Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On love and loss. For mom.

Mom and me, circa 1975

My mom would have been 70 years old this month.

She has been gone 32 years and yet, sometimes the feeling of loss is so strong it surprises me. 

When I think of my mom I give thanks for my life and my family. I remember that she called me "muffin." I remember when she cut her hair short and then shorter. I remember my eighth birthday party, her resting on the couch while I opened my presents and me not knowing I had only ten more days to share with her. I remember that I always felt loved. 

I realize how little I know about her or am likely to ever know. I wonder what kind of birthday cake she liked, and what her favorite flavor of ice cream was. I wonder if any of her relatives had blue eyes like my boys. I wonder what our last words were to each other, and if I was brave enough to say goodbye or to tell her that I love her. I think about myself -- how I am strong, sensitive, and self-aware. I wish she could tell me that I am smart, I am beautiful, I am a good mom. I wish I had inherited her straight nose. I wish she could sew with me. I wish she was here.

In July I attended a training and the ice breaker exercise was to “tell your story” about why you do the work you do. We had no prep time, so out popped the raw, unfiltered truth: I was drawn to social justice work because the world has never been the way it was supposed to be. Losing my mom upended my life. Doing this work is an act of self-preservation: the best way to avoid being fully consumed by grief is to work to make this world a little better. My voice cracked, tears sprung in my eyes, and I was absolutely mortified and shocked by this deep truth and to have shared it with virtual strangers.

When my mom was dying of breast cancer, she arranged for her best friend to adopt me and my brother. I was eight and my brother was five. We were raised in a loving household with two siblings. We are a family born out of loss and love. 

My boys are now six and four. I am filled with conflicting emotions, wanting to both slow down time because we are here, together, and wanting to speed it up so I can guarantee that I will be with them longer. That we will survive together. Since my diagnosis it feels like the clock is always ticking, ticking, ticking: at any moment the cancer could come back. I can quiet the noise, but it never fully goes away. 

Over these last few years I have found myself marking my lifetime against her lifetime. First it was turning 37, her age at death, then outliving her at 38, my diagnosis at 39. For many years I had so little connection to her and then BAM! She is here with me, all the time. Some days it feels like I am living her life, making her hobbies my own, being her do-over.   

On reflection, my family rarely talked about my mom when I was growing up. We didn’t hang photos of her. Most of our energy went into creating our “new” family. I wish we had found a way to create space for her in our family – the family created by her love. I wish my boys could know her, know how much her love for me is in my love for them. 

I sat on this post for a few weeks because I couldn't find the right photo of her to share. The photos I wish I had don't exist. (We can blame the 70s. Also, cancer.) But tonight, over dinner, I am going to share the photos I do have with my boys. And I will tell them everything I can remember about my mom, but mostly that she loved me, and I loved her, and I love them. 

In memory of my mom, Christine Elaine (October 16, 1945-April 12, 1983). 

Mom and me, Christmas 1975

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