"Does Mother's Day usually get to you?" my therapist asked at our monthly session last week.
I explained that no particular anniversary gets to me more than another - sometimes I know for weeks ahead of time that one is coming, sometimes, I don't see it until I am in the midst of the day and my day seems exceptionally rough, and sometimes, more often than not now, I get past a big day - mom or dad's anniversary of death, birth, or Mother or Father's day, and I barely notice anything at all. This year, this past 12 months in particular, have been a rough "Mom's year" in fact - every anniversary around her has sucked, while my father, the center of my grieving for so many years, has sort of taken a cheap seat, up near the back of my mind, not actually in on the action of grief.
Still, it's rare that a Hallmark holiday (one started to promote peace, mind you, until the originator declared it overtaken by commercialism) instigates as much in me as the wakes of this Mother's Day has.
Commuting back and forth to Milwaukee to teach Miksang weekly has been rough on me - rougher than I anticipated, but good to know, for I will be doing it for 15 weeks at a stretch whenever I teach at Marquette (for now, first gig is slated for next spring). Plus, Laine and I are still struggling to get the clean laundry put away and paint bedrooms and get the garden in "make sure the inspector can't measure the weeds by his knees after all this rain" order. So I actually sort of rushed through actual Mother's Day, although with occasional naps and snuggles, emotionally, by keeping "busy". But throughout the week I had a hangover-y feeling, as if something were unresolved. Like mourning, my period sometimes causes distress before it's arrival and sometimes not, and as I am due soon, I chalked it up to pms. But then, in Milwaukee on Wednesday night, I had the most ornate dream about my mother. I dreamt that after my father's death she, instead of miring in depression for years until her own death, remarried and became the artist she had always wanted to be. She moved back to Chicago and went to the Symphony seasonally and had all kinds of friends (this is, um, to say the least, not at all how my mother's life was after my father's death). I dreamt of a house with lofts and art everywhere, spacious but lively, how I aspire for my own house to be, in fact, only even all the moreso because she is older and has had that much more experience.
I woke feeling both sad and happy for it. I wanted to linger in the dream, as if it were my last memory of her, ever, and once I left I would "stop accumulating memories of her" as one of my students said about her own mother this week in class. Of course, when I woke, I realized it was all fantasy, not memory. I wrote everything down in intricate detail and I have loved thinking about this other life for her all week. But then there is the undercurrent of a new kind of sadness. Starting last summer I began to miss my mother for the first time since she died - that's almost 10 years of not missing a person, more missing a role, being blocked from my own grief by denial and anger - but I didn't actually really miss who she could have become, who we could have become. And although the dream was poignant, it took until a student wrote about the contrast/conflict she has about missing her mom when she's not around but also being so full of memories of her that she doesn't even know where to begin (her mom's still around) that I realized that I, indeed, have totally lost the chance to make new memories of her. Some part of me still expects to wake up from all of this like it is a bad, sick dream. In the dream I *did* have, all the things I have told myself over the years whenever I would begin to miss her - that we would have had a worsening relationship, that she would have been miserable, that it was for the best, that I wouldn't be where I am now if she had lived - all those things flew out the window in the dream. We had boundaries. We were each our own person. And our relationship eventually healed and we could move forward with our lives - more than that, revel in them.
This is so painful there aren't even words for it. Honestly, last summer when I began to even peek at missing her I thought "Oooo. No wonder I have avoided this one. It's going to HURT."
I was right. And just when I thought that I hit the hardest part, it gets harder. New, special, painful bits of grief creep up. And yet, there is this tenderness to it all. She's been dead for 10 years now, and so there clearly is no chance she's coming back. I am not torturing myself with the pain at all. Part of me recognizes by now that I am in it for the long haul, that it will hurt, that in some ways it is endless, but, in all the ways it is endless, the space around it (and I mean this for real, not just conceptually) also is endless. I can grieve and also feel joy. I can imagine a better life for her even as she is dead.
Laine has offered to help me do some kind of graphic novel about the world she inhabits now, this apartment with the symphony and art (even meercats! She had meercats!) as some kind of therapy. I am happy to think of making something for her like that, for me, too. And you can bet the novel will now take a turn as well, considering that her life has taken on so much dimension for me, after death.
Finally, the fact that I turn 30 this Sunday has it's own Mother ramifications. She gave birth to me. At the Dalai Lama a few weeks ago, he reminded us that we have been mothers to every being on earth, and they have mothered or fathered us. It just killed me when he described those first few days, months, even, when a baby is utterly helpless without a mother/someone to help us out 24/7. "This is how we all know compassion. We could not be here, have survived at all without care." I have many ambivalent feelings about the various kinds of care my mom gave me over the years but that is, indeed, irrefutable, and to think of her holding me as a tiny and totally vulnerable baby really puts me and her both in this tender space that helps me to hold all the years of hating her and let a lot of it go. It isn't forgiveness. It's something bigger than that. It's just being with what actually is and allowing all sides to appear and not feel like I have to defend my feelings about her from any angle.
So in honor of these Mother's Days, in honor of this week of her, this lifetime remaining in which I will think of her a lot, probably every day. Thanks, mom, for giving birth to me thirty years ago this Sunday. And I am sorry you are gone now, so you can't see me come into my own.