In the slow and soporific silence that is the hour before sleep, I sit here before the computer and think of the events of the last 9 days. My daughter-in-law, Heather, has lost her mother. She and Geoffrey are preparing to go back to Newfoundland to bury her mom, grief contained for now. Brian, Heather’s brother, is having a difficult time with this loss- not being one who articulates his feelings, he is also dealing with his wife having left him. This sounds too familiar. At holiday seasons, one’s losses stand out in sharp relief. I am reminded again that Matthew and Mira live separate, estranged lives, and that our grandson regards us warily. We are not a close and loving family. At least, not in the way I had imagined we could be back in May of 2007. So many things die when relationships are abandoned. Watching and listening to Greg earlier this evening reminded me that his wounds are still as raw and painful as they were a year ago when they were first sustained. Some wounds never heal. I am like a tree, struck by lightning and irreparably scarred. I feel cynical, and hollow inside. On the one hand, I want to just walk away from the angst of it all. Scrub the slate clean on the cusp of a New Year. Look forward to the 2010 winter Olympics. Watch the “Dr Who” marathon and escape from reality. The maxim that each new loss causes us to revisit all former losses is brought home to me as I watch Heather struggle with the tangled emotions surfacing from her father’s tragic death 20 years ago. Now her mother. She is orphaned. My heart weeps- I want to make all of the hurt disappear. I want to be twice the mother for her- even as Greg has been “dad” from the moment she laid eyes on him. But I don’t want the memories of her mother (or father) to disappear.
I used to imagine that my childhood did not exist. I pushed my mother to the perimeter of my conscious mind, and tried to erase her from my history, thinking that by distancing myself, I could reinvent, recreate myself into someone I could like. I could not accept any part of myself that bore any resemblance to her. By demonizing her, I was also sentencing myself to a lifetime of judgements. I hated who I was, felt ashamed of my looks, alienated from the rest of my family, and yet at the same time, I was stuck in a vacuum. Having no other childhood than the one I had experienced, I responded to situations using the protective strategies that I had learned in order to survive emotionally. And I can see all of this and understand it intellectually. But on the inside, I am a wailing child- wailing hopelessly from the trauma of abandonment, from the terror of my mother’s uncontrolled rage, from the frozen wasteland of nurture needs unmet. I remember my father- weeping as he tells me that my mother has left for good. I am holding a pie, about to go into the oven. In my mind’s eye, I want to give him the pie now to make him stop crying- to take away that helpless panicked feeling as I search on speed-dial for ways to make him happy again. Children shouldn’t have to be responsible for their parent’s happiness, and yet responsible is how I have felt, ever since I can remember. I look at my own sisters, and wonder at how I am so disconnected from them. How little I seem to know them. My older sister and I are less than 14 months apart in age, but we may as well be decades removed from each other. We may as well have been raised in separate families. I used to knock myself out to try and please her, so desperate was I to be loved in return. I don’t think she ever really lost much sleep over me. I don’t blame her, and I am not angry- it just saddens me, because I always tried to insert myself into story books in an attempt to define who I was. I was “Beth” or “Jo” in “Little Women”; or “Jane Eyre”, or some other heroine who had come from a similarly fragmented past. But my sisters are miles away in their perceptions and in their experiences. And the ‘dance’ that we have in my extended family is so different from what I would have scripted, had they been open and willing to learn the steps. At holiday seasons, I grieve this schism between what is, and what I dream of. But I also rejoice in the surprises of love that have stepped out of darkened corners, with warmth and light. My great-niece amazes and humbles me with her affection. It is unconditional, pure and refreshing in its unabashed enthusiasm. Such lessons have I learned from such a small teacher. And now, can I take these lessons and apply them to those whom I am finding most difficult to love at this time of year? The ghosts of the past may never disappear entirely, but perhaps their voices can be quieted by Kindness and Wisdom. Perhaps my heart can open its door a crack to let God’s light and compassion in a bit more. Perhaps. May it be so. May the blessings that surround me ease the pain of losses revisited, and may I be a blessing to those who feel death’s sting so acutely.