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.

Mothering Myself

This morning I woke up in my hotel room, feeling rested and calm. I stretched one foot out to the right, one arm out to the left, sliding them along the crisp white hotel sheets that I would never have to heave out of the washing machine.  The smile spread from the corners of my mouth all the way to my ears while my eyes stayed shut. It was beautiful. I’d gone to bed at 9pm and my watch informed me that eleven hours had passed between. Eleven. Deep sleeping hours!

For the good of our souls, sometimes just need a break from all the relational roles we carry.(2)

I woke, packed up my things and prepared for the day. I’m down in the hotel bar now having a coffee before I meet the beautiful Sarah, in person, at last. She’s an all-time favourite blogger of mine. The coffee was made for me by a barista who spoke about the complexity of the bean with an earnestness. I smiled at him, but thought about how I will not have to stack that cup in the dishwasher, or refill a kettle, or check the expiry date on that milk.  Just drink it.

I am such a fan of Sarah, as a writer and a person. Meeting her is very important to me.  I can’t wait to wrap her up in a big hug of thanks. To enjoy food and conversation with her and Annette from I Give You the Verbs! Dear Kate had to go and do some very exciting new work stuff, but you can check out her blog here (next time, Kate!) After our bloggy brunch, Miss Annette and I are lighting off for the Yarra Valley for a girls weekend. We’ll take the meandering way, and she promises that I can stop and take pictures to my heart’s content along the way.

Sarah, Annette and Rach
Sarah, Annette and Rach

This trip to Melbourne is something I’ve been longing to do for years. A chance to revisit my past, reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years and finally meet some I’ve been talking to online for a long time. But even more than the gorgeousness of all that, this trip, for me, is all about respite. I just needed to take some time out from all of the ‘adulting’ and be me, on my own, for a bit. The Rach who isn’t looking after anyone but herself, just for a few days.  I need to mother myself.

I need to stretch out, on a big big bed, all alone. To stand next to my soul sisters and spread my arms wide to the sky. To sleep and wake when I feel like it. To please myself doing anything I feel like doing; compromise free. I’ve explored, I’ve shopped, I’ve chatted and I’ve been blissfully quiet. I’ve drunk wine, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane at my old boarding school, I’ve eaten anything and everything I feel like eating without a single bite being cooked by me.

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It’s been gloriously selfish and deeply important for me to do all that.

When you become a mum, you don’t know that you are becoming something other than an ‘individual’. It’s something you have to learn. And once you have learned that by heart, there won’t be respite for a long, long time. My kids are now 8 and 11. The teenagers are now 17 and 18. The family has grown to a point that I’ve been able to set them up to manage their lives without me for a few days. The hubster is doing a stellar job with them. Their schedules are all being met.

I could probably have done this earlier, but I wasn’t internally strong enough to push for it. Sometimes, even with great families, it does take pushing for it. You have to fight for yourself the way you’d fight for your brood.

Respite is something we need to fight for as women, as givers, as mothers and wives. For the good of our souls, sometimes women just need a break from all the relational roles we carry. Freedom to just be ourselves, to turn the nurturing inward. To have a rest from all of that responsibility.  That’s what I’m doing.

I highly recommend it.

It might not be a trip to Melbourne. Maybe, if you have one, it’s a visit to your Mum’s place. Or camping in the spring, all alone. Or a solo movie. It might be a journey to see your cousin, or a drive down winding country roads. Find your respite, sisters of mine. I promise it will feed your soul and bring you joy.

It might be easier than you imagine to make it happen.

Go on.  Tell yourself to have and break and then, for goodness’ sake: go do what you’ve been told!

Motherload

 

It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

It’s heavy, this load mothers carry.

At first, it’s a gently moving tiny thing in your belly. A flutter of foetal fondness, the quiet beginnings of a whole new world. There might be a portent of things to come, as you grip the toilet bowl and heave into it. Maybe at some soul level it is a recognition, and the shock of it makes you suddenly sick. There might be an inkling that things are going to change in a big way as you find yourself asleep on the sofa before dinner, too tired to manage adult conversation. Your partner is suddenly solitary, watching their own shows, doing their own thing. Perhaps neither of you thought pregnancy would be like this.  Maybe at some emotional level it, too is a recognition. You are going on a journey that even they can’t take with you; the slow drip of anaesthetic starts early, numbing the sadness of all the ways becoming parents can change a relationship.

And the moment after the birth, when you gaze over the precipice into your baby’s eyes, there is a knowing made broad by the pain of labour, a realisation that something has begun, something unmappable, unfathomable. Something that will probably take all of you, more even than birthing this baby did.  In that moment it is clear that there is no pathway back to the land of before-motherhood. So you step back from the edge, sure that if there was such a thing as a life’s purpose, yours has been decided. You are a mother: you lift that feather-light load into your arms, and balance the responsibility on your shoulders, squaring them to the future.

I could bleat on about what they don’t tell you about motherhood, but it wouldn’t change anything. The truth of the matter is that motherhood, for me, and for millions of women like me, didn’t come naturally. I didn’t take to it like a duck to water. I couldn’t smile beatifically with baby on hip whilst I simultaneously slid a tray of buns out of the oven. The early years were jaw setting, teeth gritting, mind numbing tedium. I tried so hard to do it well. It mattered so much to me for it all to be just perfect. But I confess, I was a mess.

And all the while I’ve been mothering, trying hard to keep my ducks in a row; my career was stagnating, seeping into the nether. My body, altered for ever. That’s okay, you and your sisters-in-arms tell yourselves, because you recognise that mothering is an Important Thing. The type of humans you are unleashing on the world is an enormous responsibility. So you think deeply about what that means, and make detailed observations about character development, values, ethics… chore lists. You try, every dinner time, to incorporate conversations that go beyond the staples of mashed vs. smashed potatoes. Your greatest goals are for consistency and citizenship.  You are a serious mother. You heave another layer of significance onto your burden. You won’t let society down, no sir. Your kids will be a gift to their world.

Sometimes, after dinner, scraping the food you only just put onto the plates, off the plates; your inner self crouches at the clifftop, eyes drawn deep down into the abyss. And when you are applying the toilet brush again, to poo skids that aren’t your own, or scraping up vomit, or fielding a phone call from a teacher about behaviour issues, or discussing playground politics, or staring at a pile of washing that seems to be stuck on a universal glitch, repeating ad infinitum… in those times, there is a yawning emptiness that tears apart the space time continuum. Threatening to pull you in. You can see something on the other side of the abyss. It seems nicer than where you are. And you know you need to resist it, the same way you need to do everything else.

Because if you don’t, who will?

In those times, the leaden weight of what you have taken on threatens to topple you.  Your well meaning single friends will tell you to take a load off. Leave it to them! They say.  They’ll manage!  Take time for you! And you nod and tell them they are right, but your inner self is shaking her head and scoffing at you. Sure. Uh-huh.  And when you return after they’ve been left to do it for themselves, who cleans it all up? Who makes it possible for the routines that keep things functioning?  Who mops up the tears and has the conversations that need to be had? No, there is no respite from this choice you made. It isn’t a part time job. It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

You carry it with you.  It is you. It’s not simply what you do, it is who you are. It’s the motherload.  Sometimes, the heaviness is not joyful and I do not feel grateful for it. I know I probably should. There are so many people I know who yearn for this. Or they think they do. I wonder if they would if they knew both sides of this blissful burden?

I write this in open honesty. I write it because I know there are other mummas out there dealing with this heaviness of heart. I don’t write it because I dislike my children, no, my love for them is fierce, my whole life is an example of what I would do for them, because I do it.  They know my heart, by heart. I write it because I need to acknowledge that it is hard. I guess I just want to say that.  In this world of carefully curated images of motherhood. My own is messy. I do my best. I hope it will be good enough, in the end. That my contribution to the world will be worth all the sacrifice, soul searching and sheer grit.  But it’s a heavy load alright.

What are your thoughts on this?

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.

Margot le Page -What If?

watercolour splodge with the words 'What if this is as good as it gets?" in white text

This Meet My Peeps guest post is written by a friend I met in my patient group. Margot Le Page is a wonderful writer and a gutsy person.  She asks a question each of us comes to at some point in our chronic illness journey.  And answers it in a powerful way.  I think you’ll agree that Margot’s perspective is worth sharing. Thanks Margot for sharing your story here.   -Rach

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I don’t remember when I first heard this question. It’s not original.  However, I do remember asking myself.

The first time was a couple of months after a 9 hour massive back surgery to correct and stabilise my spine which was basically collapsing. I had scoliosis and ‘rotting ‘discs. I was 47.

I had led an exciting and complicated life to this point. From Oxide Street, Broken Hill to Rodeo Drive Beverly Hills, 2 marriages, 2 beautiful children. I was confident, extrovert and capable.

But, I had always been a bit sick. Nothing too major. Adenoids, allergies, appendix, basal cell carcinoma, pretty much the full a-z, all the way to ’zoans (ie protozoans my gut!) But seriously, nothing really hit me hard and I always recovered, following my Mother’s belief that we were a family of self-healers.  She should know after all, surviving an aerial gliding accident, 36 and pregnant, resulting in massively traumatic injuries including a leg amputation and the awful loss of the little girl, Helene Julia, she was carrying.

I had been given the ‘bad news about my back when I was 17. I was training to be a paediatric nurse with access to great doctors and highly respected specialists who told me it (my spinal curvature) was going to get worse and I would eventually end up in a wheelchair. I heard them but certainly did not actually believe them.  Well, not on the surface anyway. Denial can be a nice safe place sometimes.

Maybe, just maybe somewhere deep inside my head I knew those boffins were right and I proceeded to live my life in a hurry, keen to get away from that place. I sought care and treatment away from conventional medicine and explored a myriad of alternative treatments. You name it, I’ve tried it. Acupuncture, absent healing, aromatherapy, cranio-sacral therapy, osteopathy, a Russian Mystic, numerology, past-life, sacred oils, Indian Brahma Kumari meditation. (I’m sure there’s another a-z here too!)  I studied Reiki and nutrition, Pilates and yoga.  And spent a lot, I mean a lot, of money along the way.
Needless to say, those know-it-all doctors I had seen many years before were sadly, pretty right.  I came back to Australia from the US to seek conventional medical wisdom in a country where I trusted the system and had family and friends to support me.

So, there I was. Single, adult kids doing their thing, a long way from Los Angeles and my ‘other’ life, in a reconstructed body I couldn’t yet drive, barely surviving on social security, fighting a bitter divorce, needing opioids, wearing an awful shoulder to hip brace, using a walking stick…… pretty bloody depressing actually.  I cried and cried for lots of things.

And then somehow, with no tears left and a couple of truly wonderful friends helping me, my head not really together, I asked myself the Big Question. “What if this is as good as it’s going to get? Can I actually, really live like this? Maybe forever?”  The answer came… not immediately. But then I surprised myself with a resounding. “Of course I can!”. My thinking changed. I recalibrated. I thought of all the things I could do, not what I couldn’t. I didn’t feel so bad after all. I could get on a tram 600m from my front door when my drugs kicked in, and with one stop would get me to a bank, post office and supermarket. It might take all day, but, I could manage. I began to notice little things again. Cracks in the footpath where tiny daisies pushed their way through, sunlight playing through my blinds, sounds of birds and crickets….. I was all right.

11 years later I’m asking myself that question again.
5 further back surgeries, broken rods, pulmonary embolisms, dural tears, spinal fluid leaks, a craniotomy, I even had my gall bladder out in there somewhere too and my finger stitched!
I now have 13 vertebrae fused (great posture), increasing numbness and weakness in my right leg and a new diagnosis, Dysautonomia. Great?  Not.  Terrible? No.

My dear Mother, now aged 85, only 27 years older than me, currently not in great shape, has taught me so much. So, if, if, I live to her age, can I go for another 27 years like this, like I am now?
Of course I can.  Not ideal, but….. (big breath)

There will be more challenges ahead, I know that. I will no doubt ask myself the question again, probably more than once.
With less I have become more.
I am a good mother, a good partner a good friend.
I don’t mind me.
I am fortunate.

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.

Something Always Sings

 

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This: words we thought were lost.

 

Of late, there’s been a good deal of Spring Cleaning going on around here.  We’re finishing off a little reno, so tidying all that up has spurned some sorting.   Yesterday I sat in a chair in the sun (quiet duties for me, so soon after getting out of hospital) while my hubster photographed things for an auction site. We’re culling. It feels good.
It’s our first real clear out since we moved here six years ago.  It’s good to let go.  Even better to find treasures you didn’t know were even there.

In the garage, he found a box.
“Honey, can you check out this box?  It needs to be sorted; is it a keeper?”.
The box is lurid seventies green.  I remember Mum kept her sewing patterns in boxes like that.  Surely they’re not still in there?  When I open the box, I see that it is only about a quarter full.  No patterns.  I see the kodak imprint on the back of some snapshots, a packet of lace coasters, a journal, a folio clad with swirls of purple, orange and green vinyl. It seems familiar, yet not my own.  Where have I seen that stuff before?

I reach for the photos first.  Pictures of me that my Mum used to have. I see myself at various ages.  It’s confronting, seeing that vital girl.  The sophisticated graduate. And comparing those selves to the sick me I now am.  I put the photos down.

My school reports.  A smattering of them from across the years.  “Rachel is an excellent student with a mature attitude to learning” (aged 8) alongside “Rachel is easily distracted and would do well to focus on the matter at hand. Aim higher” (aged 15).

This must be a box of things Dad gave me after Mum passed away.  Things my Mum left.  I remember vaguely, putting the box he gave me out of sight.  It was too hard, back then.

The kids and I laugh at my school report that shows a string of As and one D. 
“What does Grade: D Effort: 3, mean, Mum?”

“Experiencing Difficulties and Attitude needs Improvement”
“Mu-uum!  What was that for?”
“Physical Education”
My daughter looks at me with a grin on her face.  Her own frustrations on the sports field suddenly making sense, “Oh!”

The box contained some of the cards I had made Mum over time.  Even a letter I sent her from Germany when I was working there as an Au Pair. I didn’t know she had kept these things.

The journal was her own. A journey through her life during the times she lived in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing.  Then some sad entries about the time back in New Zealand before it all picked up for them again.  I looked at the loops of her handwriting, so similar to my own. I tried to hear her voice talking the words. I could only see her eyes, crinkling up into a smile. I was holding another fragment of her life, like her cup, both so absurdly present even though she can’t be. And yet, there she is, a breath away.  Her perfume in the air and her remembrances in my hands.

I reach for that folio.

Long after my Grandma passed away, Mum would speak of a folio, a special folder that carried the things my Grandma held dear.  Snippets from newspapers, poems and scriptures.  Little things she found or noticed that spoke to her.  My Grandma was a soulful person who carried a deep faith.  My Mum shared the same faith and often spoke sadly about the missing binder that held so many of the writings that inspired her own Mother.  After Grandma passed, my Mum thought her sister had the folder.  She urged me to find it. After her sister passed too, I did ask after it. But her daughter hadn’t seen it anywhere.  It was a mystery.  It seemed to be lost, like that whole generation of girls.

Until yesterday, when it was found, in our own garage, tucked away in a green box.

I wish I could give it to Mum.  She must have had it all along and not realised she did.  I wish I could travel back through time and show her.  I think of my sister and my cousins, I must tell them it is here.

I turned the pages carefully. Looking at the things that helped my Grandma through her most difficult days.  I could see a familiar interest in finding the words to carry you.  I do the same in my search for quotes and excerpts that say important things; in striving to find my own words.  This deep connection with words must be part of my Grandma’s legacy.

I thought again, about handwriting.  About the words we make, the words we keep.  The way my Grandma, my Mum and I stored words for inspiration.  Used words to make sense of life.  Wrote words to excise the pain.  I thought about how Grandma’s collected words could still speak to me, long after she is gone.  Even though I never really knew her.  It made me feel better about my own.  My own legacy.  Maybe my Grand-daughter will read these words one day and understand that I love her, even though I haven’t met her yet. That she is me, carried forward, just as I am the women before me, carrying on.

 

...on the first page of Grandma's folio.   In her own handwriting, these words that reached across two generations.  Thanks Grandma. X
…on the first page of Grandma’s folio. In her own handwriting; these words that reached across three generations. Thanks Grandma. X

My Girl

The first moment she looked in my eyes my breath caught. I knew it in that moment of stark gravity. She was extraordinary.  Her newborn soul seemed so much bigger than mine and I admit, I was intimidated.  I looked back into her gaze and felt overwhelmed.  How could I do a good enough job for her?  How could I presume to be her mother?  I’d been talking to a growing baby girl in my tummy for nine months, but this baby wasn’t her.  She had been like a little animated doll in my mind, a sweet, quiet thing who jiggled to the music during school assemblies.  My class would look across and watch my tummy jumping, I would pat it and smile.  Settle, little one.  I felt like I knew her as she grew inside me.  And then she was born.  I don’t really know how to explain how enormous the reality of her unique self was to me.  She wasn’t the baby I’d been talking to, the longed for baby of my imagination.  She was entirely herself. Complete and shockingly present. She seemed to be prematurely wise, appraising her new mum.  Staring me down.  It wasn’t exactly as I imagined it would be.  I was terribly afraid.  I whispered her name, she opened her mouth
and wailed.

For the first six months of her life, Bee screamed.  My nappy bag was always packed full of anxious mummy remedies for every possible difficulty we might encounter.  But none of them stopped the crying.  She wanted to be upright, but she didn’t want to be held.  Her back would arch away from me and her mouth open in a pained, sustained scream. The only way we could comfort her was to perch her against one of us in a body sling and rock, rock, rock. Pat, pat, pat. Eventually, when we had exhausted all the possible parenting strategies and failed, we took her to a paediatrician and discovered she had something called silent reflux. I wish we had gone sooner.  Soothed by baby gaviscon, Bee began to sleep.  And so did we.  Our angry banshee became her true, sweet self.  And there she was, that baby I had imagined, a sweet, quiet wee girl. We set up a routine and everything started to calm down.  We exhaled. We began to get to know her. She began to smile.

Little Bee showed us very early that she loved animals.  She adopted snails and worms and repatriated them to new garden homes, resplendent with flower petal decorations and twiggy installations.  Ebony cat was her most loved baby. She loved the sandpit, hated loud noises.  She ate anything we ever offered, but particularly loved the methodical joy of eating blueberries or peas, one by one, tweezered from her high chair tray between thumb and finger, each one popped into her mouth with perfect precision.  Eyes wide as they burst between her teeny pearly teeth.  She was an observer.  A cautious participant.  Quiet and solemn and curious. She loved story time with her Granny and sat, warm in her lap, reaching for the next book in the basket, “More?”  The answer was always yes.  She craved the small fluffy bunnies of the petting zoos and crooned to the white rhinos and the wild cats of the big zoo.  She met her first pony at a farm festival when she was four.  From that moment, she was smitten.

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Little Bee’s best friend was a sweet little fella called Ced. They made block towers, took naps and played dough together.  Went to the same creche, baby gym and preschool.  They held hands and pushed each other around in the pedal car, shared raisins between hot little hands.  We had season passes for the Zoo and that is where we often went, walking around and stopping for neatly arranged finger foods snacks (the first-time-mother-factor!) and brightly coloured drink bottles.  Here they are, having a side by side nap when we were on holidays together in Fiji.  Aw.

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I look at my Bee now, lying on her tummy in front of the fire.  She was always off the scale on the baby height charts and she still towers over most of her friends at the age of nine. Her long frame stretches across the carpet.  These days she’s all growing pains and making gains.  She organises herself and takes pride in being responsible.  She comes out with surprising one liners and spontaneous sweetnesses.  Horse obsessed, she’s taken it upon herself to educate us about every breed and colouring of the equine spectrum. And she rides like she was born for the saddle, flying over jumps that make my heart lurch. Falling onto the neck of Beau with unbridled affection at any opportunity.  Her muscles are strong and supple and her ponytail dances beneath her helmet and down her long back. She takes my breath away, my girl.

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But more than all these wonders about who she is, are the things she does that most girls her age wouldn’t have the heart to do.  Bee is an expert assessor; she gauges my need for a cup of tea like she has a sixth sense.  She offers to bring snacks and feeds the cat.  She does her jobs without ever complaining.  And just yesterday morning, as I hung my head over the toilet bowl and retched, her hand reached in with a hair tie.  “Here, Mum” she murmured “You can keep your hair back with this”.  Her hand, warm against my back.  Her heart reaching in to mine.  Then, a glass of water; my eyes filled.  “Thank you, sweet heart” I whispered to her.  How can I ever show her how much gratitude fills my thoughts?  Not just for all the small ways that she brings me comfort and support, or for the compassion she shows so far beyond her years.  For her willingness to help. But for loving me so unconditionally. All those years ago, she appraised me with those wise eyes, she saw my fear and my insecurities and accepted me as hers, anyway.  She reminds me every day that the best of who I am is invested in a shining beautiful person. A girl who makes me proud to be related to her, proud by association, touched by the wonder of being her Mum.

Love you, my girl.  

If your teenage years should temporarily kidnap your true self, I’ll pay the ransom.
I’ll wrap you up in my arms and even while you protest, I’ll tell you that I love you.
I’ll look you right in your young ancient eyes and remind you: you accepted me.  We made an agreement, you and me, the day you were born.
I’m here, I’m your Mum. And no matter what may come;
no matter where you are, no matter where I am, my heart is with your heart.

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Mother Hearts

 

baby feet, mother heart
Source: Foundation for Biomedical Research

“When were you ready for babies?” one of our babysitters once asked me.
She was in her late teens, a natural with our kids.  I wondered if she was beginning to notice that yearning within herself, that quiet mother-clucking, the sound that might grow to a hormonal crescendo by her forties. Was she wondering what it would be like to soothe her own babies to sleep instead of other people’s? I used to. I notice with interest these days, that it’s no longer fashionable to say you would love to have babies.  Not until you are at least in your thirties.  Why do we act like wanting babies is a timetabled urge?  Switched on by suitable circumstances?  I will always be grateful my circumstances brought my babies to me at a time when I was old enough to provide for them properly… but then I think, if they had come earlier in life, I’d have not been this unwell.  I don’t know why things happen the way they do.  Life is a peculiar thing. And it is good to remember, that for some, platitudes around motherhood like all in good time, or it will happen if it is meant to are painful, useless things to say.

“…about four years old I think”, I answered, truthfully.  When I was four, I already had a ‘baby’ of my own.  She was my special Sheila Carter (er, yes, that was her name, I named her in honour of a retired missionary we knew) and I clucked over her and loved her with fierce mother attentions. I loved the feel of her body in the curve of my arm and the way, if you bent her legs outwards, she could sit on my hip. She was the focus of all my games.  Where we lived, out in the back garden, we had a playhouse made from a packing case.  It had a fake shingle roof and tiny windows.  Outside the windows, within the reach of my eager little hands, was a grape vine, supplying great green orbs of sour sweetness for our playhouse meals.  There were daisies in the garden for gathering into chubby-handed bunches and mini furniture inside made from apple crates and hand-me-down cushions.

 

The original Sheila Carter
The original Sheila Carter

The boys, mercifully, spent most of their time up at the boy fort on the boundary of the yard.  But the playhouse. It was the sweet domain of the girls, untainted by rapid machine gun fire or cowboy-and-indian war cries.  We ‘cooked’ green grape stew, played house, and I tucked my Sheila Carter into the cot with purple paisley sheets.  She ate sitting up in her little high chair with the duck decal on the back.  I was in little Mummy heaven. One of these sunny evenings, my own Mum called us in for dinner.  But Sheila Carter was just so tired and she was still sleeping.  So I patted her tummy and ran inside.

I knew; the rule in our house was that you never leave your toys outside.  You certainly should never leave your baby outside.  But I realised too late that the rule meant I couldn’t go back to retrieve her. I wasn’t allowed.  My punishment that night was to sleep without my baby in my arms.  I cried my little four year old mother heart out.  I had let Sheila Carter down and I missed the curve of her little plastic body against mine.  Eventually too exhausted from tears, I fell into a nightscape of bad dreams.  
The next morning, as soon as the grey light filtered into my bedroom, I raced out to the playhouse to find Sheila Carter.

But she was gone.

Nobody has ever been able to tell me what happened to her.  Maybe the local dogs carried her off, or some kids decided to cause some havoc.  But she was gone and that was that.  I think my Mum was horrified.  She hadn’t meant my lesson to be quite so harsh as that!  They tried to console me by taking me to Wellington on my birthday, to choose a new baby at a big department store.  My new baby was a ‘Baby-This-n-That’ and could wave at me.  We called her Katie (a much better name for a doll, they said). She had silky blonde hair and big blue eyes.  She was cute.  I loved her and I still have her, but my little Mummy heart has always grieved for Sheila Carter, my first sweet baby.  She was the reason I could answer that babysitter with confidence.  I have been ready for babies since I first knew the joy, and the pain, of mothering. It’s what I was born to do.

I have many friends who, like me, were “born” mothers.  But they are mothers without babies.  For some, their babies passed away.  For others, their babies were gone before they arrived.  For still others, life circumstances have rendered their mother hearts empty, simply for lack of a daddy, or the years and endless cycles of IVF have not brought them what they hoped for.  Their arms; missing the curve of a baby who is all theirs.  A baby they have dreamt of and not been able to hold on to.  My heart breaks for them, for their mother heart’s grief.  For the longing that must surely be difficult to manage in the absence of the busy-ness of babies. In the presence of other people’s joy.  I know it is old fashioned and whimsical, but I so wish I could grant them baby wishes.  Supply them with the warm bundles of love to cherish and nurture.  I’m not saying that every woman needs a baby.  No.  But everyone of my girl friends who is without children, longs for them.  It is an ache that is so hard for them to bear.

So today, this post is in honour of my beautiful friends. The one’s whose arms are empty and hearts are longing to give love to little babies of their own.  You battle every day, to smile in the face of the losses you suffer, one moon after another.  You are strong and worthy and wonderful.  Any baby would be lucky to call you Mama.  I wish I could make the heavens do my bidding.  If I could, your mother love would have a place to go, and no one and nothing would ever carry that away from you.  I honour you for your loving hearts and the ways you give to others, sometimes without return or kinship.  I honour you for keeping on.  I honour you because you stay strong.

And my mother heart wishes I could just make it all better.

 


This beautiful song took me right back to that playhouse and my girlhood dreams.