Around Mother’s Day the first year after my mum died, one of my mothers-in-law (I have 3) said something to the effect of, “It’s a shame your Mum isn’t here.” I think she was talking about my wedding and I henceforth banned the mention of my mum on the actual day. I knew she’d be there in spirit, I just didn’t want to be reminded of it and confronted with the emotional reality.
UnMothered Day 1, 2, 3
That first Mother’s Day without my mum was rough. I’d never had one before and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I’d stopped blogging and writing in my journal at that point, so I can’t recollect exactly how I felt about it, but it was hard.
Last year, I wrote this blog post after going to see the Dalai Lama and hearing him speak about his mother.
And this year, UnMothered Day #3, I realize that as the years pass, my grief sometimes feels keener. It’s as if the distance between us grows greater with time, making me miss her more.
In Ruth Margalist’s blog post, The Unmothered, on The New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, she writes, “It gets harder to explain to myself why I haven’t seen her. A month can make sense. (I took a trip; she was busy with work.) Even six months is excusable. (I moved; she’s on sabbatical.) But how to make sense of more than three years worth of distance? How to comprehend that time will only drive my mother and me farther and farther apart?”
It was like that at first for me, too. We often didn’t see each other for periods of time, although we always talked on the phone. She’s still living in Florida, said my mind. She’s visiting Christopher in France and can’t call. She’s gone to Africa for a few weeks and is camping under the stars.
But now, now she’s just gone. I haven’t seen her in years.
Forgiving. And forgiving and forgiving.
On the day she died, I told her she was free to go. That, while I wasn’t rushing her off to the spirit world, that she was welcome to stay for as long as she’d like (because she was always afraid of being left out and unwanted), she could also go whenever she was ready.
I told her I loved her. That I forgave her every wrong I felt she’d done to me. That I knew she’d never meant to hurt me, that she’d always wanted the best for me, and that I knew she’d always, always loved me. I wanted to give up all the hurt and anger I’d held onto from our past, so that I could be as present with her as possible in our last moments.
Truly, I wasn’t ready for that. I’d held onto those feelings so tightly for so long. But I wanted the end of our relationship, at least, to be clean and full of love.
And now — now I have no mother to be mad at me for being mad at her. So while I don’t take the forgiveness back, I know there is still more to understand and forgive.
Writing down the heart
It makes writing a memoir about our years together in Barbados emotionally tricky. At times it feels like a betrayal of our intimacy. I was brought up to believe we must keep our dirty laundry under wraps. You put the difficult stuff in a box and you put it away. You don’t air it out, show it the light of day, poke around in the dark corners and recesses. Which is exactly what I’m doing now.
I don’t want to be cruel in my presentation of my mum. I want to honor her memory and my feelings her — all of them. But our history and relationship was complicated, especially through my teenage years (hardly atypical, I know).
Perhaps writing down these memories is as much about coming clean with myself as it is with anyone else. Am I writing to prove something? My sheer awesomeness and resilience in the face of abuse and neglect? A debunking of an island’s reputation that’s as pristine and sparking as its beaches? Is it revenge upon all the mean girls?
Or is it the opening of my heart and reconnecting with the mother of my childhood? Remembering the good times and bad, the closeness and estrangement, the love and the loss.
Our last few years together echoes our life then. We were together again, finally, and then she left me.
The difference now is that I’m not a child, alone at home or on the streets and beaches of Barbados. And I like to think that she is beside me still, in spirit, luminescent with love, encouraging me to tell my story.