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.

Recklessness and Water

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The morning arrives so softly that most people never see it coming. It steals in, low lighted, unsaturated tones of grey on grey. The heron flies low across the mudflats, taking his time, mapping his territory. I’m here on the seat by the estuary. Silently watching, a voyeur of the emerging day. She is so beautiful.  I feel like an interloper on a secret thing. A privileged visitor. I wonder why all the human race seems unaware of this morning magic. Why they sleep until the later light bleeds through their eyelids, stumbling into a day already partly gone.

All of nature seems to join the morning chorus; I hear the buzz of bees and the low of the cattle up on the hills, cicadas, the pop and fizz of the mudflat creatures, mangrove dwellers and tiny sparrow calls. A fish flops across the mirrored surface of water, further out where tide has failed to drain the deep.  And in the distance, the sleeping layers of greys, stretching out into the peninsula. The sky is bleached this morning; when I first came out here, the moon shone thinly through the misted clouds. We’ve had a full moon. It is imperceptible now, milk white in the white lit sky.

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Last night, we came down here for a night swim, watching with the wonder of children as our hands passed through the phosphorescent water. Like tiny galaxies swirling under our fingertips, whirling away into universes too minute for our comprehension. Starbursts of white and blue glowing and fading in the black water. Millions of tiny microorganisms stirred into a momentary spiral bloom of aqua fire.  It felt special, these bodies of ours, warm against each other in the glassy dark, stars above, stars below.  Salty splashes across our contours of skin. I will remember it. Like the feeling of bare feet in the sand at night. The quiet wonder of raw freedom under the wide sky.

Recklessness and water.

Mary, my mother-in-law, passed away this week, and tomorrow we will have her funeral. I think about how she loved to walk down by this estuary, about how she and my girl would pick flowers along the walk to Lover’s Rock, nattering away about this and that. Eventually her husband and loved ones will find a new rhythm of days without her here.  We will become accustomed to coming here and not seeing her. But we will always feel her presence. Down by this water, along the edge of Mangrove flats, out across Mercury Bay and in the wonder of all this beauty.

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Once, many years ago, my younger self crept out the back window of the old house with my guy. We ran down to the water’s edge in our pyjamas and I jumped on the old rope swing in the Macaracapa Tree. It swung out over the early tide and we laughed when I got stuck out over the water. Mary watched us from her bedroom window, and laughed to me later that she’d seen us sneaking out, early in the morning. Into the new day.

I wonder if she sees me here, writing by the curve of water behind her house. I wonder if she feels the peace that I feel, the quiet beginning of something new.

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Vale Mary.  If heaven exists I am quite sure it contains all the beauty of this place you loved so much, and all the love of your family, especially those gone before, waiting there to hold you in their arms again.

And Mary,  if you see my Mumma, tell her I miss her. I’m sure she’ll make you a cuppa. Look into her eyes and know that she’s been away from me all these years, and yet the love carries on. It will be like that for you and your boys. The love remains.

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The melody from the song Nightswimming spirals through my thoughts.  The lines startle me with how closely they echo my feelings.  I smile to think that there are indeed now, two. My two mothers, side by side in orbit around the fairest sun.