She’s been calling me for days. I thought I was making it up, but she is persistent.
Go see Mom.
“She’s not there,” I think. “You’re just chasing a memory. You’ll go and the stinky, moldy trailer will be empty, and cold, and you will leave empty and cold.”
“Because I’m lonely.”
Wait, she’s lonely? I thought she could come see me anytime. I thought that when you’re in spirit, you’re free? Maybe there are things that need to be righted though. Maybe there is unfinished business.
Maybe those final days there were not days she would have wished for. It was not how she wanted to leave it. And my presence will bring love and companionship, even if for a minute.
It will suffice.
And I will keep going back, Mom, even if I’m making it up. I’ll keep going back to say hi until there are no more reasons to go, or no more tears to shed – I guess? I honestly feel like this isn’t just me.
That was your heaven on earth, you said. So I will visit your temple.
I will enter in prayer, and I will leave in prayer.
I wish you peace. I wish you abundant love. I wish you goodness, and light, and laughter all of your existence.
Joni Mitchell has been singing to me too, Mom:
“It’s coming on Christmas They’re cutting down trees They’re putting up reindeer And singing songs of joy and peace Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
The sun shines brightly over the brown, leafless trees outside the kitchen window. A breeze ruffles the tan stalks of grass and hay poking up in patches of the neighbors back property like several days of stubble growth on earth’s face. The blue sky rimmed with white and grey clouds gathered near the horizon makes me think of the soft summer days recently erased – an artist ever changing its mind.
The chug of the tractor’s engine is heard well before the machine trundles into view. The stack of wood will warm us as the evening chill descends.
Each day a chance for a different thought, a different choice – until the chugging of my own heart ceases – and all the fuel has left my body.
Until then, my machine needs the same care any aging machine does – I can no longer skimp on maintenance.
Seeing myself with the same respectful reverence I have for that eighty year old tractor is a hard sell for me, but I keep trying.
Our summer has been hot and humid – and I’ve already heard “Hot enough for ya?” greetings where a nod and a commiserating look suffices in answer.
We have been edging into drought since late May again for the third year in a row. There was no rain for over a month, but then a string of storms descended, like a fire hose on a match, and the town crews got busy removing felled branches and trees in the aftermath, while the electric company restores power, and residents clean up their yards and assess damage to their gardens or land.
We were lucky. Our garden sits to the side of the house, looking like it has no idea what the bother was.
Our neighbor’s weren’t so lucky.
A large tree crashed down, gouging into a long swath of the neighbor’s prized asparagus patch, the tree branches swiping through most of the row of blackberry bushes he planted last fall – sending not-quite-ripe berries scattered through their yard. Their asparagus which had grown tall and spindly with seeds, is no more. The roots are deep though, and next spring will likely see a new crop – and if the neighbors are brave, they’ll plant blackberry bushes again.
We pick ourselves back up and move on, if we haven’t been flattened. Maybe pieces were scattered over our soul’s yard – crumpled, raw, and overwhelming to look at, but we start somewhere. Maybe picking up bigger pieces and try to salvage whatever we can.
The job is too big for a day, and time fills in with other necessary tasks, and days turn to weeks turn to months – but we see it out there. It’s not going anywhere until we do something about it.
After inspecting our oblivious growing garden, I pull on my work gloves and start picking up branches and twigs in the neighbor’s yard and put them on the burn pile for next spring.
My neighbor is pushing bigger limbs with his tractor back into the tangle of vines and poplar trees that line the back of his property. I wave and smile and after he’s through we look at the damage together.
“Could have been worse,” he says with a grimace.
“Could have been better too,” I think, but just give a sympathetic smile and return to picking up some of the debris before heading back into the coolness of my house.
“Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom!” I just kept saying it over and over for several days, as if I could conjure you. I was lost. My guttural howls could not take away the emptiness.
I knew I would not be prepared. How could I be?
I thought our relationship was solid and clean, but regret has inched in anyway. Why couldn’t I save you? Did I do enough? Was I a good daughter, Mom? Did you feel loved and cared about?
I am limited, and I wish with all my heart I could have made your life better. I never got beyond thinking about how to do that, and everything we talked about doing felt like moving a mountain.
I imagine you’re free and flying around in the spirit world – or have you reincarnated (which was your fervent desire)?
It breaks my heart to think you might have stepped into another life – abandoning me again. I was too much for you – your children were too much – so you left, even if not physically. I was a child and needed you Mom. All your children needed you. I still feel like I need you.
I can understand how difficult your life was, and I know you loved us, but love is also a verb.
I forgave you as life went on, and I thought we got whole. I guess the onion metaphor is apt, but how many damn layers are there?
You did make living amends when I had my son, your only grandson. You were such a great grandmother. You helped heal so many of my childhood wounds, but your passing opened them again.
I wanted you to be here my whole life, as unrealistic as that is. I would have kept you suffering in your painful body for my selfish desire to have you near me, like I owned you or something. Like you somehow belonged to me – and I think that’s a trauma bit from when I was so very little, and so much terribleness was happening in our family, and in the world – just like it is again.
You’re lucky Mom. You got out. You’re not suffering anymore.
Do you miss being here though? Or is it better “there”? Where is“there”? Are you conscious? Is consciousness outside of the body, and we just believe it’s in the brain, or are you completely gone?
Please forgive me for my lack, Mom. Please forgive what I couldn’t manage. I don’t know if it was my job to make life the best it could be for you, but it feels like I failed you.
I liked our conversations and our mostly shared values and morals. I am grateful for the time I got with you. I am so glad I was close enough physically and emotionally to help you and spend time with you regularly.
I had wanted to do a “Tuesdays with Morrie” thing with you, but never got it together. I was going to call it “Wednesdays with Mom.” I have never been accused of being original.
Today is Wednesday, so, I guess I’ve begun. If you’re answering me, I’m too dull to hear it. I keep waiting for a sign that you’re still around, but I would doubt whatever you would send me anyway – and you probably know that – so why waste your energy?
Energy is something I absolutely know you still have because of the first law of thermodynamics: energy is neither created nor destroyed. It can only change form or increase. Physicist I am not. I don’t even understand much of it beyond the simplest of terms. Not that I don’t try. I blame my love of standing in front of Dad’s Lincoln Continental and breathing in the leaded gas fumes coming out of the car’s grill for my intelligence deficits. Sweet Jesus, why didn’t anyone stop me? I was 5? Did you even know about that, Mom? I doubt it.
Now, of course, we know that the leaded gas was spewing toxic lead into the air and landing everywhere, especially into my tender lungs and organs and bones as I stood there breathing deeply.
You wanted to make it to 103 years to best your Dad’s 102 years on earth, but you missed 90 by two months instead. Still, not a bad stretch.
I believed you though. My whole life you repeated that like a mantra. You were going to live to 103. It was just a fact we all accepted. You seemed to know, but obviously it was just hope.
And maybe you would have made that milestone if you didn’t drink so much, or if you had let us clean up your mildewing/ moldy stuff trailer while you lived – or if I was able to follow through on getting you a new-to-you trailer, or a tiny house that could have given you those 13 more years?
I know that what I was able to do was worthwhile. I have some sweet memories to savor. My job now is to keep the bitterness from spoiling them.
The way forward has become clearer in the last few months. Becoming an organizer, public policy maker, lawyer, or other community leader has become attractive. I’ve always cared about social & economic justice, but I’ve not had much personal power.
As I’m boycotting Amazon, I suggest streaming online using iTunes, or Hulu, or borrowing the books and film through your local library. Amazon has become a predatory company with abysmal working conditions and unfair pay for many, if not most, workers.
The Woman’s March was affirming, and there are more planned marches in the works as the new authoritarian regime takes shape and we stand to lose ever more of our Constitutional rights.
Democracy requires participation, and while subtle stripping of our rights over the last few decades in the name of ‘fighting terrorism’ quieted many, we can no longer complain from the sidelines as we see bolder disassembling of our republic by those elected who follow their own agendas rather than the majority’s consent.
We can’t have everything, and we do need to compromise and find common ground where possible, but we resist attempts by the monied class and other interests to ruin our environment, or remove our Constitutional guarantees to seek redress for wrongs, to peaceably assemble, and for free speech.
“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
So many things I’d like to know – please tell me about your life. You think I worry too much, or that I think you’re in trouble all the time, and I’d like to change that.
Are you happy? Is your life as full of joy as it is of challenges?
If I start asking the right questions, maybe you’ll know that I want enough for you, in all your life. Balance is key. Laugh, love, sing, dance, study, question, believe, cry, fail, succeed, care, think, and act.
I trust you and your life path, and that replaces my fear. Believing in you, believing that you won’t waste this short life, or that if you do, that’s your choice, and it’s your prerogative.
My only ‘job’ (I wrote ‘joy’ by mistake, first, but I think it also applies) is loving you. For sure, ‘love’ is a big word. It encompasses all of life – not just the easy or joyful parts.
Life is learning. That never stops, so I’m still learning too. My emotion self is still immature, but my life experience is ever evolving.
Thank you for increasing my growth opportunities, and my dearest hope is staying connected – even as you wander further away.
In the time that’s gone by, I tried to see a reason for us, but ‘it’s one of those things’ is said, and ‘be glad you found it before you’re dead’, and I am.
Thousands of songs and poems say why: ‘it’s not the colors in his eyes, or the way he wears his clothes, or how he knows the things he knows, but it’s in how he thinks of and looks at me.’ It’s how he loves me so thoroughly – it’s so new.
I keep deciding to pull away, to leave and find my life another way, but I’ve started asking what I’m running for, because I truly know that there’s no better than this.
But this is not all there is, I know, and we don’t live to make the best in show; we have found happiness and joy, a port in a storm, a bond I won’t destroy – again.
So settle down I tell myself, this love we’ve found is real and precious.
You are the compass that points true, you are everything I needed but never knew, and if I tell the fear to leave me be, then it will always be you and me, together.
This is my song to you – to us – to love – to life’s joyful expression amidst life’s agony.
Thank you for your love, for your steadfast care and hope, and for giving me a chance to truly love you too.
August is the beginning of Druid autumn, I found out several years ago when telling a friend that I feel mournful in August, even though it’s still summer. Learning that the Druids considered August the beginning of autumn resonated with me, and gave me a place for my sadness this time of year.
It’s now September, and the physical signs of change are showing. Red and yellow veined green leaves began spotting the road under the maples about a week ago. Some are fully red now, and although a harbinger of the coming cold season, they are so pretty.
I picked up several of my favorites, and as my mother showed me when I was little, I placed them between sheets of waxed paper and ironed them together. I put a rag underneath and on top of the waxed paper, and kept checking to make sure it was working.
My S.O. wasn’t all that impressed when I showed him later, but its a simple craft helping me ease into autumn. I’m sure I could have created something more sophisticated, but I also enjoyed its childhood link.
As the earth has moved in its orbit, the garden is now burgeoning with tomatoes, green beans, squash, carrots, and late corn – harvest time well under way. Maybe I’ll learn to can food this year, but it feels too much like work… 🙂
I suppose we could dry the tomatoes, freeze some of the corn, carrots, and green beans, as well as what we’re doing, which is making as many recipes possible with all the fresh food.
It’s also nice to know where and how our food was grown, and I feel more connected to our land than before I started gardening.
The cooler breezes are more welcome than the humid dog days we’re leaving behind, and sleep is more restful with cooler air too.
I’m not ready to give up summer, and wish it lasted at least another month, but I’ll savor all the warm days ahead, and do my best to accept rather than resist – or figure out how to move to warmer climes!
Tomorrow is my birthday. Birthdays were so exciting when I was younger. Getting older was somehow an achievement, and I suppose it was, depending on how many risks were taken, or accidents met and survived the previous year.
Celebrating someone for their birthday is a wonderful time for connection, reflection, and, especially, festivity!
Time’s passage is tough the older I get because I want to keep the problems of the relatively young and not get any problems of aging. Too bad, I know. Perspective is a perk as time moves on, as well as caring less about how I’m received, but this ship of life I’m sailing leaves a wider berth the further I get from port, leaving some things smaller, although not less significant, as they recede and I travel on.
Even though I often feel that I’ve not accomplished anything, or much of what I wish I had done, I have traveled. I won a ten-day tour of Switzerland, with a side trip to Liechtenstein. I made it to Australia, where I stayed with my childhood pen-pal, and her family, and we met each other’s children (child in my case), and saw lots of Victoria, including a day in Melbourne, hiking in the Dandenong Mountain Ranges, a rain forest walk in the Yarra ranges, and a gorgeous trip down the Great Ocean Road, ending in Warrnembool, and the site of the Twelve Apostles rock formations, during our stay.
I’ve driven through or visited at least half of the United States, including Hawaii, but not Alaska. I’ve been to Canada, and Mexico, though not extensively in either country. I brought my son to Ireland for his high school graduation present, but really because I’d wanted to go my whole life and that justified the expense well enough – or at least, it did – until I just wrote that.
Pilgrimage to Haifa, Israel, was the last big journey I took, a gift that I’ve not well repaid seeing as I’m now an atheistic-leaning agnostic.
I’ve climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty, back when you could do that, and have been on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, when it was free. (It’s hard to believe that anyone would pay $57 for the dubious privilege nowadays).
Contentment with my lot is the message I try to embrace, but my adventurous spirit doesn’t understand that sentiment. There are so many more places to see, things to do, and the beautiful aspects of life on Earth that I’ll never have again.
As long as I can get through the rough patches, the pain, suffering, and challenges we all endure, and hopefully, surmount, I will add more sweet than bitter to each year that I’m graced with, have more meaningful time with those I like and love, and be glad for what’s been given.
1989: I spent the evening with Joe; I moved in with him here in Vernon, Vermont, a few weeks ago. I’m happy that there’s snow on the ground so it will be a white Christmas. My brother, Scott, died in October, and I’m sad for my mom this holiday season. I still feel nothing. I don’t know why death doesn’t affect me directly, I guess that’s a coping mechanism.
1990: Our son’s first Christmas. He’s only two months old, so it’s not really a big deal for him, but Joe’s daughter is spending Christmas morning with us, and she’ll be happy to get the Super Nintendo game system with, The Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt, and, Donkey Kong, games, and spend time with her brother. Things have not been good between Joe and I, but we’re trying to work it out.
1991: My father and step-mother are visiting from Florida. I’m happy that my father is getting to spend some time with his grandson, although it’s been kind of awkward when they’re here because my mom is spending Christmas here in my new apartment.
1992: I’m in my new apartment in South Portland, Maine. My mom is here with me, and there is a lot of snow this winter, which Austen loves to play in. My car broke down a few weeks after moving in here, and I can’t afford another one, but there’s a bus stop down at the end of the street, and a few of the Bahá’í‘s here in South Portland bring me to run errands once a week. Joe is visiting over the holidays, and it’s been horrible and stressful – as usual.
1994: San Diego Christmas is quite different from what I’m used to. It’s not really warm, about the mid-50°F’s, and rainy, but the air feels different, and I’m not sure I like it. I’m at a 10-day program because I don’t want to live anymore but Tammy convinced me to see if this will help me. I’ll get a counselor, and start an antidepressant, and I know it’s what I need to do, but I feel horrible being away for Christmas.
1996: Back in Massachusetts. My mother is spending Christmas with me and Austen in our tiny apartment. Things have been awful. I’m still not getting child support, so that just makes everything tougher.
1999: It’s been a strange year. I’m wondering if the Y2K thing is really going to screw up computers worldwide – I doubt it. I told Austen that Santa was a real person a long time ago, and his spirit still lives on through all of us. The other kids at school were picking on him for still believing in Santa. He refused to believe me when I told him Santa isn’t still alive. I don’t know if I did the right thing.
2001: I consider this the millennium year, even though I know many people considered 2000 to be the turn of the century. I guess it’s both: 2000 because it’s no longer 19-something, but 2001 because CE started with year 1, so 2001 makes two-thousand years. We’re still here, although a bunch of freaks were trying to convince whomever they could that the world was going to end.
2011: I think my favorite aspect of Christmas Eve is filling my son’s stocking. When he was little, it was so gratifying to see his delight, and share in how fun Christmas was for him. He used to love Christmas carols and we’d sing them together, and now he can barely stand them. He’s feeling so much better tonight, but still coughing a lot. I might watch, It’s A Wonderful Life, but I’m feeling tired, so maybe I’ll just go to sleep. My throat is feeling a bit scratchy, and I hope I don’t get sick too.
This year has been so strange. As I looked back through old diaries and read so much of where I’ve been, and what my life is like now, I appreciate now so much. I don’t care if someone reads my old journals someday, but I sincerely doubt they’d read for very long. I’m just grateful that I’m not as affected by the vicissitudes of life anymore. I also did a great deal of healing work to get where I am now, and will most likely finish that work with my last breath. I’m thankful to be alive, and hope I won’t die until I accomplish most, if not all, of my goals.
Twenty-one years ago I was pregnant with my son. I had wanted more children, but it didn’t work out that way. I can still have a child, but wouldn’t want to. It was a beautiful, balmy, late September day today, but it started out more overcast and muggy than it was twenty-one years ago. It was sunny by this afternoon, and I decided to take a drive in the hills. The leaves are just starting to turn, but the scenery was lovely anyway.
All those years ago I had woken up feeling fine, and had to run some errands. My mother was staying with me at my apartment in Vernon, Vermont, to help out after my son’s birth. I began feeling strange shortly after waking up, but thought it was just Braxton-Hicks contractions, so I went about my day, driving my mother into Brattleboro later that afternoon to do some grocery shopping. While we were at the grocery store, I began feeling more odd and nauseated, but I didn’t feel like I was having contractions because I had some serious contractions the week before and gone to the hospital in the middle of the night where I was chided by the nurse on duty for not knowing false contractions from true ones. If it were all happening again, I’d tell her what a stupid thing that was to say to someone who, a) never had a baby before, and 2) could have been in real labor regardless of what she thought. I know she was just taking out her bad day on me, but I wish I had been more outspoken back then!
So, I reluctantly went to the hospital so that they could run a monitor strip on me to check contractions. I got to the hospital around 5pm, and my mother and I were put in a room and the nurse on duty asked us if we wanted something to eat while we were waiting as it was dinner time. I had some peanut butter crackers because I wasn’t feeling very well, but thought I should eat something, and my mother got a meal. It was after 6pm by this time, and I was still waiting for the nurse to come and hook me up to the monitor when my water broke. My mother started laughing as I blurted out “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit”, while trying unsuccessfully to make it into the bathroom – as though I had an uncontrolled bladder issue…
The nurse came in moments later and said: “Well, you’re not going anywhere now!” I got moved into a room in The Birthing Center, and I told my mother she could just take my car back to my apartment until I had the baby and would have my sister drive me back, but my mother no longer had her license and didn’t feel comfortable driving in the dark anyway. My sister was living fairly close to the hospital so she was able to get Mom and have my brother-in-law bring her back to the apartment after my birth coach arrived.
My son’s dad was living in New Jersey during the week for work and told me he couldn’t get back until that Friday night or Saturday morning, and it was only Tuesday. That was disappointing, but not really unexpected. My birth coach, Ruth, was a friend I had known since college, and she had two teenaged girls and was probably the best person to have with me. I had decided to forgo any drugs, and even an episiotomy. (I’m just grateful being tied to a tree wasn’t still in vogue.) I was determined to do everything ‘right’. I ended up with forty-two stitches that my doctor said would have been less if I had let her do an episiotomy. Lesson learned, doc!
Not to be too graphic, but my response to the more intense contractions was throwing up. Ruth ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I was resting, and I had to ask her to please chew some gum, or somehow get rid of the smell of peanut butter on her breath because it was making me more nauseated than I already was.
She laughed because I was worried about hurting her feelings. At the height of contractions (nearing the, literally, eleventh hour of labor) I told Ruth that I didn’t think I could keep doing it, and to her great credit she didn’t laugh at me, or roll her eyes, but just squeezed my hand and told me that I could, in fact, see it through. I didn’t freak out and scream like the clichéd ‘woman having a baby’ motif, but it was the hardest, most painful, experience I’ve ever endured. After my doctor sewed me up I told her that I was never going to have another baby. She said “If I had a nickel for every patient that said that, I could retire now!”
At 5:49am on September 26, 1990, I gave birth to an 8 lb.,1 oz., 19.5 inch long, beautiful boy. He remains the absolute best thing I have done in my life, and I would do it all again.
I love you, my dear son, more than I have ever loved anyone else. I am so happy I got to be your Mom.
That’s how old the boys are that I provide child care for occasionally, and spent my day with at a lake yesterday. I used to watch them regularly but changed jobs last year. The older boy was just two months old when I started the job.
My son was in full-blown adolescence then so it was perfect work for me to watch a child who needed and wanted me as my child was pulling away. The difference between my son as a baby and the baby I was caring for was so stark. I didn’t know a child could be so easy to care for. My son’s pediatrician told me that my son was a ‘high need’ baby as I sat in his office back then, crying from lack of sleep and feeling so inadequate as a parent, and indeed, I was nursing him every two hours, which continued for seven months before he stopped nursing so voraciously, and he was colicky as well. My mother came to help me during that time, while my son’s father was two states away at his job, coming back on weekends. My son’s father and I weren’t happy as it was, and having a child only put more stress on our relationship. We broke up and I moved out when our son turned a year old.
When my friend’s second boy was born, I began watching him at two weeks old, and he was an easy baby as well. I loved caring for those boys. It was so good for me because I wasn’t watching a whole group of children as I did when I worked at a daycare center, and I didn’t have twenty-four hour responsibility for them.
I still had parenting duties with my son, even though it wasn’t very joyful anymore, but I had enough positive experiences that dealing with my son’s adolescent angst and unpredictability was more manageable than it might have been.
I would give my son hugs and tell him that I loved him every day, as he stood there, arms by his side, at least allowing me to hug him briefly. I would say that although he was rapidly changing, I was not, so it was going to take me far longer to adjust. It was so painful for me to go from living with a boy who wanted to be with me, who called out to me several times a day that he loved me, who enjoyed spending time with me, to the stranger who I now occupied the same physical space with, but could hardly be further from emotionally. Oh, and did I mention I was living with treatment-resistant depression, and I was a single parent?
I might have screwed up far more than I did with my son if it hadn’t been for my childcare job. As the boys got older, they were somewhat in awe of my son, especially the older boy I watched. When my son was there the older boy wanted to follow him around and it was sometimes a challenge to help my son have private space when the boys were with me. I would usually see if my son could spend time with one of his friends during school vacations or days when I had the boys and my son was around.
I took those boys on many adventures during our days together, but our favorite pastime was finding cows. I’d drive them to farms and we’d visit with cows and read books about cows, and while other animals were included, cows ruled.
I don’t think I could love those kids anymore if they were my own, and I’m so grateful when I get to watch them now. The last few times I spent with them, the older boy has been questioning me about why they don’t see me that much. I explained that I had another job, and they have school now, and days that I could see them their schedule and mine didn’t work that often. He looked at me and said, “Well, we just don’t see you enough.”
So, I can’t get adult relationships right in my life, but I have a six year-old who knows how to work a room! Yesterday before I left he hugged me and said “I just don’t want to let go.” I said, “I know, me either!” The younger boy and I have a happy, loving, and super fun connection too, but the older boy knows how to articulate what he’s feeling, and isn’t shy about telling me.
I have to figure out how to spend more time with them because they’re going to be seven and five in a few months, and the opportunities to spend significant time with them grows slimmer with each year. While I so enjoy working with children, it can also be heart-wrenching.
I’ll be bringing my son back to college in a week, and he’ll be back home for Thanksgiving and his winter vacation, but he won’t be back next summer. We know we love one another, and our bond is solid, but he’s a man now – no matter how much I wished to keep him a boy – and I feel the grief about losing him rising up all over again. I don’t need to be consoled through platitudes or pity – not that anyone is trying to – but I do need a new purpose and I don’t know where to go or what to do yet.