Friday, 12 August 2011

Writing about my mother

I wrote and shared my mother’s eulogy, on behalf of my family, three weeks ago today.

I love to write – it’s one of my creative joys, giving me an almost unparalleled sense of achievement and connection to others – yet this was not a simple joy.

It was difficult, and painful, to write a piece which did justice to what my mother meant to me, to my sister, to my brother, to my father. Like all families, we have relationships impacted by personal frailties. Mum wrestled with depression and an addiction to alcohol throughout much of her mothering, and they both impacted on all three of her children, and my father, in varying ways.

We talked together about the stories we wanted to share with the people who’d travelled from Canada and all over Aotearoa. Family memories that made us laugh, like Mum making up travel songs or singing awful pop songs regardless of audience. Family herstory that made us proud, like Mum’s brilliant mind being so sought after she was invited by her local Canadian university to do a Masters degree in chemistry when that was a fairly unusual event for women. Family stories of being loved and cherished, in all the ways she did that, for all of us.

One of the gifts my mother gave me as a teenager was joy in being sexual. She told us repeatedly how much fun sex could be, and embarrassed us regularly by expressing her delight with and admiration of my father. Her sexual agency, her expression of active and independent female desire, has been deeply formative for me in my own relationships, in my feminism and in the way I’ve approached working to intervene in and prevent gendered violence.

So one of the stories we shared was Mum telling a nurse, in the last days of her life, when she could no longer eat, drink or breathe without assistance, that her heart rate was irregular because he was so handsome.

After Mum’s service, the eulogy I’d written ran through my head for days and days. As a complete piece of writing, over and over again. Remembering all the stories we’d shared. Replaying a collage of memories of my independent, free-spirited and strong-willed, brilliant and beautiful mother. The stream was both a comfort and a torture. I didn’t want it to stop, yet it was blocking me sleeping and being present.

Usually I find writing about something helps clarify it for me. I often work out how I feel about an issue by arguing it out in text. There have been some parallels for me in writing Mum’s eulogy. Wrestling with all the ways my family wanted to remember Mum, writing it down and sharing it with my family, and then speaking it aloud. I will never forget how it felt, to condense the complexities of a full life, a life so intimately connected to my own, my sister’s, my brother’s, my father’s. I cannot imagine I will find public speaking as challenging, after standing at that podium, breathing deeply with my siblings holding me on either side, willing myself to start speaking about our Mum in front of the people gathered there to remember her.

My grief is so raw, every time I talk about Mum in the present tense, my eyes well up with tears. I’m frightened that when it feels less raw, I’ll be losing memories I’m desperate to keep. I don’t think I had even the slightest comprehension of how painful this was going to be, despite the fact my mother has been unwell for 15 years, and dying for the last 4.

I’m hoping that writing will be a comfort for me in this process. I'm not sure yet how much more I want to write about this, but I know I want to start writing again.


stargazer said...

i'm so sorry for your loss LJ. hope it gets easier wtih time.

Muerk said...

I would like to second Stargazer and say how sorry I am for your loss. Your post was beautiful and it really touched me.

LudditeJourno said...

Thank you stargazer and Muerk, much, much appreciated.

G said...

I'm sorry for your loss. My mother died about 6 weeks ago and I too have had my eulogy running through my head, both for days before she died and then for weeks afterwards. It is fading now but I'm sure I could still recite it word for word.

I would say one of the things people say when someone dies "It will get easier" "Time heals" etc but really, I've found that none of that really helps.

I hope it gets easier for you with time - I've found a book by Virginia Ironside, The Rage of Bereavement, which has helped me. It's not your usual self help book, more a story of the range of feelings she had when her father died. It helps to know I'm not alone!

All the best.

LudditeJourno said...

Hey G, thank you. I've found myself unable to make plans or do anything but survive the moment. All those things we say "time heals" are true but not helpful in the moment, I agree. Thank you for the book recommendation too, I'll check it out. All the best to you too.

Mummy's boy said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. It made me cry. I, too, lost my mum just 3 weeks ago and I can appreciate every word. My deepest condolences. Please take care. I'm sure your mum would be proud that you have honoured her in this way. God bless!

Jackie Clark said...

I am so sorry for your loss, LJ. It is always hard to lose a parent, and if we have complicated relationships with the person we are grieving for, it makes the grief in turn more complicated. I don't think time makes it easier, I don't think anything makes it easier. I just think it's about coming to a place where their loss becomes part of who we are. Our lives are always changed by loss, and grief. Be kind to yourself - grief is one of those processes that we are always going through, in some form or other, and it helps if we don't beat ourselves up about it.

LudditeJourno said...

Thank you MB and Jackie, and I completely agree that when I feel more used to "not having a mother" this is all going to feel very different. At the moment there is just this big void. It's not that I can't access the important and good memories, I can. It's just I can't believe she's not there, breathing, chatting, caring.

Maia said...

LudditeJourno - I'm so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful post, thanks for sharing your mother in this way.

So much love.