.

Isn’t it sad when things work too well?

I could have used her memories years ago. Stories of how my mother doted on me, loved me, she loved me! How I was the daughter she wanted. How she loved my father, even when he infuriated her. How my father was under her thrall. How she lit up speaking of me. I can use it now.

But I know why I never went after those stories. Why even now I’m scared to.

I’ve developed a picture of who my mother was. I’m secure with that picture. She’s perfect there, unchanging. She won’t surprise me. She won’t scare me. She won’t change.

Adding to the dialogue about who my mother is means I have to change the image of the mother I believe I had. It means I have to possibly take my mother from her martyrdom, and into a person who made mistakes, got angry, was sad.

I’m of two minds. Part of me doesn’t want to answer the phone again.

“Your Mother would be so proud of you”

31 Jul

I’ve never heard these words, or seen them in reference to myself until last night.

When my mother was alive, she hung out with a woman I’ll call Lea. Lea had a daughter my age, more or less, so it made sense to chum around I suppose. Looking back on it now, I’m not sure what my mother and Lea had in common, but perhaps it was nothing more than motherhood in a small town. I’ll never really know. Another thing I just can’t know.

Lea’s daughter appeared on facebook, then Lea herself. A blast from the past, a woman I knew so slightly. A woman who used an old nickname, something only my father called me when I was a child. I felt discomforted, and wondered why.

I am made awkward by my past.

I don’t recognize it. It knows me, but I can hardly remember it. I’m talking to someone who remembers all the grand things we did, and I can hardly conjure up their name.

Lea sent me a message wondering when I’d come home with the girls, if ever. I’ve thought about this a lot, and really don’t feel comfortable about it until they’re a bit older, and I’m in a bit better shape to handle it. My mother’s memory is embedded in that town-it’s houses and stone walls, it’s riverbanks and swollen creeks. She lived and died for me there-her bones turning to ash as we speak, likely only ribbons of the sapphire dress she was buried in left to rot in her casket. Her life, my life, was defined by where I grew up. The air is heavy with her.

I cannot walk those streets without the rush of years upon me. I can’t explain this to my daughters this young. Should I point to where my mother sat, all those years long stolen, as she waited for me to dawdle home? Should I point to where she picked me up from school after I puked up the hotdogs I was allowed? Can I sit them on her grave and tell them to lay down and talk to her, tell her their stories, show themselves?

Lea responded with the usual responses about missing my mother as well, the promises she made to her to help look after us (failed utterly) and how I was a great kid, and now a great mother. How my mother would be proud.

Immediately, I burst into tears to hear the words I didn’t know I had waited almost 20 years to hear. That I am doing what my mother would have wanted. That I am a person my mother would be proud of, a daughter she could stand up for and say “She is my daughter, my girl. She fills my heart, and brings me joy.”

The ache. The sheer ache of missing my mother in those words, missing “the mother”, the woman to guide you, who should feel for you, help you, tell you that yes, you have value and yes, you will find your way. The woman who talked to my mother as another woman, and as another mother, echoing what my mother would have told me cut deeply into me, but healed something else, allowed me to let go of yet another breath that I have been holding.

Times like this I wish my mother would have left something for me-letters, stories, pictures, video, something more than the visitor log book from her wake. I do not know her! I don’t have the chance to know her either-my father is pretty closemouthed, but he is here. I never even had that small chance.

But why do I drive to know them? Why do I crave their acceptance and pride so much? Why is this so important that it springs me to tears at the thought?

But for today, knowing that Lea is right, that my mother IS proud of me, that’s enough.

Flux-Bipolar Jump Start

28 Jul

Flux

I’m in flux-continual, bleeding flux. I’m here, I’m over there, I’m somewhere else, someone else. BOO! I’m new now.

I’m frustrating as all get out. Imagine waking up next to this everyday.

Kindling

initial periods of cycling may begin with an environmental stressor, but if the cycles continue or occur unchecked, the brain becomes kindled or sensitized – pathways inside the central nervous system are reinforced so to speak – and future episodes of depression, hypomania, or mania will occur by themselves (independently of an outside stimulus), with greater and greater frequency.

Once, long ago, someone liked to touch me. And take pictures. Have his friend help out.  Somewhere in there, I do believe my brain split into a million sprinkled, but real, pieces, and reassembled. A little off, like it was put through a broken transporter. Then my mother was sick. And sick and sick and sick then dead and all that was left was a fake boob and a wig, pieces of someone I called mom.

Even a heart stops working after too many shocks I assume?

Fire

My rage can burn intense-forests crumble within me, towers fall to the ground as I sit swept through a maelstrom. I see red. Blood. Death. Hell. Life moves on.

mercurial

Fickle? Meet my present listing. What’s good for now I won’t understand later. My passion for anything is usually underwhelmed by my apathy and ability to change minute to minute to minute. Or perhaps I am Mercury-a charming, raffish thief, poison, sweet pretty poison.

rapidity

When I started writing this about 15 minutes ago, I was drawn by a desire to help you understand, to explain, to be another place for a new bipolar to land. Now-I’m tired, Josh Homme is on my TV watching some chick eat raw meat, and I’m tired. I have no interest in trying to teach you anymore. My desire is vapid, mean and fleeting. (Aside for the desire to own Hot Fuzz-I love those boys)

untreatable

I might not be fixable. The damage may already be done. They don’t know what works, why it works, why some people get better more than others. THEY don’t know. I may spend the rest of my life getting fatter and fatter in a quest for the holy grail of psychiatric drugs. And they still won’t find it.

undesireable

Is it desirable to be 300 pounds and “better”? 300 pounds and sick? What if nothing gets better-what if I’m a waste of air forever? taking up too much space with an ass that’s too big, with feet that fit nothing I can find, with lips that can’t seem to wrap themselves around the things that really need to be said? I wouldn’t desire any of this-I would run as fast and as far away from me as I possible could.

But I’m a coward after all anyway.

unworkable

I still spend my days convinced in my quiet hidden paranoia that I will be fired, that they’re counting up the offences and lying in wait for me. I am nothing. I am useless-I contribute nothing. I stare at my screen at work and listen to the conversations flow around me, the worlds I am not included in.

I don’t mourn it. why would I? I have this world of my own, as much as I cannot incorporate it into the rest of my life. But it’s mine at the very least.

ultimately, a killer

Not only is my chance of succeeding in killing myself 10-20% higher than gen pop, but there’s also expanding evidence connecting physical ailments that kill to bipolar. So I’m screwed from the outset aren’t I.

It doesn’t matter much what I do. The future in some ways, is laid in stone-salt and acid in from of my feet.

What, me scared?

6 Jul

In the comments somewhere, Eden asked a question that has stuck with me for the past few days.

Why was I so scared to go into the hospital?

I really wasn’t sure myself-I’ve just always had this guttural fear of being considered crazy enough to be hospitalized, like it would leave a mark on me that would always be there, that it would break me, or turn me into an unthinking, unfeeling person. I’d rather feel too much than too little.

There’s also the matter that on a certain level, hospital=death. Nothing good has ever come from a hospital. My mother spent many, many days lying weak in her bed, skin yellow, with me sitting with her, not knowing what to say, but knowing not to make trouble, not to make too much noise. My mother came home to die, but we said our final goodbyes in a dingy hospital room one late April afternoon.

That smell is everywhere, in everything. I’m sitting at home and I can still feel it on my skin-it’s that greenish hue, the grey mint stench that I’ll need to wash off myself later. And it’s this smell that, more than anything, scares me. It’s everything in my childhood that terrified me and saddened me, everything that signified my time as a child coming to an end. It’s the big bad WRONG in my life.

And let’s face it. No one wants to be the crazy person. So long as I could pull of real life by myself, so long as I could continue my myth of “I don’t need no stinkin’ help”, I wasn’t crazy. A little bent, but not lost to the world. Admitting to myself that I needed more help than I could give myself was a sign of weakness, and for awhile, I couldn’t afford to be weak. Quite honestly, a lot of it was my need, my wish for someone to take the time to notice that I wasn’t as ok as I pretended to be, that having it together at 12 or 13 was a big fat smelly lie. I wanted someone to pay attention to me for once, and ask if I was ok, if I needed help. I grew tired of having to call out for attention so much.

All I’ve ever wanted in my life was for someone to play the role of my mother, and watch out for me, help me when I was sick, allow me the pleasure of weakness. But I haven’t had this in a very long time. Capitulating this need to someone else is one of the hardest things I’ve done in a very long while.

I was scared because at the heart of it all, I’m still just a scared little girl curled up in a ball in the corner. Allowing someone inside to help her out meant exposing her to the daylight, melting the broken wings that kept her so firmly anchored to the ground.

But it seems that finally, that little girl is being allowed to leave her cage, and move on. It couldn’t come at a better time.