Tag Archives: Parenting

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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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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