The Dearly Departed: A Mother’s Day Musing

Next week will be the first Mother’s Day I’ve experienced with my mother on the other side of “the veil.”

At this point–with a week to go before the big event, I don’t know which is worse: the Photo Shopped confections of familial delight (so much pink!) or the rants about how Mother’s Day is capitalist b.s. that marginalizes people who have horrible or dead (or horrible and dead) mothers.

It seems to me that everyone is missing a good opportunity here to contemplate what motherhood means, in all its complexity and nuance.

I’ve written a fair amount about my mom over the last few years, especially in the wake of her death last August. While she was alive, I worked really hard not to embarrass her or disclose so much about her or our relationship as to create trouble.

The reality is that we didn’t always get along. She’d have told you that herself, of course. She’d have said I was intense and high-energy as a kid, prone to falling hard for some boy that would never, ever reciprocate. I didn’t rebel in my teens–she wouldn’t allow it–so my rebellion came later, in my twenties, when I began to reveal more of my own identity, my own opinions.

She didn’t always approve of what I had to say then. She didn’t always approve seldom approved of my chosen relationships. She was, I see even in hindsight, totally wrong-headed in her approach to me during that time. She wanted to keep me under her thumb, her influence, right as I was struggling to fly.

Still, for all the frustrations of my early adult years, a decade later I elected to walk alongside her during her last days, to do her bidding, to honor her requests. Things like escorting her to the ER at 3 AM and representing her in Medicare/Medicaid appeals, while stressful and something of a learning curve, fit better my Type-A personality. Picking up her favorite fried okra? Not a problem. But if I never have to explain twice to another hospital nurse on the same shift that my elderly loved one’s hearing is just fine, thank you, I’ll be good.

Mother’s Day brings around lots of memes and sentimental remarks, and of them all the ones that bug me most of all are the maudlin ones wistful for “just one more hour” with a deceased mother. In a near-year of grief, I’ve never felt a longing for another hour or day. That isn’t to say that I don’t miss my mother because I do. But I also told myself when I began providing her with eldercare support–marginalizing my own personal and professional ambitions to shore up her emotional and legal needs–that those years were the final phase of our journey as a mother-daughter dyad. When I got to the other side–when she left this world, I didn’t want to have regrets or a list of “if onlys.” We’d part as tender souls, but with our own, new and separate trajectories at last.

In my heart, I believe she feels the same way.

There was a point last summer when I told a friend that it was time to put down my “Mother’s Warrior” armor and take on the robes of a priestess. I clued into the fact that my mother needed me to help her take those final steps home. Indeed, in her last days she experienced a deep spiritual crisis and, blessedly, I found the right words to soothe her. In so doing, I also reconnected with my own deepest spiritual beliefs–a story that is too precious yet to tell.

Perhaps it was that incident however that has shifted my perception of our relationship from one of mother-daughter to fellow travelers who, for over four decades, shared one of life’s most precious bonds. Speaking as someone on her own journey, I like to imagine Mom out there beyond the earth’s boundaries, twirling around stars and constellations. Could that be a fantasy born out of having a parent with a physical disability? Maybe the idea of her moving freely is at the root of that vision. Or maybe, as a mother myself, I see her liberated from the worries and frustrations–the weights–of motherhood and can now do and see all that she longs to do.

Still, every so often I do stumble upon her presence, as sharp and as clear a sensation as if she were standing before me again, in vibrant youth. This week, I’m sure she was hovering around my local nursery, checking out some hypertufa water troughs tucked beneath colorful containers of coleus and hanging ferns. When I notice her presence, I’m filled with the overwhelming sense that she doesn’t want me weepy or sad but rather to feel what I believe she feels: intense joy at the wonders of the universe.

While I honor my mother and her memory, I will mostly celebrate this week her spiritual rebirth, her freedom from the mortal coil, the constraints of all those cultural expectations about her womanhood, her motherhood, and even the confines of her relationship to me.

I like to think it is perhaps the finest Mother’s Day gift I will ever give her.

***

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The Dearly Departed: A Mother’s Day Musing

A Meditation on 2016 and Rings and Things

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Heaven help me, but I’m done with this year.

Yes, I realize that’s a full week and a half early.

The final straw? Watching one of my favorite rings go flying off my finger.

But let’s back up a second, for context.

2016 opened quietly here. Yet before it started–before the world lost Prince and David Bowie and America *cough* elected Donald Trump, I knew it was going to be rocky. I could feel something in my heart start to tug, a sensation that started when my mother said she’d not survive through the year.

Change was coming.

Throughout the spring, I kept finding myself acknowledging her time was running out and my life would change. At times it felt like grace. Other times it felt like a bad cold I couldn’t shake. The Gnawing Knowing–yes, let’s name it that–would come up in the oddest spots, at the oddest times. I’d be in the car or grabbing a sack of kitty litter and I’d just know she’d be gone soon.

Did I mention that my cat died in 2016, too? Disappeared, died–the specifics of her demise are unclear. Given that we’ve got coyotes in the area, it may be best that I never know. Let’s just say that my elderly cat split a few weeks before my mother. Like old cats do. In fact, at one point, my ailing mother wished aloud that she could do the same. That was a weird conversation, the kind of thing I miss about Mom.

By the end of summer I was mourning feline and mother alike and trying to deal with all that the grief brought with it–joy, pain, anger, love, panic attacks, bizarre childhood flashbacks, and the agonizing choice of what to do with the leftover cat kibble.

Autumn brought more fallout, sure, but also some teeny tiny glimmers of promise. In September we went to England and Ireland as a family. (The photo at the top of this post is from London’s famous Portobello Road.) After the vacation, I picked up some more freelance work, dug out and dusted off an old writing project that will likely make my third book, purged closets and drawers, and began the process of refining my identity after several years of eldercare.

Winter is supposed to arrive tomorrow, and, to my surprise, I’m stocked up and ready for Christmas. The tree is up, lights are out, presents are either wrapped, delivered, or en route to their final destination. The weather is cool, for South Central Texas, and for a few hours each day we have cause to bundle up.

Which is why I came to make homemade chicken soup from scratch-made bone broth. It’s cold and cozy enough to make the process genuinely worthwhile. Over two days I brewed, measured, and salted. It felt good, familiar. The house smelled good, familiar. As a person in charge of our home keeping and cooking food, I felt strong, confident in my rediscovered self-efficacy.

Then tonight I was warming up that concoction on the stove when the ring went flying. In a spectacular display, it slipped off my finger, flew across the kitchen tile, bounced up (straight up) into a corner near the sink, and used physics to hurl itself into the apparent black hole that hides in a corner of my kitchen.

The ring of silver is reachable now only if I rip apart my cabinets. Because that’s what I want to do next, right, with Santa on his way? Rip out cabinetry for a relatively inexpensive ring?

My first reaction was panic. I’m sooo good at that. Really good. It’s a standby, my go-to response whenever my fight/flight/freeze trigger is, you know, triggered.

But before the panic got rolling good, I forced myself to reconnect with a core belief, one burnished often in 2016: people matter more than things.

Silver rings are things.

If I can move through grieving Mom (and my cat), then I can move on from a lost ring. I can steer away from the panic and reframe the situation. I can work to find the silver lining, the takeaway. Thus, I find myself tonight hoping to embody the same surety that the physics-propelled chunk of silver displayed while aiming for the hollow space tucked a couple of feet under my knife block. At the same time, while bouncing out of 2016, I hope I won’t land in any black holes or kitchen cupboards.

Fingers crossed, anyway.

 

 

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A Meditation on 2016 and Rings and Things