Nothing looks the same anymore. Maybe it’s still grief over my mother, and over several friends who have died in the last few years – one of them over twenty years ago who I have recently reconnected with.
It’s funny to phrase it that way, but it feels true. I had been stopping by the grave of one of my dear friends – filling her in on our crazy world now – and doing my best to let her know she’s loved and not forgotten.
I’m supposed to be writing an article for work, and I’ll get to it. It’s been such an orderly thing in my disorderly life.
I feel like a weirdo still grieving my mother’s passing. It was her time, after all. She got to live a long life, but it still came as a shock.
This has more to do with me now, I know that. I know it always had to do with me, really. I’m still here and she’s gone – on.
I’ve still not felt her around me. Maybe she’s left for parts unknown – or is just gone, if atheism is right.
Over the past year, it has taken a lifelong soul-sister friend to help me sort out what’s mine and what isn’t.
I had so much grief and rage.
I’m kind of surprised I’m still talking to any of my family members, but I think that’s guilt. I think it’s hope too, but at some point, it’s wiser to move on.
We were each others’ survival growing up as we were tossed about treacherous seas while those who were supposed to be in charge jumped ship. That forges a bond, even if it’s not ultimately healthy.
I love and loved my sisters dearly, but that affection was only really returned by one sister, who still told me her god is better than mine – and even though we got along the best – I know we can only share some of our heart now.
My friend told me I taught them how to treat me, and my acting differently will not cause them to respond well. In fact, I can expect them to act worse, or just continue as they’ve often been toward me.
Sometimes you get surprised for the better, and sometimes you find your true family outside of those you were born with.
Maybe it is my mother’s nudge from beyond this world that’s pushing me toward compatible love and friendship. At least it makes me feel better to think so.
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.”
“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.
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.
Andy & me at Yaquina Head light, Oregon, June 2016
101 Dalmatian pajamas, 4T. I breathe into the fabric, trying to catch the scent of my little boy, but I forgot that I washed them before packing them away in the box of baby remembrances when he had outgrown them. The box also contained his cloth Madeleine doll, which showed where the scar was from her appendectomy, and the yellow rubber duck received at his baby shower that he had to have at every bath time. I say ‘contained’ because when his sister, my nearly step-daughter, had her first child four years ago, I sent the rubber duck, after sterilizing it, with a letter, saying that I hoped her daughter would like it, and if she remembered how her brother had loved it when he was a baby.
His sister emailed me after she got the package, telling me how sweet that was, and her daughter liked it too. When we went to visit them a few years ago, it was gratifying to see the rubber duck in among the bathtub toy collection.
She mentioned in a post how her daughter was enjoying the Madeleine books, and I knew it was time to send along the Madeleine doll, so beloved by my son at her daughter’s age, along with a little monkey puppet for her latest family addition, who is now a year old, and I haven’t yet met. I got a note the other day telling me they received the package, and her daughter asked if she could keep the doll forever.
It seemed overly sentimental and silly to keep those few things from my son’s childhood, but I have no keepsakes, and no pictures from mine, so it was important to me, and I thought my son would one day appreciate the link back to his youth. He thought it was cool that I had sent his niece the Madeleine doll, and we spoke about how he used to watch the Madeleine cartoon, and have me read the books over and over. Rather than merely keeping useless things that only had meaning to me, the items became an heirloom of sorts, and re-connected my son and I with a happy memory from the past, as well as furthering my son and his sister’s bond, with her children too.
Keeping sentimental things just adds to my pile of stuff, so I’ve done my best to pare down, taking pictures of things before giving them away or recycling them. Having some tactile link to the past is important to me though, so the 101 Dalmatian pajamas will remain in the (now smaller) keepsake box.
I found this letter/ode I had written to my son in a bunch of old papers I was going through to recycle today. I wrote it when he was twelve, and pulling further and further away from me – right on schedule! But just because biology dictates a thing so, doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrible for me…
Evolution Of A Boy
When you were born I held you close, rocked you, walked you back and forth while you screamed with colic – or was it protest at being out in this cold, drafty world from the temperature controlled, fluid womb?
You stayed in a crib until you were two and a half and began crying to me of your needs in the night, or in the morning, coaxing me with “Up, Mommy? Up, Mommy – peas. Peas, Mommy?” How could I ignore that? You asked so politely, so pleadingly.
As a toddler, and ever since you were born, I read to you day and night. It became the bedtime routine: books and a back rub until you fell asleep. Often you would play with my ear – a throw back from your nursing days – a comfort habit that never bothered me. Whoever held you until you were four or five would have their ear manipulated by you.
Nighttime was our time. It was sometimes the only peace in the day. I was really present most of the time for you then, and we both knew it wouldn’t be a struggle of wills; it was a time any outside observer wouldn’t question my parenting skills.
That nighttime routine when you wanted me to lay down with you after reading and rubbing your back until you fell asleep – or nearly – lasted until you were eight or nine. I would sing Mockingbird – replacing Papa with Mama, of course – and Lily Of The Valley, three or four times each, and sometimes you would sing along. Then we would always play the ‘I love you more than’ game. “More than chocolate cream pie with ice cream and marshmallows, and a ton of whipped cream” – or whatever we would dream up. A phrase we had read: “I love you to the moon and back”, began a long tradition of sometimes jokingly arguing over who loved the other more – “I love you the most – eternity, infinity!”
The mornings nearly always had me picking you up and carrying you into the kitchen for breakfast until you were about seven years old. It seemed to help you wake up just that little bit more.
Sometimes you would jump up into my arms for a hug and you did that until you got too heavy for me to grab you up into a hug like that.
Now you’re twelve. You are on that precipice between knowing you are not a dependent child to knowing you are not quite grown-up either. It can be confusing, frustrating, and scary – but exciting too.
You are, at times and often, so much more than you think you are. You have so much to offer this suffering world. She needs boys and men who care, as you do. Societies may seem indifferent or hostile to boys and men who care, but that is because societies are not grown-up either. They don’t know how to accept the whole boy or the whole man – but they are learning. Just as I am learning to let go – but I have built a path from my heart to yours – and there is a path from your heart to mine too – so that we’ll always know there is a home for us, especially when you find the need, or just to be reassured that it’s there.
Happy Birthday to my beautiful son. He is the best thing I have ever done, although I take no credit for his amazing capacities and talents. He is his own person; I just ate well while he was growing inside me, and then made sure I fed him good food, gave him as many opportunities as I could afford, or could imagine, and taught him to appreciate reading, which he now loves. His cognitive intelligence exceeded mine when he was about twelve, but my emotional intelligence stills beats his – hah!
He is bound to fare better in his life than I did in mine, and that is the best a parent can ask for. I love you, my dear boy/man.
My son is getting his first apartment with college friends. I’m pretending it’s not a big deal. I mean, he’s been away at college for two years now, so, it’s basically the same thing. Except it isn’t. He’s had his bed and most of his stuff here, and in three days and several hours, it will all be gone. I’m trying to stay in the moment, and not trouble trouble until trouble troubles me, as the saying goes.
I was in my son’s room packing up what I can until he gets here and pares down what he wants to get rid of. He already told me he’s not sentimental and doesn’t want his old school year books, or photos, or other keepsakes, but I am sentimental, so I’m keeping most of it. He may have a wife and/or children some day who will actually enjoy seeing some of the things from his youth. It isn’t exactly archeology, but it is history, and I loved seeing my ex-boyfriends’ childhood pictures. It’s a way to connect the past to the present and beyond. I so enjoy looking at my Mom and Dad’s pictures of their youth and childhood. Ever since my Dad died several years ago, those pictures have taken on more meaning. Even though I often rail against life, I also revel in life’s complexity and variety. I embrace change as much as I loathe it. I may not like changing all the time, but as long as I have company, it’s really not too bad.
I’ll be fine with this new life passage, I’m just not overjoyed. I also know that many people are overjoyed to have their personal time back when their children get older and leave home, and maybe I’ll feel that way, eventually.