Tag Archives: Family

Conversations with My Mother: A Year Later: An Exposition on Grief (video)

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I started panicking this last week when the feeling of grief I became familiar with earlier this year seemed to have been replaced by a feeling of ‘non-missingness’maybe even of distance and coldness, like something maybe just wasn’t there any more.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.

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Forced Relaxation: Now that I’m over the terror I love it!

When I was first laid off last year it took awhile for the panic to set in. I had been given a ‘working termination’ so I had 3 months with pay that included the opportunity to work with my employer to find employment at the university. I met with HR, talked to them, took the re-employment workshop, re-worked my resume and avidly applied myself to finding work asap.

I went for quite a few interviews and remained ever hopeful that I would quickly find a new home. Well, as it turns out, this wasn’t quite meant to be and 7 months later I am still looking for work.

There was a period of time, and a fairly long one at that, that I went through a feeling of complete terror at what was happening and not happening in my life. It corresponded at the same time with my mom being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The sicker she got the more desperate I was to find a job. Dave said to me one day, “be careful what you wish for” and he was right. As my mom’s illness progressed I started to let go of my panic realizing that trying to work at a stressful job 3,000 kilometres away from my mom would be devastating for her and for me.

While I continued to keep my eye out for work I started to allow myself to seize the day. And for me that meant spending as much time with my mom and my family as possible.

I am still looking for a good home but in the mean time, the idea of ‘seizing the day’ which I learned during this difficult period is now spilling over into my life without my mom. A friend called the other day and asked how I spent my days. I laughed and said that I had developed wonderful rituals around the many ways I have learned to relax. It’s odd but once you let yourself just be you can unfold into the universe in a very beautiful kind of way. I feel my creative self returning, I have a new appreciation for things like flowers. I bought bulbs in the fall (garlic and tulip) and planted them. Every day I stand outside and look at them and am shocked at how crazy it is that you just drop these things in soil, stand back and do absolutely nothing and then boom, there they are peeking their heads up. Sometimes I find myself rooting around in the dirt, ”Where are you, you little devil? I’m just saying good morning.” As I gear up to enter work life again I’m going to remember this moment, to just take it as it comes. To seize the day, the moment, the hour.

This has been a message from the “glass half full brigade”.

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Conversations with my mother: Oh Tessie, isn’t this great!

For my mom, the little Dutch girl.

Often when I was a young girl my mother would look at the incredible dinner we were eating and say, “Ohhhh Tessie, look at this. This isn’t so bad at all. If only they could see us now!” I never knew who the “they” were but just that someone “out there” should witness this incredible feast we were having. You see my mom was a single mother with very limited resources. And while I never lacked for anything my mother’s circumstances made me aware from a young age of the value of things.

Rosie’s joy in these triumphs both large and small gave me a sense of celebration. New shoes, ‘Yippee let’s celebrate”, a great dinner,” Woo hoooo I want the world to see this.” Beautiful sunny day,  “Wow, Tess can you imagine.” Or, “Nobody wants to hire me mom.” What? ”  she’d say in genuine shock. “Who wouldn’t want you? All in good time. There’s a reason for everything. Trust me.” Or she’d look around her small two bedroom apartment and say, “Look at this. It’s so cozy isn’t it. Look at those paintings. You know I just look around and I love it. I love everything in here.” My mom talked about that apartment like it was a palace. And to her it was.

So I’m going to try and apply her innate ability to celebrate life as a glass half full rather than half empty to this last year in my own life.

I would say that having a health scare and losing my job don’t even register as negatives in view of facing the biggest loss of my life which is the loss of my mom. I would also say that the wrenching pain of losing my Rosie yielded a different kind of beauty than I would have ever anticipated. That I have a more intimate knowledge of the word bitter and sweet. That these bitter moments in life also yield life’s greatest sweetnesses. That through this journey with my mother and my family I came to know her in a deeper and better way. That I watched my brother and sisters rise to the occasion even in their weakest moments, that I saw generosity and forgiveness. That I saw my nieces and nephews literally surround my mother with their love and their liveliness, that I saw them take her hand and love her. That I saw them not be afraid even if they were a little. That I saw that my mother had created a family of love and joy. That we all sat in her room with the liveliness and sense of celebration that we got directly from her and which she passed on to us.

That she was the creator of this family  that seems to have passed on the gene of experiencing life in all of it’s bittersweetness as more than half full. That when my husband said last year at Christmas “Let’s make room for the prettiest girl in the room.” that the dance floor parted with all her grandchildren and children surrounding her and dancing with the joy that somehow in spite of everything we have managed as a family to foster and grow and pass on.

So this year I lost my mother. But this year I saw more clearly what her gifts were and I see them everywhere in my family. And for that I am eternally grateful and will try and honour her ability to experience life as always more than half full. Cheers mom.

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Conversations with my mother: How Grief is Like a Super Nova

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.

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Conversations with My Mother: Things I’ve learned from Rosie

My mom died in the amazing Dorothy Ley Hospice on Saturday October 9th in the late afternoon. It was a brilliantly beautiful fall day and she had her family by her side. Dorothy Ley lies somewhere just outside Port Credit where my mother lived and Sherway Gardens, Rosie’s favourite mall of all time.  My mom once said of a friend’s house in Kits, “This is nice but where’s the mall?”

I feel as though I have been on a journey with my mother. At first I thought it was the journey of these past few months but now I realize that it has been a journey of a lifetime. Sometimes it’s hard to see our mother’s as people or as anything outside their roles as our mothers.  But now when I try and disentangle myself as my mother’s daughter I feel like I can better understand the quirks she developed as a result of some of the hard knocks she had to take in life.

My mother married twice. Both times she married men who liked to take things from her. Her children, her safety, her children’s safety, her things, whatever she had they wanted and they took without asking or without scruples. Abusive men will change your life and the life of those around you forever if you give them the chance.

When husband number two left my mother high and dry it was the best thing he could ever have done.  My mom never was allowed to work but suddenly at the age of 43 she had to figure out what she could do. And she did. She cleaned houses and eventually she took care of other people’s children.

I don’t think in all the years of knowing my mom she ever complained of the things she had to do or the things she didn’t have. She just did it. And when we had a particularly good meal  she always looked at me with a mischievous smile and say, “If only everyone could see us now!”

Eventually my mom got a job at Eaton’s where she worked at the accessories counter for 10 years. She loved that job. Always a clothes horse, she would get dressed up, make her lunch and off she’d go to have coffee with the girls before work.

There is no doubt that my mother had her quirks. She was brutally honest, sometimes unkindly so and she could have a hard edge. She could make a dollar stretch like nobody I know because she had to.

Sometimes even in the last few months I had this idea that my mother didn’t live her life to its fullest potential. I felt badly that she never had another partner or that she wouldn’t take risks or adventure far beyond her beloved apartment in Port Credit. It upset me that television had become her world (especially Dancing with the Stars and the Olympics!)

If you asked her she would wave her hand and say “What for? Why would I want anyone in my life? They’d make me cook and clean. Forget it. I’m happy. Tessie, I’ve lived more than you would ever know.” I guess the thing is I heard this but I didn’t understand it.

In the last few months my mom would look at her place and say, “Isn’t this cosy? Don’t you love all the pictures and all the things in here. I love this place. I love Port Credit.”  My mom lived in her apartment on Lakeshore Road for 40 years. Once she managed to escape the craziness of life with husband number two she decided to build a life for herself where nobody could take anything away from her. Where she could feel safe. Where she could have peace and be happy.

It was from this safe place that my  mother executed her witticisms and divined her essential Rosiness.

  • I’ve learned from my mother to take from life what you can.
  • To keep laughing in spite of it all.
  • To be silly and laugh even through the worst of it.
  • To love the people around you.
  • To give even if you don’t have much.
  • To not bemoan what you don’t have.
  • To not let lack of money ruin your sense of peace.
  • To create your own safe place.
  • To understand that there is nothing about dying that is undignified.Whatever the cruelties that old age and sickness impose on you, they have nothing to do with dignity.
  • That regardless of anything Rosie’s amazing spirit shone through adversity and kept us laughing and on our toes until the very end.
  • That just being there and holding someone’s hand is the most important thing in the world.
  • That old age never compromises a mischievous fun-loving spirit.
  • That when you look at older women understand that they have lived every age and their entire being is comprised of that. They have been daughters, sisters, lovers, wives, girlfriends, adventurers, nurturers. They’ve loved and they’ve lost.
  • That love can make you do things you never thought you could.
  • I  believe that Rosie’s spirit lives all around me and is a part of me.

I hope that wherever my mother is, it’s as peaceful as 371 Lakeshore Road West, Port Credit.

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Dying isn’t for the faint of heart

The truth is that dying hurts. It hurts for the person who is dying and it hurts for the people around that person.  I’ve learned that it’s hard watching the body of a person with an alert, active mind, slowly fall apart. I don’t know because I haven’t experienced it first hand, but I imagine it’s equally as hard to watch someone lose their mind to illness. It doesn’t matter if you lose someone who is young or old, loss possesses a unique sorrow for each and every one of us.

It’s true what they say…that you go through stages. From the time I could first remember I dreaded the thought of losing my mother. I swear I used to worry about it in bed when I was eight years old and I would pray to god that nobody in my family would die. And then I would list all of their names and if I missed anyone  I took that as an omen of doom. I was prone to suspicion as a kid and these thoughts plagued my small mind.

Now years later that I’m faced with it I’m thankful for the stages…because they’re true. I think you have these stages because letting go of someone is a process. It forces you to focus on now. More importantly it forces you to focus on your heart and your mind.

I am visiting my mom right now in my old home town where I grew up. She stayed and I left. This is something I think about a lot. When I wander around at night after visiting her in the hospital I feel the memories of this place where I grew up collapse into a single evocation of so many moments and feelings in my life. I feel the past pulling me as hard as the present.

My mom says to me that she likes to be with her memories. I wonder if this is her way of letting go.

The thingI like about her at this stage in her life is her honesty.  I like very much that she talks directly about dying. About the things she is facing. About the finality of her life. About the fact that she just isn’t into this anymore.  I don’t know if this is courage or just the honest truth spoken plainly by a dying woman. But I feel it is helping to prepare me.

The other things I worry about are that people won’t see beyond her body. That she will be consigned to the invisibility of old age. I want them to see the rich life she has led. Her sorrow and her joy. Her love and her broken heartedness. The young dutch girl, the married woman, the mother, the wife, the friend the dancer, the harmonica player, the laugher, the prankster.

That’s what I worry about.

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Alex Morin is a devilishly handsome genius. Funny too!

Tessa: Most people who know Alex Morin, his mother and myself included, maybe even Alex himself, would agree that he is not only devilishly handsome with those big brown chocolate eyes but he is also rather brilliant.  At three he could name every kind of truck known to humankind, by eight he had a certain finesse with the word ‘asshole’ and at fifteen he not only owns some pretty sassy dance moves but he also happens to have an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and Neil Young.  How can you trust me? How do you know I’m telling you the truth and not lying to you the way so many others might especially in my family? Well, I’m not lying because a few years back Dave and I had the pleasure of spending a little time with Alex when he was in Vancouver.

I didn’t really know him that well and worried that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Well it turns out I had nothing to fear because Alex is a versatile, nimble and willing participant in all conversations!  I also thought he’d be bored senseless and who knows maybe he really was and that’s where the lying part comes in but he seemed pretty happy to hang out and watch Seinfeld, go for a walk on the beach (actually I think he hated that part) watch endless movies and eat his greens. Okay that’s a lie. That guy definitely doesn’t like eating green things but really that’s very minor. When it was time for Alex to go I was actually kind of sad which is the opposite of how I feel when it’s time for guests to leave.  Most of the time I can’t wait to get rid of people and the adrenalin rush I get from the anticipation of their departure gives me a bit of a led foot when I’m on the way to airport, where I unceremoniously deposit them at DEPARTURES. BYE. SO LONG. ENJOY YOUR LIFE. Actually that’s what my cousin said to me the other day when he hung up. “Have a good life.” which indicated to me that this was to be our last conversation.

Not so with Alex though. I still like him even after his departure. And even though we don’t really talk we facebook which is even better than talking. So in the end I realized that the things that we’re great about him were the things that I mentioned above. And also the fact that even though he tries to hide it, he is actually very sweet. Oh, by the way. This is not a paid advertisement.

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