My October Visitor
Raise your hand if you never thought you’d grow up to be like your mother. Raise your other hand if it’s too late. Stomp your feet if that’s both good and bad news. Yeah. Me too. I feel the ground a-shaking, ladies. I’m not going to get into whether it’s good news or bad here. Just some random thoughts and observations. I’ve decided to view the m(other) ‘trip’ as more fascinating than frightening.
Mom’s on my mind a lot right now because it’s Dead Mother Month. I can never remember the actual date of her passing because I wasn’t there when she died so she gets the whole month for remembrance. I was away when she passed and I couldn’t be reached. They tried, pretty darn hard actually. I was in the remote wilderness of Algonquin Park sittin’ on a rock somewheres. My family contacted the park authorities who attempted to track our whereabouts so they could send someone into the Interior of the park to go and get me and tell me my mother was on her death bed in the hospital. Park Rangers have done such a thing before, however, we hadn’t submitted an itinerary because it was so late in the year when we went in that the booth at the entry point was already closed for the season. Later, after the funeral, my dad told me that my mother, surrounded by family, my father and siblings, kept asking for me specifically: “Where’s my Stephie? I want to see Stephie.” Thanks Dad. I could have seriously lived without knowing that. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.
Mom died just after Thanksgiving. As I said, I was away. When I got home there were three messages on the phone. All from my father. The first one said that mom had another heart attack and was in the hospital. The second one said that she wasn’t going to make it this time. The third one left the details of the funeral arrangements. You know that saying, “I felt like someone pulled the rug out from under my feet”? When I heard the third message I literally dropped the phone on the ground and was on my way to following it when my parnter caught me and held me up. I felt as though someone had pulled the entire earth from under my feet. I gasped and said, “My mother is no longer on this earth with me!” Sounds dramatic as hell, doesn’t it? Sounds like that to me too. I didn’t think the words. They just came out of my mouth. Out of my heart. My awareness. We were separated, my mother and I, we couldn’t be together anymore for many reasons, but until then she was still “there”. I could and did occasionally call her and talk to her. Rarely, but I did. I loved her, but I couldn’t be with her.
I got the phone message just in time for us to rush out, buy black clothes and shoes, and show up for the viewing. I was in shock. So no, the actual date didn’t register. I didn’t think to look at the calendar. Time had stopped for me anyway. Time lost all meaning. I was living in a brand new world. A new Time was beginning. The old calendar was suddenly irrelevant. That was 15 years ago. Every October since then has been “my mother’s month”. Whether I invite her or not, she comes to live with me, to walk through my dreams, to sit up with me during many, many sleepless nights and go over old memories, but most of the time during those long nights she spends her time pointing out to me all the ways I have become like her. She brings my awareness to the ways I sit like her, hold my hands like her, read the books she would have liked, eat food she would have liked, spend my time the way she would have, laugh at the things she would have found funny. She points to my face in the mirror and shows me how my face is beginning to be shaped like hers here and there as hers did at a certain age. She reminds me how her body ached in the same places mine does now. How badly her hips began to hurt if she sat on the soft couch, just the way mine are starting to. How her knee ached if she didn’t put her feet up, like mine does now. She watches the way I fold my hand and rest my face on it and says, “Look…do you see me?
Like my mother, when I don’t have the energy to do the big things on the To Do list I fiddle around doing a bunch of small tasks that make it seem as though I’ve been busy and productive. I do it so I don’t get angry with myself for not being able to do more. I realize now she did it for the same reasons, but she was defensive about it, in the extreme. In the end, all she ever did was piddly shit. Busy work. From a very young age most of the housecleaning was foisted onto me. She did the laundry and the cleaning. I folded the laundry and put it away. She sorted it and put it in the washer and dryer, and much of the time I was called upon to put it in the dryer too. She cooked and served the meals. I cleaned up afterward. She ironed. She sewed sometimes. She baked some. Otherwise, she read and she rested and visited her friend across the street. She didn’t have any hobbies. Somehow, she fooled us into thinking she was “busy” and had “earned” her rests.
I’m all grown up now and I am my mother. Enough so that I understand she really was tired. She had disabilities that weren’t properly treated. I have them and unlike my mother I was willing to say, “I should be able to do more than this at my age. What in the HELL is wrong with me???” and beg for answers and treatment. I tried to hide it, make up excuses, the same way people who can’t read manage to get by, because that’s what I was taught, the example I was shown, and it damned near killed me. I was sick. I wasn’t just “tired”. The exhaustion was a symptom of some very serious disabilities, plural, and I should be ashes by now. We’re talkin’ a long time gone.
Part of the reason I’m still here is because my mother’s life deserves a hearing. She deserves not to be forgotten. More importantly, she deserves to be remembered for the way she was and the way she lived. She deserves to have someone stand up for her now and say “She got screwed. They failed her. They let her fall down and stay down. They made excuses for why she was the way she was instead of fighting to make sure she got help. They were spineless. They didn’t love her enough to fight for her. They took the easy way out for themselves and she had to die to get peace.” I’m not okay with that. She was smart. Wicked smart. Formally educated and perpetually self-educating. Politically interested, bold, and passionate. And for something like 40 years she did nothing every day but laundry, cook, read, and sleep. On Fridays she played cards with friends. The end. Untreated and/or mistreated Chronic fatigue and Bipolar Disorder and Agoraphobia made it impossible for her to manage anything more. A fucking waste and a shame. But not her shame, make no mistake about that. She believed it was her shame to carry. She was ceaselessly ashamed and enraged by her Fate in regards to those things that limited her that she did not understand, and because she did not understand them or their source or physiology, she blamed herself and named it “personal weakness” and “character defect”. I know. She told me. She didn’t believe she could be “fixed”. She gave up on herself. I couldn’t do anything about that. I tried. In the end, I left. I didn’t leave my mother; I left my mother’s rage.
There is no anger in these October visits. Nor sadness. That’s the kind of crap that only foolish mortals drag around with them. There’s some comfort in finding her in myself now in the softer, kinder ways, the benign mannerisms. It is nice to know for certain that she would have a great laugh at so much of what I would be telling her right now. I swear I hear her chuckling sometimes. She did have a sense of humour. I was her confessor. Her confidante. I didn’t know that until after she died when I heard my father and siblings say so often “I didn’t know ‘this’” or “she never said a word about ‘that’” when referring to things mom talked to me about endlessly in detail and depth. She always told me when she was scared or in pain. She is my confidante now. She lived through this constant exhaustion and bouts of depression that make you crawl around the house on your hands and knees looking for a lost give-a-damn so you can get up and do something that matters. She would be the first to offer me heartfelt empathy. The kind of sincere empathy that would be a balm to my soul, maybe even be that give-a-damn to get me off my knees and moving forward in a meaningful way when I need it. To know that I was in chronic pain would break her heart. It did when I was young and had constant migraines. I can still feel her big, strong warm hands massaging my shoulders and scalp. I close my eyes and feel them now. If there’s a heaven, then that is what it feels like when I’m suffering: my mother’s hands when she’s able to show me compassion.
When I talk openly about disabilities, both visible and invisible, what it is like to live with them, how it feels, the impact it has on my daily life, both large and small, I am not complaining, I am campaigning. Believe it. I am campaigning for Disability Awareness, for the persons who live with them now and the ones who are gone but should never be forgotten. The ones who were undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and most especially for those who were mistreated and maltreated. May it end now and never happen again. I am campaigning for Remembrance of family members whose Truths were kept secret “for the sake of the family”, or for that old fashioned and twisted notion – oh please – that “we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead”. To bury the Truth with the dead is to deny they ever existed. There is no greater disrespect than that. As long as I’m alive so my mother will be too, in all that I know of and remember of her wonderfulness and human failings and feelings and love and terror, and I don’t care who that pisses off. When Monkey Hill Creative Arts gives the proceeds to the Creative Arts Spirit Centre, it is to honour and remember my mother, and my daughter, and myself, and everyone like us and to say, “We’re here. And there’s a LOT of us. We are not anomalies. And we shall not be ignored or forgotten, nor shall we go away. We will not be satisfied to be locked away in homes to spend forty years doing laundry, making meals, and waiting to die.”