Well, it’s been a trip, that’s for sure. Losing my mom has been an exercise in rollercoaster riding. The ups & downs have been tremendous. Intellectually, I knew this. But until a person goes through it, sometimes the symptoms aren’t clear until they pass.
My apologies, dear readers for not writing sooner. It’s been an incredibly busy & deep time. What feels right to me is to be quiet, to listen to whatever voice rises from my core. Sometimes the voice is delicate and vulnerable, while other times it’s like a lion’s roar. Now, with a little time passed, it feels alright to write again…
Apparently many hospice people agree that it’s best to clear out the remaining clothing & other items of a deceased loved one as soon as possible after that person died. My sister-in-law cleared out my brother’s belongings, with all of us helping, on the weekend after Mickey passed.
Similarly, the Friday after my mom passed, my brother & I went through her stuff. Then, this last week, it took me 5 days and 7 pickup truck loads of donation stuff to clear out my mom’s storage locker. Even then, there was a trailer full of stuff my brother took back with him, and a small trailer’s worth I took.
But, the awkward part was seeing my mother’s belongings in the thrift stores, after the fact. A week or so after the first round of donations in Illinois, I had an interview at a recruitment agency. Since I had no work clothes with me, I went to the thrift store to buy an outfit. As I was walking around, I saw one of my mother’s shirts hanging on the rack. That was hard.
It was a little better in Colorado, when I kept bringing load after load of donation goods to the thrift store in Conifer, and would see my mom’s items laid out from the load before. Those ladies were fast! Unlike in Illinois, I befriended the main lady who was in charge of donation receiving. Her gratitude and bubbly personality made the entire situation easier. Within the first day, there were several large ticket items that sold. All the money would go to the local organization that helped families of out-of-work people get by in the expensive Denver Foothills area.
That first day, driving back from the storage locker to where I was staying, I couold feel my mom’s presence in the pickup, thanking me for my efforts. While rolling along the hilly road, tears ran down my cheeks as I replied, “You’re welcome, Mom.”
My brother really inspired me to slash & burn. He was really good at detaching from our mother’s stuff back in Illinois. He was great at just keeping things that were useful in the short term, or that had emotional or monetary value as a keepsake.
The great part about leaving early to do the Colorado storage locker, was that I could be by myself, and cry when I needed to. I still did the right thing, and let many things go, but was allowed to have memories and thoughts of her. Images of times we spent together flashed before my eyes, as I laid the item in the “donation bag”.
Even so, when he did arrive, it was interesting to see how much stuff he wanted. I tried to take only keepsakes that were meaningful, or items I could currently use, or use in the future once I stopped traveling & settled down. Things like a nice sized juicer. Sounds silly, but those suckers are expensive! And it was virtually unused. Might as well keep it, because it doesn’t take up much space.
Things he chose were things that I figured he had no use for, but somehow he must have. It was like a desperate clinging or clutching to items to prove who was more worthy, or who had more value. It didn’t make any sense to me. In the end, we can’t take any of this stuff when we die either.
Or maybe it was about remembering our mom. Walking past some antique item or beautiful china set and thinking of her. Or maybe it was about having nice things to pass on to his kids. I really don’t know.
But, what I do know is there’s no sense in hoarding stuff that you’ll never use or ever go through again. Will you really take the time to research that painting and try to sell it? Probably not. So, why not just give it to the thrift store, and allow some lovely person to enjoy it, while helping out a great organization?
Just like when my mom wanted people to take her ashes & spread them around the world where people travelled, she would want her eclectic and fabulous belongings to be spread through the Conifer/Evergreen/Pine corridor, where people in those communities could enjoy them. After all, these were communities that embraced her & loved her in a very short time, and whom she gracefully loved back.
Many of the volunteer ladies at the Mountain Resource Center in Conifer knew my mom. Day after day as they worked through the bags & boxes of donated items, many of them commented to me about what a classy & interesting lady she must have been. They delighted in her geisha costume, her box after box of half-read books on zen, healing the soul, and mysticism, and her Indian motif tchotckes. Over and over again I heard that the quality of her items were incredibly distinguished and classy.
All of these things are true: my mom was classy, and stylish, intelligent, and kind-hearted. She was wise, she surrounded herself with beauty, and really appreciated fine foods, and the art of cooking. (One thing I saved for sure were her cookbooks).
But, my mom was also very insecure. She had difficulty loving herself. There was a lot of abuse, cruelty, and neglect by my grandparents toward her and her siblings growing up. This resulted in my experience being completely different than those people who were my mom’s friends or acquaintences. Even in the last weeks I spent with her, she would joke, quip, and toss wit out to one of the caretaker gals we hired, but she wouldn’t do that with me. With me it was only misery, only suffering, only fussing and telling me what to do.
People kept telling me “It’s because you’re the daughter. It’s just a different relationship.” Really? Because it didn’t have to be that way.
There were a few glorious moments that did shine through the muck of those last weeks with my mom. She did tell me a few times that she was glad I was there. She did tell me she was grateful for my help a couple times. She appreciated the coffee & doughnuts I bought for her, and the way I mushed the doughnuts in the coffee so she could swallow them when her throat muscles began to weaken.
Ironically, the one thing my mom wanted more than ever was to hear the words, “You’re my best friend, Mom.” Sadly, there was no room for me to say that. Her desire for this kind of open-hearted relationship left her clingy and crabby with me when I didn’t respond in just the right way to her. If she tried to lay some manipulative BS on me, and I skirted it or confronted her, I was demonized. If I tried to cheer her up or point out something to be grateful for, especially during her illness, I was shot down with spears and arrows of martyrdom.
I, too, longed for a deeper connection with her. But, it was impossible to offer that because when I gave an inch of my emotinal self, she took a mile. Her eyes and heart were so clouded with her own pain, that it felt like she could never see me. Through my entire life, I was expected to “parent” her and fill the holes in her heart left by my grandparents. It’s not fair to put that kind of trauma on to your own child. It’s not right.
Anyway, one way or the other, our relationship was difficult. I’ll never forget my brother Mickey telling me that he didn’t think it was a good idea for me to come out to help Mom in 2009 with her chemo and radiation, because we would probably kill each other.
There was a lot of jealousy. My mom’s upbringing wasn’t great, and she developed a lot of fear. She put a lot of that fear on me, because she couldn’t tolerate my natural-born state of joy & happiness. On the whole, I’m a pretty up-beat person. But, it’s taken almost all of my adulthood, many counseling sessions, and many spirtual quests to get back to the happy-go-lucky core I was born with.
Mom never told me about men; she never told me I was a knockout. She never warned me about the jerks & the insecure dudes who just wanted a trophy. The sad part is my mom never got these instructions either. She was never told she was a knockout. When mistakes were solidified by a third party, my brother coming along, a rushed marriage followed and my grandma’s wrath reigned down upon her til the day my grandma died.
How does a woman find any self-worth with that kind of treatment?
It’s not a wonder I have the same inadequate feelings about my own beauty, my own self-worth. It’s not a wonder my mom couldn’t handle the innate joy I brought into the world with me at birth. It’s not a wonder I was picked on by her, to be perfect, so that she could avoid being picked on by Grandma, that her grandaughter wasn’t perfect. Now, with heavy sadness in my heart, I can imagine the conversations my grandma might have had with my mom, about her inadequacies as a mother, letting me play sports, and dress in jeans, and not have perfect fingernails with polish on them. Poor Mom.
Now, I must bear the wrath of those same crazy family members who hurt my mom, as they condemn me for traveling to Alaska, for having Mom cremated, for not having a “real” job yet, blah blah blah. But, they nor many others don’t understand that it would have been impossible for me to stay in Chicago last year. If I didn’t go off into the Wild Blue Yonder to live my own life, to live my dream, I never could have made the choice to return and be of service to my mom. For when I did, I had a new sense of connection to the world around me, to people who took me exactly as I was in the moment, to non-judgment, to Life on Life’s terms, and to self-love. Without these new tools, tools that helped me process & grieve my brother’s death, and could never have shown up and been present with my mom before she passed. Simply put, I chose to parent my mom in her time of most need. I did not feel obligated, coerced, or guilted into it. Making this choice has given me so much freedom, dignity, and self-esteem.
Even so, we all have opportunities to heal, and sadly my mom let many of those opportunities slip by. Despite horrific internal pain stemming from her relationship with Grandma, my mom never took responsibility for passing that junk on to me. Her woundedness was simply too deep.
Recently, I read the book, “Heaven Is For Real”, about a little boy’s journey to heaven while dying & being revived on the operating table. For anybody who’s grieving a loss, I highly recommend this book.
The boy talks a lot about Jesus, what he saw in heaven, the “homework” Jesus gave him to do, seeing his parents pray for him while in the hospital, and visiting with deceased relatives that had passed on many years before he was born. The story is truly astounding.
The Jesus part aside, what this book told me is that we all have a heaven that awaits us. Each person who passes on has an ideal place where they can go, a place that will bring them the purest of joy & contentment.
Now, when I reflect back on all the cancer carnage of the last 3 years, I realize these were opportunities to come closer to The Divine. Call It what you will: God, Jesus, Buddha, Quan Yin, Allah, whatever. It’s all the same essence, the same energy that created & connects all the matter in the universe.
The “Heaven Is For Real” book is written by the boy’s father, a preacher. He mentions again & again the “child-like” faith that Jesus spoke about, and was captured in bible scripture. I’m lucky enough to have a younger cousin who also demonstrates this faith to me. He came to it after a workshop on a type of meditation. Through traveling in Alaska, I met many people with this rock solid faith.
There are no mistakes. Everything happens for a reason. I write this swallowing my own pride at the cheese-ballian sound of these cliches. But, they’ve rung true in my experience. Losing Mom, losing Mickey, were all opportunites for me to learn to Trust more in this outside force that is bigger than me; Trust for every single little thing, just like a little kid. Slowly but surely I’m listening more to what this Big Enchilada In The Sky has to say, as it speaks through my own inner voice. I don’t always like the message, but I listen and try to follow the right action It tells me as best I can.
“You’re welcome, Mom. Not only for clearing out your stuff, but for ending the cycle of abuse, jealousy, and bitterness you brought on me. I pledge to you to not knowingly bring that on any other person, including a little girl if I should be so blessed with one. And when the awareness comes that I did act out of this pain, I will make amends, and re-pledge again to end this behavior. You have my word.”
–Love, Your Daughter Marissa