Mother of God

My mother in law Mary has just passed away, you might have read about that here recently.  She slipped away late in the quiet of night.  I like to think of her last exhale as a sigh; no more struggle. I like to imagine her now, free to move. Happy, laughing and feeling at ease.

The last time we saw her she was having a good day. My husband cracked a joke and her face broke into a sudden grin; she laughed and we saw a glimpse again of the Mary, Mum and Nanna that we know. I like to think about that moment and I am grateful she got to share a laugh with her son. She loved him so much.

In the beginning, I used to think of her irreverently, as
‘Mary: Mother of God’
…because, like many doting mums, the sun rose and shone in the eyes of her boy. As if he himself were God! I thought wryly.  It seemed that he could do no wrong, and when we visited, her whole world would shift to revolve around him completely. I remember we were talking about him one day, soon after he and I had got back together again after a breakup; I stated what I thought was the obvious, “-yes, but even he is not perfect you know, Mary”. She looked at me and her mouth dropped open, just for a second, and I realised that in her eyes, he just was.

mary-mother-of-god-iconOf course, I wasn’t a mother myself then, and now that I am, I understand her better. In her eyes, her son was perfect. She loved him completely and unconditionally.  That kind of love is the special reserve of mothers. He is a lucky guy to have been so loved, so adored. I’m sure it is part of why his self esteem is so robust. She has always been his unwavering cheer squad, his bringer of supper and endless cups of tea.

Sometimes, believing that your kids are perfect makes it hard to love their partners. Mary and I didn’t think the same way, and there were times that I thought we would never breach the awkward misunderstandings between us. It seemed impossible for her to know that we were actually allies in the same quest; to love the man she raised and the man I chose. Maybe I just wasn’t the sort of girl she understood, but I always felt the love I gave him was not the love she thought he needed.  I agonised over it for years, wondering how I could do better or convince her that my intentions were pure.

I suppose it is common in mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationships. Many of my friends would say I am not alone. I persevered with the relationship because I knew that family was more important than those feelings. That there would be a time when she might need me.   As she got sicker and the Parkinson’s Dementia took hold, she often spoke to me about Rachel, her son’s wife. Because in those conversations, to her, I was someone else entirely. During those times, I enjoyed a friendship with Mary that I hadn’t experienced before. It was quite good for both of us.  I’m grateful for all those times when we were able to see each other through fresh eyes, and find something in each other to love.

The visit before last, in a rare moment of lucidity, she told me she just wanted her boys to be happy. My mother heart understood that so completely. Her eyes seemed to implore me to take up the torch, to make sure of it. I held her hands and told her I would do everything I could, but I knew even as I said it, that neither she, nor I could do enough to ensure her sons’ happiness. And that is the pain of love. To want to make everything perfect, to smooth the way, to lower the barrier, to ease the burden. We wish to do this for the ones we love even though we know that  we cannot control the hardships of life. They are not ours to command.

I held him in my arms after we heard that she had passed. He’s a big guy, my hubster. I held that big man and listened to the boy within, as the realisation began to wash over him. I held him and I thought about how far happiness was in that moment, and I offered him instead, comfort. Empathy. I listened and I helped him pack his suitcase. I made him a coffee for the midnight drive home.  I wished I could take away the shock, the loss, the thoughts of what might have been.  I know from my own loss, that those things are the price we pay for having had the love of a great mother. I could no longer take them from him than take the sun from the sky.

I think of Mary and imagine her soaring high above us, her eagle eyes watching out for her boys like she always has.

I know I am failing her still, failing to make him happy in the ways she wanted for him. I cannot be the sort of wife she wished me to be. I will not subject myself to the sort of life many women of her generation chose. I just cannot believe in my heart of hearts that the pathway to marital happiness lies that way. At least, it certainly doesn’t for the hubster and I.  When I am subservient to him, it simply breeds resentment. It’s not our recipe for success.

Still, these days I feel softly towards her for her expectations. In my head, I ask her to forgive me for not meeting them, because I simply can’t.  I ask her to look again at him, to notice. He loves an imperfect woman, lives an imperfect life.  And, he is already happy, in all the ways that count the most.

Rest now; mother Mary.  Rest safe in the knowledge that in any way I can, I carry your love forward into the future. I cannot mother him as you did, those times for him are treasured and past. But your boy, he’s safe in my arms,
I promise.

I don’t think there is a more fitting song than this one for this post, it was written by Paul McCartney, about his own mother Mary who died when he was 14. This one is a cover by Vazquez Sound, I just loved that it was sung by a child, because nothing renders you closer to your inner child than the passing of your mum.  So this is for my man, and for me too.

Little Girl Lost

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the rainbow comes and goes,
and lovely is the rose,

the moon doth with delight
look round her when the heavens are bare,

waters on a starry night
are beautiful and fair;

the sunshine is a glorious birth;

but yet I know, where'er I go,

that there hath passed away a glory from the earth.

An old school friend of mine lost her mama this week.  Her mama was Clara, a lady whose life converged with my family’s history and made our story better for having her in it. She was a beautiful, gentle, loving person, a special friend to many; but to her children she was the beginning of love itself.  To not have her here with them now must be so hard to come to terms with.

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there is beauty even in the end

Losing your Ma is a journey I know well.  It’s the trip you never want to take, the inevitable traverse through times that test and trouble the very fabric of our identity. Because, who are we without our mothers? Can we walk through life without them? Can we possibly take the torch of their wisdom in our families and communities… are we even ready for that?

I remember how Mum’s death was a relief and also a shock. We’d been with her as she battled seven years of cancer. So it was a relief to know the pain was gone, the struggle ended. But I wasn’t prepared for the finality of death. The absolute ‘gone’ of death. No more smiling waves and see-ya-laters. No more one-more-times.

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The strongest feeling I had the day of my Mum’s death was a feeling of being little girl lost. I remember being about four, lost in the shopping mall. It was a terrifying feeling; an empty wide chasm of fear and abandonment opened up in my little heart.

I retraced the way we had come, hoping to find her back in time. She was nowhere. The tears obscured my vision, I sat down and howled. A nice lady took my hand and led me to the mall head office. I was placated with a lollipop and the loudspeaker called my Mum. When she found me there, my relief was complete.

Losing her to death reminded me of that feeling I’d had as a child. I didn’t know if I could do life without her. I didn’t know how I could carry all the weight of my love for her, now I couldn’t give it to her anymore.  I wished there was a Universal loud speaker system that could bring her back to me.

In some ways, there is. I see her in the beauty of life, even in the peonies that are slowly fading in the vase. I feel her when I am mothering like she did. I hear her words coming out of my own mouth and I see her expressions in my daughter’s beautiful face.  I didn’t know if I could do life without her, but I have. I didn’t think I could carry all that love, but I do. Sometimes, I give some of it back to myself.  I mother myself because she can’t do it anymore.

I still cry a lot about losing my mum. Things set me off. Like trimming our Christmas tree, or a song, or seeing a mother and her grown daughter meandering together through a mall.  Sometimes just talking with my siblings or hearing a laugh like hers can do it. Seeing my children do something my Mum will never see them do. Watching from afar as Clara’s family gracefully carried her through her final days. The triggers are everywhere. The sudden upsurges of grief never far from overwhelming me.

I will always miss her. I will always yearn for her to be here with me still. That’s the nature of love.  There’s no time limit on grief, it is just an ever present part of life without her.

This poem meant a lot to me during the early days of Mum’s absence.  I return to it, days like today, when we are remembering the beautiful woman that Mum’s friend Clara was. She will be so missed.

Daniella, Geoff and all of the Tabor/Ila clan, my heart is with your hearts. It is so hard to travel the days without your Mama. I know you will find strength in what remains behind. But I wish she hadn’t had to leave so soon. I imagine in heaven, our mamas will be together.  It’s nice to think of them together.

Love to you all from my family. Clara was one in a million. A truly beautiful soul.

we will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind;
              
in the primal sympathy
which having been must ever be;
              
in the soothing thoughts that spring
out of human suffering;
              
in the faith that looks through death,
in years that bring the philosophic mind.

The poem is ‘Intimations of Immortality’ by William Wordsworth.

The flowers are my vase of peonies that I can’t bear to throw away; every day they seem more beautiful, even as they draw near to the end.

Sunshine

The winter sun seeps thin and white through the cloud cover.  The rains have been sporadic, like the tears of grief when not one year, but two have passed. When the irrefutable fact of her passing has seeped into your bones, and you know, there is no going back.  The rain connects across the Tasman in great arcing fronts. Every year on this date, stretching between countries, across time, back to Kellie’s death, and to her friends and family. Reminding me that time is passing, but the grief doesn’t.  It just changes, like the weather. Shifting the pressure and moving the isobars.  Hail today, rain tomorrow. Some snow among the chilly grey.

rememberingthis beautiful ray of sunshine

I think of beautiful Kellie.  Of how short her life was yet how much of a life force she was.  I imagine her directing the weather like a Greek Goddess, goblet in hand, laughing at the storms.  Revelling in the thunder and sending out lightning from her fingertips; her anger and joy all rolled into one vibrant and terrifyingly beautiful heavenly creature.  Making her presence felt in the skies.

I think of her family with my own mother heart. It’s so unfair that they have to do life without her. I hope they are okay, two years into their marathon. I hope they are finding their own ways to keep her close, to remember and celebrate her astonishing vibrancy. I stand with her friends and family, across the ether, raising a glass in acknowledgement.  That Goddess woman. Gone but never forgotten.

She was sunshine. Straight up, sunshine.

Here’s to you Kellie. X

(I like this version)

 

 

Horse Heaven

Yesterday, a pony died. A special pony… the ‘best friend’ of Bee’s pony.  It was septicaemia that got her. She was sick, she was taking medicine. Then she was gone.

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Trina was a darling pony. A grey, like Lulu.  Trina was the pony I loved the most when Bee started at her riding school. I would watch Trina with awe as she sped around the jumps in the arena, flying over each hurdle with gusto.  She liked to go fast.  In horse years, she was a young lady.  Old enough to know a bit about the world. Young enough to still flirt with speed and enjoy the challenges of competition.  I would watch her and dream that one day, Bee might have a pony like her.

When Lulu came to be Bee’s pony, she joined the main herd. There are two groups out where the horses live. The ‘top paddock’ sport horses, and the general herd, which is made up of owned ponies and school horses.  It’s a sizeable herd and Lulu took a while to find her place in it. When she lived on the property previously, she was a top paddock mare.  I think she remembered that and didn’t much enjoy the comedown.  Horses are herd animals and develop strong bonds. They need each other. And breaking into a herd you don’t know must be akin to moving to a new city.  Lulu was sad, and drifted around on her own, or waited at the gate, for a few weeks. Then, after a while, we began to notice that Trina had become Lulu’s special friend. They ate together, drank from the bore together, and could always be found near each other when they had to be caught.

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When Trina got sick, Lulu lay down beside her in sympathy.

And now Trina has died, Lulu must surely wonder what has happened to her dear companion. Do you think she knows? I hope she does. I hope she understands that Trina isn’t feeling sick anymore. I hope there is a horsey kind of statute of limitations on grief and that Lulu won’t suffer this loss for too long. And I hope she will find another special friend soon.  It must have been so lonely out there last night. Her horsey heart must be sore.

My eyes keep leaking, because this pony business has made me even more of a sook than I was before.  I can’t bear the thought that one day, Lulu too will cross the rainbow bridge.  I don’t know how horse owners can cope with that sort of grief.

Rest in peace beautiful Trina.  You will be missed by so many. I really wish you could have stayed in the paddock with your girl, Lulu. I bet she does too.  Because there is nothing that makes the heart feel more secure than being able to hang out with your best friend.  I know that when it is her time to go, she’ll be welcomed into horsey heaven by you. Because that is the kind of friend you are, until then Trina, remember our girl Lulu, she loved you very much. X

In Mortal Danger

We are all in mortal danger.  No exemptions, no alternatives, it doesn’t matter if you are sick or well, at some point it will happen to each one of us. Mortality is part of vitality; it’s just the part we studiously choose to ignore.

I’ve just put down a book that should be compulsory reading for every adult. And not just once, we should all re-read it every few years.  Have you read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande?  He is what is known as a physician-writer. It’s an entire genre!  Last year, I wrote briefly about something discussed in another physician writer’s book:  ‘One Doctor’. Brendan Reilly is another brilliant physician-writer who tackles the subject of the confounding American Medical System. Oh my, that was a great read too, so timely and thought provoking. Where are we going with our own medical system? I sincerely hope not to the same places… but there are some similarities.  Brendan Reilly’s book is a brilliant companion to Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’. I think those two authors would have great conversations!

Somehow seems unfair that people gifted in medical ‘brainage’* can also be gifted writers, I suppose it follows that Gawande and Reilly are good at sports and incredibly good looking too (!) but I haven’t seen them so I can’t confirm. Some people just get it all!

Atul (I feel we are on a first-name-basis now I have read the book) writes about a very uncomfortable subject.  I’ve written about it here, but my words were inadequate in comparison to his excellent (and detailed) discussion. It’s difficult to convey in a blog post a message he has delivered so beautifully in his book. I love his writing style; fluid, easy.  He’s a compelling storyteller.  It’s through the stories in this book that he gets us to honestly look at the elephant in the room.  We are mortal. We never want to look at that, we never want to engage with what it might mean about our lives. Somehow, our brains slip away from the realities all the time. But Atul forces us to look, to think, to examine what our own wishes are for the inevitable. Not just the inevitability of death, but of old age. His book is a crucially important guide to the subject of both and an important criticism of the directions of gerontology in traditional western medicine.

picture of the cover of Atul Gawande's book 'Being Mortal'
Atul Gawande :: Being Mortal

Have you ever heard parents ask children to promise not to put them in a home in their old age? Or seen people refuse to use of mobility aides, or even prolong the lives of their loved ones with unnecessary medical interventions for their own reasons? I have often. We see and hear examples of people grappling with issues around mortality every day, but we don’t really examine how it could be better. It is very difficult for any family to make decisions about end-of-life issues when they are emotionally distraught, far better to engage with them long before the inevitable, to remove the burden of big decisions. We can all do this by making our wishes clearly known. And I don’t just mean “if I am brain dead turn off the machine”. There are a lot of statistically more likely scenarios to consider. Atul knows this, because he’s been in that position with his own Father, as well as countless patients. I know this, because I was with my Mum when she was going through her final days.

The older we get, the more often mortality will come and slap us in the face, that of others and eventually our own. But have we considered the type of death we might prefer if the choice were ours? Have you ever heard of Advance Directives? Even more importantly, have you discussed the curliest of questions with your family?  Atul provides us with four thought provoking questions to guide our discussions. I won’t tell you what they are, because I want you to read that book.

When my Mum was about two weeks from her death, she was distressingly uncomfortable. An enormous tumour had enveloped her abdomen and was pressing on her diaphragm. She didn’t want morphine, but eventually asked for it; the pain was too extreme. Hospice care was compassionate and careful but also generous; they helped her with pain and anxiety, they talked with us, and with her. Food was still being brought to her, and desperate for sensation, taste, life, she would try to eat. “I’d love x, y or z” she would say wistfully “…or just something… juicy”. We would race to meet every whim. But there was nowhere for the food to go, the tumour had encompassed her stomach. And her gag reflex had stopped. She knew eating was pointless, she knew she had to vomit or endure more pain and nausea. She was too weak to help herself out of the predicament, so she asked me if I could stick my fingers down her throat to help her relieve the situation. I would have done anything she asked me to do. My precious, frail Mumma. I helped her to vomit in the way she had helped me do countless things when I was little. With love.

Soon, she chose to not eat anymore. The hospice nurse, marvelling in a later conversation with me, remarked on my mother’s tenacity for life. She mused, just as an aside, that patients who continue to drink water last longer than those who don’t.  It is obvious really, isn’t it?  But when you’re there in that room, watching your loved one facing death, deep in the desert, it doesn’t seem so.  It was revelatory that death by an aggressive cancer would not be swift, but a long and painful process. That death would eventually be by starvation, or dehydration. It seemed so grotesquely cruel.

Mum’s final days passed in the torturous way they do at the sharp end. She drifted in and out of fitful sleep, her breathing ragged. She could barely talk but would turn her eyes to the straw in her cup and when we held it to her lips, she would drink like she was traversing a desert with no reprieve. We swabbed her mouth out with special sponges when she could no longer produce saliva. We watched her suffer, limp with inability to do anything that could really help.

One morning, awake and waiting for the next shot of pain relief, she croaked

“-tell me why I can’t just die?”

I thought about hwat the nurse had said. But I was afraid, because I knew my Mum. I knew her steely determined side, I knew if she wanted to go, she would make it happen. I looked into her face, taut with pain.

I confess that watching her suffer was the most agonising experience of my life.

I confess I hoped that there might be an end to the horror, for her and for me. And I whispered:
“Mum, the nurse said it’s not possible to live without water.”

For a long time, I felt guilt about telling her that. But her eyes shone up at me. She couldn’t talk. But she refused any more water. By the next day, she had drifted off into a coma. That was her only way out. A desperate, dry, gasping and rasping before a quiet coma. And I will forever feel responsible for my part in how it played out.  Did it save her from more suffering? Possibly. Did she want to go? Absolutely. We were extending her suffering with all the love our hearts and hands could muster. “Another sip Mum… come on, water is so good for you”.

I wish this book had existed when my Mum was sick.  I wish her faith in God’s healing had left some room for us to talk about such things. I wish that she could have had less chemo, and more good days.  But of course, more than all of that I just wish she was still here.  It is a regret that I have that I had pushed her to fight, to try, to hang in there, all because my own fears about life without her were so all-encompassing.

Atul Gawande’s book would have been useful back then, but it is still incredibly useful right now. Mum’s death was my first proper shock into the reality that death finds us all, but being sick for six years forced me to think about it even more. We are ageing, and so are our remaining parents. There are things to consider, things to discuss. I think about my own children and know that I never want them to be in the position of feeling responsible, or guilty, for any aspect of my wishes. I want to take that burden off their shoulders.

Have you had the discussion?

PLEASE read this book, there is far more to it than you might think. It is uplifting, not depressing. It could change your life, and your loved one’s lives for the better.  One thing I know for sure, we are all in mortal danger, and apathy could steal from you the things that will matter the most to you.

It’s time to talk.

 

*I know, ‘brainage’ isn’t a word, but it should be.

Inheritance

“…comme-ci, comme-ca”  my son’s small hand wavers horizontally in the manner of telling me he’s feeling, well, middling.  Not this, not that. He’s into language, currently French.  Much easier to comprehend than some of the made up languages he used to speak in! I have to say, I concur with his sentiments, but for different reasons. Today is Christmas day and he’s been gorging on christmas stocking treats, so faced with the prospect of Christmas dinner, he’s non committal. But my middling feelings are not about food. No. I’m feeling middling about Christmas itself. A holiday I have always loved is so much more complex now.  I don’t think I can explain it to him, and anyway, he bounds off to do something busy. I’m left to myself to prepare the salad, left to my own middling thoughts, my own sweet and sour, light and shade. My own shadow dance.

This time of year is reminiscing time, and I try really hard every year not to fall into the murky depths of melancholy. I think a LOT about my mum. About my childhood. And about how I wish I could just tell her that I get it.  All the stuff I didn’t get when I was a clueless kid, an angst-ridden teen and a self-absorbed young woman. All the stuff about being a Mum, and the efforts that go unnoticed. All the stuff about the importance of having family traditions, how crucial manners and generosity are. How hard you have to work to help the family with that stuff. I want to look her deep in the eyes and make sure she knows that I finally get it, and I am so thankful to her. If she were here, she’d probably shrug me off, in her trademark bluster. But I’d put my hands back on her shoulders and say “MUM! I get it!” and she might laugh and tell me there is still waaay more for me to get. I’m a long way off knowing it all.

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Grief reaches across the years, never really releasing me. And it’s not just because of the aching chasm that exists where her love used to be. But because of the lost opportunity to love her back. She’s gone. No more chances to let her know that I appreciated all of that self sacrifice and hard graft. With every decoration I hung on my tree this year, my heart keened for her like it was her last day all over again. I can’t have Christmas without memories of her that ghost through every song, every ritual, all the ways we do things. For me, there is no joy to all men without sadness for one woman.

I just miss my Mumma… you know?

The tsunami of feeling inundated me mid-morning. The hubster was having a nap. The kids were playing amongst the drifts of wrapping paper on the living room carpet.  I decided it would be good to take my tears out into the wind and I strapped on my helmet and climbed on my bike. Even with my legs burning and the rush of air against my face, the sadness enveloped me. Chased me around the quiet streets. Followed me through the park. Settled in my chest where I knew it would weigh on me for the rest of Christmas Day.

It occurs to me that the only way I can love my Mum without her here, is to pour the love I have for her into my kids. Her grandbabies. She would probably have liked that.  I look at my girl, lying next to the cat in a sunny patch of the floor, so young-old it hurts. I hear my little guy, shadow fighting an imaginary opponent with his light sabre, he’s bound to be victorious any moment now.  I will love these kids with all the love that belongs to you Mumma.

An extra serve straight from my mother heart, the one I inherited from you. x

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PS.  We watched Inkheart tonight. Tom Baxter’s song ‘My Declaration’ is the theme song. I loved it and thought I’d share it here. It’s a good anthem for carrying on, for doing your best.

Dear Kellie,

Dear Kellie

I like to think that you can read this from wherever you are. I like to think that because it is comforting to me. And comfort, when it comes to the absence of you, is scarce. So I take my threads of hope in there being a hereafter and I try to weave them into something tangible.  You, looking over my shoulder from another dimension.  Reading about the shock wave of your departure. Knowing that you are missed as much today as this day a year ago.

Truth is Kel, there really isn’t any way of reconciling your departure. It was sudden.  You were such a long way from home… you were meant to come back to us. You are meant to be here. I wish you were.

I spoke with you on Facebook messenger, we talked about the kids, your man, how it was all going.  You said how tired your were and something awful gripped me.  Through all the difficulties to that point you had barely even mentioned feeling low, even though the trials were many.  You were in isolation, and glad for the opportunity to rest.  Then it went quiet. I hoped then that you were getting lots of rest, that you would bounce back onto my screen and tell me how the weekend had been for you. 
But then, I saw a message in our patient group.  Someone said what a terrible shock it was to hear about your passing. I reeled. I messaged you. Kellie?  Did you hear me?  Did my thoughts catch in your wake and follow you to where you are?

I wrote to you on messenger for a while after I knew for sure.  Not wanting to believe you were truly gone. I’d been your online friend since you messaged me to ask if I would help with your blog and it was a fast-track friendship.  I hadn’t known you for very long, but I suspect you had a gift for making everyone feel like your close friend.  Warm, funny, irrepressible. That’s how I found you. I enjoyed our friendship and I looked forward to the futures we imagined, cured and cackling with a glass of wine.  Trans-tasman trips and girlie weekends. We joked about an arranged marriage for our firstborns, the way Mums like us can. Mums who wish they really could make the world do their bidding, keep their kids happy, safeguard the future. Mums who knew we couldn’t do any such thing.

I wish I knew how your family are. But I never joined your personal Facebook page.  We were always in contact via messenger or email and I don’t know how I didn’t think to Facebook friend request you.  I wish I had. I would have loved to have seen all the beautiful things your friends have said about you. To share with them this difficult date, a year since you left us. If any of them see this, I hope they know they are not the only ones wishing you were here.  Sometimes it helps to know there are others keeping the memories alive too; here we are Kel, a groundswell of grief. Your people.

I miss you Kellie. I miss your profile picture popping up. I miss the laughter that you brought me even on my sickest days.  Sometimes I would laugh until the tears squeezed out the corners of my eyes.  We were cyber friends, digital buddies, pen-pals of the keyboard kind.  When my days were awful, you were a bright spot. You funny, irreverent, girl.  I am cast adrift by my grief at your loss, and I knew you for such a short time. I cannot begin to comprehend how your Mum, your Aunty, your best friend are getting on. Your man, your eloquent lad, your beautiful girl. All the people closest to you.

Today, the world has travelled once around the sun since your heart stopped beating. For Mark and Luc and Ash, the rest of your beloved family, your friends; every laborious step of that year has been heavy with longing for you. There will be a silvery path of salt water in the wake of Earth’s orbit, because Kellie, we cannot help but measure our grief for you in tears and time. The earth will keep on traversing that path, and every year as it passes this dreadful date, we will commemorate you. All of the special memories that each of us has. All of the beauty, and liveliness that was you. We will put down our work, our play, our every-day, and remember the way our own worlds stopped the moment we heard about you. The incomprehensible news that you were gone from us. Around the wells of sadness that opened in our hearts, we will ring wreaths of remembering.

If my hopes are real, and somewhere just beyond, your soul is living on; know that we are remembering you.  Know that you mattered to us.  Know that everything you did and said and loved and created left an indelible print in this world.  You’ll be up there wearing some gorgeous jewelled floaty kaftan. Raising a glass with some new friends and old.  Rarking it up in celestial style. We miss you Kel.

xxx

Rach

The Pacifist and the Poppy

It’s ANZAC day, a special date in our calendar down in this part of the world.  If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll need to know that ANZAC stands for the combined services of Australia and New Zealand in the two World Wars.  Together, we joined with our allies to fight off the threats in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and closer to home.  On this date, we commemorate the fallen ANZAC soldiers.  It’s a day that stops the nation.  People attend dawn services and wear the red poppy on their lapels, sometimes alongside the service medals of generations gone before. The red poppy is the symbol of this day, as it reminds us of the battle of Flanders Field, now covered in red poppies.  A stark visual reminder of the bloodshed and lost souls of war.

Picture of a red poppy standing taller than the poppies in the field beyond. A true 'Flanders Field' full of red poppies to symbolise fallen soldiers.

I have always been horrified by war. The thought of having to go away to fight when you probably don’t want to.  Lucky for me, the only ‘traumatic echo’ I have of war, is the commando comic images burned into my childhood memories: young men being blasted into the beyond. I can’t fully comprehend that real soldiers spent their last days killing people and suffering as they watched their comrades injured or wiped off the face of the earth.  It’s a strange kind of political game I have never, ever understood.  I blame patriarchy and the male mentality for believing war is a solution to state issues. I will never sit with the ‘glory’ of war and I consider it to be a pointless, criminal waste of life.

My brother, when we were growing up, was fascinated by war, what little boys weren’t?  Where we lived in Papua New Guinea, war relics were easy to find.  There was a mount in our town of Lae, that was tunnelled out and used by the Japanese as a base hospital.  As a result, the land around the town was littered with artifacts of war.  Unexploded shells, bullets, and even, in the jungles beyond our town, crashed warplanes. I remember two particular finds.  A Japanese war helmet with a bullet hole in it.  And somehow, more poignantly, an Allies service food bowl with it’s fork rusted right through the rim. When the war ended, rather than surrender, the Japanese blew up the entrances and died inside. And like any antipodean school child, I have heard the stories about Japanese atrocities, I’ve read the books and been horrified by the cruelties inflicted upon Japanese-held prisoners of war.  But there were human souls inside that mountain who died because of war, too.  They died because they were soldier-pawns in a bigger game of war, played out by bigger men making decisions in rooms far from the fighting.

I just don’t get it.

We commemorate the bravery of those in the war effort.  Not all war effort, but WW1 and WW2.  These particular wars seem to have a sanitised, mythical greatness about them in our national psyche.  I do feel it was unthinkably brave to ‘do your duty’ if you were so unfortunate enough to be born in a time of war. And so they were. Brave beyond comprehension.  I can’t imagine the incredible damage done to so many psyches, faced with the gritty duty of firing on other human beings. My mother told me that my grandfather had a drinking problem because he had gone to war. He was away when she was born; a brand new husband and father who returned to his fledgling little family, a vastly different person.  I wonder who he would have been without that war. Who she would have been?

How far does warfare reach into the hearts and minds of the generations beyond?

Yes, we should remember them. But what is that remembrance for if we do not also begin to ask the questions that no one considers patriotic.  Why? Why did it happen?  How can we stop it happening now? And it is!  There are wars happening all over this planet, does it matter less because it is not our family members firing the bullets or taking them?  Does it matter that one of the greatest weapons of war across Africa is sexual assault and female mutilation?

War is not the only way to solve problems.  We are a race of intelligent souls, there are alternatives. There are radically different ways of thinking that could lead to a better future.

I mean no disrespect to our fallen ancestors; the terrible cost exacted by war on family after family. What I mean to say is that I can’t believe that we cannot get our act together and look for peace. Let us not create another reason for another commemoration.  That is the reason why, on this day,

I Remember Them.

I guess that makes me a pacifist.  How about you?  Do you have feelings about this? How is it that commemorations are our solemn duty, but having the conversations about how to stop it all, is not?

Words Fall Out

If we’re lucky, it visits us a few times before taking us away; Death.
I remember the death of our dog.  That first aching glimpse into the yawning chasm of ‘gone forever’.  And the death of a grandparent; quiet censored whisperings of adults and the hurried ushering of the children away from the coffin.  Gone forever. First one person, then a sprinkling of elderly others.  Watching the grief in my mothers eyes spill over into tears.  She didn’t usually cry.  It sent a chill of foreboding through me, seeing her mourn her own mother.  I was fourteen then, and beginning to comprehend.  Death loomed close to my imagination. An irrefutable, unescapable, cruel end and a bitter suffering.

Then, facing the shock news of a car crash, a cousin, close to my own age. Another friend too, another car. Somehow so much more tragic than losing the elderly; more personal, more real.  The horror of knowing they are gone.  Forever.  And it could just as well have been you.  You contemplate all the things that you get to still do that they don’t.  You think about the future they’ll never have.  You marvel at how the birds still sing, but they cannot.  You can’t absorb the fact that everything they were, the entirety of their being, is gone. It’s too frightening. Too close to your bones. A whisper too near to your ear.

You let the tomorrows slowly ease your mortal fears.  Time anaesthetising you from the truth.  We die.  One day that will be my funeral.  One day it will be yours.  We try to forget that immutable fact. We are expert at it.  We close our eyes and batten down the hatches.

We pretend that we will live forever.

But we won’t.

Any of us, at any moment are a hairs-breadth away from it…  why don’t we live like that is so? Why do we pretend?  Diminishing our existence by living as if there will always be a tomorrow?  Another chance? Limiting what we see and ring-fencing our hopes, saving them for another day?

Why do we do that?

Death is on my mind today because this is the anniversary of the day my Mum took her last breath.  I remember staying with her through the night of New Year’s Eve.   She was so tired.  In so much pain. Throughout the night I had counted her breaths, and the terrible pauses between, the gasp and rasp as she fought for air again.  I was terrified about how death would come. When she opened her eyes the next morning, her barely audible whisper: “am I still alive?”.
“You are Mum.  You’re here.  It’s a New Year” her tiny amount of energy collapsed her tiny frame, deeper into the bed, lost in defeat.  “Still here” she mouthed, this time, no sound escaping her mouth as she closed her eyes against the day, the year, the endless struggle of her ending.

I didn’t see her open them again. I left my shift of the bedside vigil and went to sit at the beach.  My brother called me when it happened.  She had gone when they had stepped out of her room. I wondered if she had waited for them to go, to save them the torment of hearing the last breath, of counting the pause that would never be broken with another rasp.

I sat there on the dunes and watched the skies as her spirit flew past.  North to the Bay of Islands, and on to Cape Reinga. She was free.  I knew I should be able to breathe easier knowing that.  But what settled on my chest was a heavy weight of knowing.  She was gone forever.   Forever is a long time to be motherless.  And I cried like the baby I am.  Her baby.  Cried because I didn’t know how I could do it.  This life.  How could I do it without a mother?   I felt lost and cut loose of the only tie that truly binds.  Her freedom became my burden.  My debt to her, paid in grief and measured out across my own forever.

Thank you Mum, for loving me.  I miss you.

I was in the car this morning, coming back from a morning out with the horses.  It had all been far too much for me. I was half-sleeping, listening to the music.  Kellie’s song came on the radio.  My eyes were shut and my head lolling against the head rest.  Her song pops up at interesting times.  I always listen.  Think about her, miss her.  Wish she was still here, wisecracking on my blog, or messaging me about something.  Another gone forever girl.  Breaking our hearts with her absence.  Filling our days with remembrances and regrets for all the things we never said.

I wonder what would happen if you say what you want to say,
let the words fall out
honestly

I want to see you be brave.
(Sarah Bareilles, Brave)

Death is not a palatable subject.  People don’t like to read about it.  We don’t want to be reminded.
We go to such great lengths to ignore the truth and fight the realisations.  We all want to live forever; I get it, me too.  But what I want to say today is hard to read.
Wake up! We all die, people.
My words are falling out.

gone

Don’t push it away, not this day.
Remember.
Do it for the memory of my Mumma, for the memory of Kellie, or for the memory of someone you loved and lost. Do it for yourself, as an act of wilful rebellion against the denial we usually prefer. Live like there’s no tomorrow, in whatever way that would be for you.
What would you tell your children?
How long would you hold your lover’s gaze?
What would you say that needs to be said?
Who would you forgive? Who would you ask it from?
What would you do today?
What would you choose to look at, to feel, to notice?
If this was it.  What would it be?

This song probably says what I want to say in a much better way.  Have a listen to this.  And make today matter.

The Inverse of Adverse

…mothering from a place of pain…

Sometimes, for my writing gigs about parenting, I feel like there are two categories of mother in this world. It’s probably because I write for both groups. I’d like to write for Dads too, but I don’t relate as naturally to the Dad things. When I see a mothering issue, my writerly mind starts to turn it over from the points of view of two types of mum. The healthy mums and the sick mums.

Of course, it’s much more complex than that, because all mothers face diverse challenges every single day.  Many mums we see in the ‘healthy’ camp, are in fact carrying interior burdens they would cringe to let out into the daylight of public opinion, I get that.  There’s a huge crossover between those camps. Life is an imperfect art and really crap things happen all the time. You might be in the midst of creating the most intricately perfect artwork on the canvas of life when it chucks a whole can of turd brown paint over your work. It happens regardless of who you think you are, the category you fit and whether or not the universe recognises that you should have exemption. Your beautiful work of art might not get up on the gallery wall, at least, not until it’s finished. We all carry scars, suffer fresh wounds.  We all have reparation work to do.  The Bad Stuff happens everywhere, even when it doesn’t look like it.

The other day, I picked up one of my kids.  I recognised the car in front of me as one of my friend’s.  I didn’t get out of my car to say hi (although I wanted to.  I am learning to look after my limitations better so I can cope for longer in my upright world).  She knows me, she knows my stuff.  So I sent her a message on my phone, from one driver’s seat to another  “Hello Beautiful!” I tapped.  Because she really is bona-fide beautiful.  This Mum is the sort of Mum that other Mums look at and their insides sink.  She looks perfect.  A tiny little frame, perfectly groomed hair and face, clothes you wish you had hanging in your own wardrobe… if only they made them ten sizes bigger!  She’s got a few degrees, a chic home. Bright, beautifully mannered children.  Oh, and that car rear I am staring at?  Very nice thank you very much.  The lady’s got class …and the means to show it.
And in truth, I really like her in spite of all that, you know?  😉 She’s personable, approachable, interesting and funny.  She’s a genuinely lovely person.  She slid elegantly out of her driver’s seat and came to chat with me at my window. I was struck by her beauty.  Sigh. Suck in your tummy, Rach.  Put on your smile.  I wonder how she really is?

How she is, really, arrived about two minutes into the conversation, when she revealed that she is facing not one, but two, major health crises.  I stared at her flawless complexion and thought about the torment that must be happening behind that beautiful face. Her vulnerable eyes are shielded by reflective sunglasses. I feel so lost for how to comfort her.  Even though I know it.  I know that torment. The ache of the sick mother.  The loneliness of facing your own mortality in the mirror.  The frustrations when the sick stuff leeches into the mothering stuff.  It’s horrible.  Unfair.  It’s life.

My heart is tuned toward the mums who are mothering while sick.  It’s like I can hear them, sobbing in their wardrobes, hiding from their children. I see the images that haunt their night time dreaming, their fears unleashed in a scape not limited by reality.  I feel their thumping hearts as they consider the most awful possibilities. A final severing of the metaphorical umbilical. The thought of life without them in it.  Carrying on.  Of some other person, filling their dent in the bed, their place in the world. The sick mothers, thinking about their babies, as much part of them as their own pulse and breath.  How can you even begin to prepare your babies for a world you may not be in?  And how can you do that without suffocating them in your arms and trapping them in your presence?  How can you step away from the feelings, to balance your mothering, when you live in fear?

There is so much to be afraid of.  But nothing we can do will change our truth.  Big life stuff is an irrefutable fact. It’s just part of the shape and texture of the life we happen to be living.  It’s real. It’s here. There is freedom in speaking it out. In owning it. And there is relief in surrendering expectation to a new paradigm. And because being sick gives it’s own gift of perspective and gravity;  there is something quite extraordinary that we get to tap into.  We get to mentally jump off the expectations of perfection.  We get to let the pressure drop. We get to focus on the things that matter most of all.  If we are prepared to leap into a new way of viewing our crappy situation.

My mother heart projects forward into the future. I look at my babies, so precious.  I think of the time I have with them.  The length of which, no person knows. As unpalatable as it is, the amount of time any of us have is limited.  I think of the quality of that time and I know my purpose.  I want to help my children to become excellent adults.  Beautiful world citizens who are kind, open-minded, thoughtful and flexible.  I want them to make the best out of the crap life hands them. I want them to make our world better for them being in it.  And there is no more artful way to do that then to teach them how to respond to adversity with grace.  How to take even small opportunities and run with them. I’m a sick Mum.  And it is precisely because I am sick that I have a meaningful context and opportunity to help my children be exceptional people.

I resolve to answer my fears with determination.  My situation is a chance that not every mumma gets. I know the value of my time and the importance of my role. I will teach. I will nurture. I will do these things imperfectly and sometimes flat on my back. I will do them with love and an eye on the people my children are becoming. In every adversity there is a teachable moment.  We can do something beautiful in every ugly, uncomfortable moment. We can guide our babies into fulfilling lives.  Show them how to shore-up, talk about it, get through.  How to keep their eye on the value of every given moment.

Don’t waste it, sick Mummas.  My sisters-in-arms.  Embrace it.

One moment, one day, at a time.

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