For my mom today. I still love that she thought her daughters could be – should be movie stars.
A year ago today my mom died on an unimaginably beautiful autumn day. I started Conversations with my Mother as a way to capture her spirit and life and to share the ways in which she could surprise so many with her candour. Coming up to her first anniversary of not being with us I had thought that a fitting tribute to a woman who gave me so many words to laugh and play with would be to build her a beautiful word palace. A palace that would be a tribute not to life’s difficulties but to all its beauty and the ways she contributed to it.
Oddly though I started panicking this last week when the feeling of grief I became familiar with earlier this year seemed to have been replaced by a feeling of ‘non-missingness’maybe even of distance and coldness, like something maybe just wasn’t there any more. Word palaces are hard to build on emptiness.
Then as late as two days ago I realized that when you (and by this I mean people in general) suffer loss, a new palate of emotion is created against which the rest of life now interacts. And I realized that the feeling of removal and of emptiness is another function of grief. You cannot sustain hard grief forever.
Within this framework I’ve been able to understand my new-found inability to say goodbye to people – that when I start feeling that sense of loss I can’t stop. That I keep myself extremely busy because I don’t want to embrace the inexplicable difficulty of feeling it anymore – that my thoughts are still a little too crowded with the last weeks of my mom’s life and every single hard thing that comes with watching someone die of cancer – that more often now than not I’m able to say “Ohmigod mom would think this was hilarious”- like the feet that keep showing up on the coast of British Columbia, that Sarah Palin isn’t going to run for President – the Stanley Cup riots would have been food for thought and the hockey playoffs the scene of many phone calls punctuated with “Ok gotta go, call you back in the next commercial break.” – that her thoughts on Jack Layton dying would be as much ruminations on the dreadfulness of cancer as it would be an opportunity to slam Stephen Harper. On a Friday night when it’s time to have a glass of wine I still have to stop myself from reaching for the phone to say “Hi – Happy Friday!” and the lack of this moment punctuated with silence does feel extremely empty – but I can feel myself slowing moving to the tipping point – pushing myself past that empty moment to the celebratory one “Here’s to Rosie.”
These are the things I miss. I miss being able to tell her that I’m finally starting to dress less like a hobo hippy chick and more like a proper person, that I’m learning to brush my hair when I go out, that I modelled in a fashion show at work and even wore make-up, that I can see her grandchildren growing up in all the ways she had hoped, that we are hanging on as a family even though I still feel like the centre is missing – that I tried to turn my brother into my mother but it doesn’t work. Only my mother is my mother – no matter how much I love my brothers and sisters. I want to tell her that I hope she keeps showing up in my dreams – please don’t stay away for years. That I want to remember what the last words she said to me were which I think was “Okay I want chocolate.” That she would have laughed and found this ironic and funny. I want to tell her that I stopped reading books when she died because they made me feel too much but I’m ready again – that I’m reading again.
My word palace is that these conversations somehow continue – that when people leave they don’t leave you per se which is how it has felt – so deeply personal – so inadvertently abandoned- she simply moved on to the next stage in life – she is still fully in my heart. I still love her as much as always. even though I have to move past that hard stage of grief so I can start to embrace my own life. That I’ll always have words for her, always have conversations – that everyday when I hear music I always think of her. I love you mom.
I probably was more than a little sad when I wrote this sad little song in the dark months following my mama’s passing but it I kinda like it.
The non-mathematical inequality of grief
that the person who dies
rises to the occasion
in an unexpected way
that the person
who is dying
grows into their death, into their dying-ness
like a hero
like a person who suddenly
what it is to die
what it is to have lived
that life has given them
that they know
there is no point
in painful exploration of why, why, why
although they are only human
so they are afraid
not of dying
but of leaving behind
of not knowing
what twists their illness will inflict on them
that the person who is dying
who rises graciously to the occasion
helps you discover
more about them in these last moments
hours and days
than you ever thought you would
that you learn that the capacity for joy, love
is no way diminished by their dying-ness
that their love of music, life
even in their gravest hour
that you never expected to be so engaged
feel love so fully
want to know this person even better
in these final hours
that when they suddenly take your hand
and swing it to the music
that this effervescent life force
this magnificent zest
even in the dying person’s darkest hour
that this feeling of sheer unbreakable unknowable
and crazy love increases as each moment passes
making the chasm between life and death ever greater
knowing that the inverse proportion of wanting to love more is
in direct opposition to the ability to hold life
that death is the only state in which there is truly no hope.
that everything now can only exist in your heart
that there can be no more conversations
no more handholding
no more wry observations on the passing of life
no more sweetnesses
no more declarations of this is it
no more drinking of wine
and no more motherly assurances
that yes everything will be okay.
Apt. 301 371 Lakeshore Road West
Today is December 1st 2010. Today is also the day that a new person will be moving into Apt.301 371 Lakeshore Road West, my mother’s apartment. It feels weird to think that 40 years of living have drawn to a close in that little apartment. It’s where I grew up and it’s where my mother found her peace. It’s like the mecca of our family. The fulcrum, the centre. It’s where I can lie on the green leather couch that fits me perfectly and relaxes me. It’s where I watch Dancing with the Stars with mom, it’s where we have a glass of wine, where we laugh and have serious life talks and nothing talks. It’s where we irritate each other, where we laugh and where we cry. For all of us that apartment represents something different but for me it’s what I have always called home. Home is where my mother is. It’s where we watched over each other as we grew up and it’s where I watched my mother grow older. You never know when you start a journey where or when it’s going to end. Life offers no end point until you’re living it.
Grief I’ve decided works in weird ways. Each stage you pass through is like a super nova. It creeps up on you. You’ll never call it a stage or recognize it as a stage but suddenly it grabs you like a wall of fire, like a shooting star, like a super nova. It holds you tight and you feel loss like you’ve never felt it before in your life. And shock and more shock and sadness, anger, grief, and the endless shock that runs like a single narrative through these luminescent balls of fire. And then all of a sudden you feel normal and you find yourself laughing spontaneously, your guilt is unchecked until it comes back to remind you that you’ve lost your centre, your mother, your home.
Those moments of normality are so incongruent with the emotional trajectory of grief and loss.First you can”t believe that the world is marching on. Doesn’t everyone know you’ve just lost your mother? And then it becomes less of that and more your own embrace of normality that makes you feel a bit like a traitor. Don’t you know you just lost mom?
The hardest journey is from being able to embrace real life flesh and blood that you can hold and hug to having nothing but a few things and a lifetime of memories. The memory of a home, of all my mom’s special things, her clothes, the way she had this just so. It feels cruel to dispense with these things that meant so much to someone and now mean so much to me. Dismantling a home feels like dismantling a life. Is this really all that’s left of this home? Just these things? I know that my mom is so much more than just things.
Today is the close of one chapter in the life of Apt 301 and the beginning of another one. Life without Rosie has truly begun. Finding my way home now is no longer getting on an airplane and making my way to Rosie at Apt 301. The crazy explosions of emotion that have engulfed me these last few months are subsiding and when I think of my mom I think of a spark, a star, a super nova and I’ll find my way back through the lifetime of great memories she has given me. I love you mom.