While reading a book to my daughter the other day, a book that was mine as a child, I noticed and paused on the inscription in “I’ll Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch.
Seeing my mother’s writing to me on the first page still present months after she passed reminded that her story is truly over. I let it wash over me.
Her death in the summer was an extremely sullen and relieving experience. The birth of my daughter weeks later was an overwhelmingly joyful one. To witness how birth and death are so closely related is something I am changed forever by. It is how I perceive and process those experiences that can make it difficult or fluid.
Several years ago I had made a dramatic change to my role in the relationship I had with my mom.
Unknowingly forcing a turning point in my life, I committed to defining boundaries, opening up and building strength in my practice and with my naturopath through therapy. I began to implement an image of becoming a deeply rooted tree—though I felt more like a limp little seedling, I was visualizing a redwood one day. I thought about how the wildest ocean waves crash against the cliffs walls and how they remain unchanged. I thought about the practices that I was doing everyday was like training for the this unknown time I would need it the most. Fear for the way I felt was driving me to change my contribution to a broken sacred relationship.
I was not prepared for the loss I incurred in the months following.
Heartbreaking Intentions to rehabilitate our bond backfired. All contact with my mom vanished. I was flirting with depression.
I traveled to India not realizing that it was slowly becoming a deeply cathartic experience far beyond what I had imagined to find there. I slept. I was fed food that warmed my belly. I moved and pushed my body to dive deeper into its internal landscape.
I felt the hot sun.
I began to feel rooting in a transient time. I slept. When I landed home again, I felt as though I had awakened. It was not noticeable at first, but small things were starting to shift in my life. Shifting and aligning. Opportunities began presenting themselves—kind and generous friends became abundant and my relationship was reinforced by plans for marriage and a family within months.
By my 30th birthday the amount of quiet affirmations I was receiving started to exceed the shame I was feeling for loosing my mother. But I still carried it as my responsibility to fix and I dodged admitting the choices I had made.
There is no other that can replace the relationship between parent and child.
It took me years to begin to piece together that there was an illness plaguing my mom. Growing up in a quiet household, there was no sounding boards for discussion or questions about the life choices she had made. Cutting her own family ties and living moment to moment on fleeting beliefs began to contrast my own the older I became. Nevertheless, it was usually trumped by a plethora of love and support for me. Open arms and delicious food in my belly.
Cutting ties with her was not the move I was trying to make. But she spiraled downward until she became homeless. I was lobbying for change, for help, for a diagnosis.
Three years passed. Milestones in my life went on without her.
The pain was still present, but the wound was healing. My roots ran deep. My practice remained. I would periodically receive emotionally charged letters that would continue to test me, but it became harder to recognize who was writing. The fear I had about losing her came regardless of what I did or did not do in the face of it.
My heart jumped to my throat last January when I was told that my mother had been living for weeks with a large amount of fluid in her lungs and was having difficulty walking. When she finally went for testing, the results came back as cancer. Breast, lungs and spine.
She initially disagreed and waited for the cancer to pass like a bad cold. Out of all the ways I imagined mending our relationship, this scenario had never crossed my mind. I changed direction and lent her support. On my first (reluctant) visit I saw a frail woman who resembled the mom I once knew, but the look of betrayal was too present for me to see much beyond.
Subsequent visits proved less dramatic and over time our short conversations shifted from her illness to always wanting to hear more about her granddaughter. She would plan aloud their future dates. I would smile. As she lost physical strength, our time together became more frequent. It felt to me as though her body was catching up to her mind.
Two weeks before my second child was born, she passed.
I can’t say for certain that spending time with her again felt like closure for me. It definitely opened me up to endure another way of experiencing loss. I’m thankful I was able to see her more as a woman who hurt and less as a mother who hurt me.
We did get to say goodbye and there is relief knowing that our story has ended. I witnessed that on the bright sunny summer day of her service, spread her ashes into the river and watched her flow away downstream. I reflect on this again as this year comes to a close. Some days I am still tending to the child inside quietly grieving, some days I am amazed at all the abundance that continues to flow my way despite the cluster of adversity that seems to be attached.
The dark and the light, joy and sorrow, birth and death… pleasure and pain.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman