Life

All posts in the Life category

Kit Currie – Missing Woman and my Thoughts

Published August 26, 2014 by megdedwards

Fair Play or Foul Play – Awaken my Rage against Violence Against Women

Kit Currie - missing since August 14th - Last seen on Queen and Bathurst inToronto

Kit Currie – missing since August 14th – Last seen at  Queen and Bathurst in Toronto

I am re-posting this post about a missing woman who was last seen at Queen and Bathurst in downtown Toronto, jumping on her bike. As soon as I saw her photo with her wide smile and two braids I thought of a friend of mine. When I saw where she lived and read that she did art modeling like me, I felt an extra affinity.

I feel a ‘fellowship’ with all women but this woman is very like me. It could have been me. Or my old pal from Toronto. Woman and girls go missing every day and they are of all races and classes and sizes. But this one looks like me and that sort of strikes into my heart a little deeper.

I know it is selfish to feel more empathy for a person who looks like you, but I suppose it is human nature. I can picture my friend hopping on her your bike and heading to .. What happened to her? Where is she?

The thoughts that run through my mind (and the police investigators) are: did she have a crazed ex boyfriend, a weird colleague at work? Was she randomly taken? All these things are possible and have happened recently.

There was a woman in Moncton who was grabbed by a strange man and locked in his basement for a month who escaped and can tell the tale now. There was the woman my age who was stabbed to death early in the morning in the alley a few years ago in Toronto when I was visiting my Mom. They did not know why she had been stabbed and I couldn’t help but think, are middle aged woman being randomly stabbed now? But the murderer turned out to be from her homeland and resentful of her position as manager at their workplace.

Obviously I don’t need to look for specific examples of women killed by their ex spouses.

We are always sort of hoping that our actions and our style of living is the right one for survival. We may not say it aloud when we read the news but a quiet voice is saying, ‘I would have avoided that’. It helps us feel safe. But when a fearless strong trusting woman disappears, it sends a shadow over me.

I know there is threat of violence at all times. Women live with that as a constant. It is our underlying reality. It is always there.

Recently I have had a person calling and hanging up the phone at any hour night and day. If I stayed on the line, they stayed for a while and then hung up. I never talked. I remembered what a police man had told me long ago, that if they don’t say your name then they probably don’t know where or who you are. But it still made me feel under surveillance and harassed.

Eventually I convinced my husband that this was something other than an electronic automatic call gone weird. He could see that it was beginning to upset me. He started answering the phone every time it rang and the calls stopped. A male voice was all I needed.

When the calls were day and night I started looking over my shoulder; what man around my neighborhood had been looking at me weirdly. There was the skinny dude looking me up and down at the gas station… Does he think I need to be taught a lesson? Too confident in my body? Is there a man who has become obsessed or decided he hates me? Enough to harass me?

If a man is attracted to you but hates you, you could be in big trouble.

My effect on misogynists is almost immediate. As soon as they see me they don’t like me and I smell them as soon as they walk in the room. I watch and wait for the signs. How quickly do they demean a women in my presence. Do they always turn to the man in the room when they speak? Do they sort of sneer when I talk? Do I see in their eyes the distinct critical light of a man who feels uncomfortable with my body language?

Ever since I was a young woman I take this as an invitation for a fight. Especially when I was a hot tempered young 20 year old I would speak my mind and speak it clearly and see how they reacted. I remember a very big man arguing with me about something at a party and eventually he was looming over me as I sat on a chair below him. I pointed out his body language to him, ‘look at you showing how much bigger and stronger than me you are’!

His face went all red and he left the room. A bright red face in an argument meant I had won. I took it as a flag of triumph if a man who thought he was superior to me would get all red in the face when arguing with me. I would think to myself, well, aren’t you all upset because I have not agreed with you.

If a man tries to push me about I stand up as strong as I can. If there is the presumption that I should be too scared to look him in the eye. That is what I do. I look him in the eye.

I puff up like an angry cat that will not be brought down easily. I swear to God that if I am ever raped and murdered, if that is the way I am going to die, I am going down fighting. I will fight til I die. I will not go down quietly. I will knee the groin and stomp the top of the foot, I will poke eyes out and jam my hand in the throat. I will do some goddamn damage. Just so you know.

I am not weak and I will fight to the death. That is what I start thinking about when I hear of a fifty year old woman disappearing. All of us women do.

For any man that does not know that this is the reality of a woman’s life no matter what race or class or religion or part of the world she lives in, take note! This is what we live with when we bravely go to work at night or lock the doors and close the windows of our apartment at night when it would be nice to let in the breeze.

These are the roaming thoughts of a sister. I hope that Kit Currie is alright. As a woman,  my immediate thoughts are of ‘foul play’. Foul Play, what a term. Like there are rules in this game that was not written by or for women. Foul play: unfair or treacherous conduct especially with violence; not playing by the rules of the game.

My deepest wish is that she had a bit of a break down and will be alright soon. Have strength. Fair play to you. Please don’t be another victim of male rage.

If Van Gough was a woman, he would be my friend Kit..

In Memoria Mum

Published February 25, 2014 by megdedwards

In memory of ‘Mom’, known as ‘Nana’ to her grand children and ‘Nananat’ to her hordes or admiring younger women friends and ‘Nat’ or “Natalie’ to her cohorts in her own age group,

I shall quote from a journal dated 1960.  On the opening pages of a date book it is inscribed M D Edwards, Production (Radio) Radio Building 305 and Mom has lightly scratched out Dad’s name and written Old Lady.

The first page has a list of her children and their sizes for her sewing projects.

The second page begins with a quote in capital letters:

AFTER ALL, A MAN WHO HATES DOGS AND CHILDREN CAN’T BE ALL BAD…

W C FIELDS

This is followed by,

” I try to look forward gaily to the 60’s but the thought of the next ten years…strikes terror..”

That one sentences reminded me of a painful patch of mine when I was dragging myself through anxiety and depression. I kept smiling while barely eating or sleeping.

You know when you are in love and every time you meet someone or talk to someone you wonder if they are in love? Or when you are pregnant and you see pregnant women everywhere? Well anxiety and depression has a similar effect. You wonder how people get to old age, and why. Every individual encounter leaves you wondering what keeps that person going.

When I read Mom’s sentence I realized she must have been exhausted. She could not picture getting my brother Rhys (who was very sick on and off) from seven to seventeen.

How does it happen? And then it does! And everything changes in ten years in ways you never would have expected.

From the first page you know the rest of the journal  is going to be interesting, and it is. Her insights do reassure young mothers and ‘homewives’  (as my child calls me)  even now.

Natalie is an industrious wife; painting, cleaning,sorting and budgeting madly while caring for her 3 little children. She is thoughtful about her faults and her diary is interspersed with information on the children and their development, comments about marriage, reviews of theater and books, and recounting many parties and informal gatherings of drinking.

A comment on my Dad that I find more funny than depressing because, well, I am married.

“Murray off to Guelph – thank heavens! Phew. He’s been worse than impossible to live with lately. Furious at catching ‘my’ cold ( but of course he always catches everyone’s and mad as hops at me for daring to get ANOTHER!) – and no doubt worried and concerned very much (and this I think is it) over his folks arrival and the problems he will have to face – and added to this the continual thesis – the thesis he scarcely works on and yet is always there – – .. so Let’s hope he enjoys his trip away as much as I think I will.”

Then she moves on to one of her bursts of honest self analysis:

” A horrible conclusion today – struck me as a result of something I happened to read  – that I am one of those women who see their ‘job’ primarily as a shopper and cook; a housekeeper, cleaner etc. – as opposed to those who see themselves first as wife, companion and mother of their children. I do indeed think of my value as useful, economic etc. – how capably I shop is far too important. Why? On reflection, to consider my value from the human standpoint is certainly preferable. I’ll think more on this – perhaps the key to change in me is right here.”

“I try, of course, to rationalize myself out of this and look for some way in which it could be the OM (Old Man) ‘s fault. (if he didn’t think of me that way I ..) but realize it’s quite useless. All too obviously this relates only to me – and I think I’ve made an obvious and a stupid error, underestimating my self and giving little value compared to what I could by a different outlook to Murray and children.”

She continues, “Colds are loathsome and so in my temper. Rhys does 100,000 disobedient things – resort to wooden spoon. All unhappy”.

The details of her diary bring the sixties housewife to life. Well, this sixties housewife. She is always taking on huge jobs while juggling the three little children. And then having a party. She delights in recounting good meals and good theater. She writes down what flowers she has planted and what colour she has painted the back entry. She writes some details about the children’s health and school.

She has a house cleaner. (Oh, what I would give for a woman to help me clean my massive house too, it is not just the extra hands but the company).

“Mrs Mueller cleans up and we all feel  better for it – also things better too and I keep distance and try to hold temper. On verge – if I ‘m good I’ll get children on my side and then OK ,of course. Mustn’t be so  nervous and irritable –  Just like my Dad! Ah if only I could recapture that sweet calm negligent attitude of pregnancy for other times!”

The next page:

“Paint the kitchen radiator from 2- 2:30 solid (use aluminum paint). Then sand and paint the little tricycle for Kate.  Spent nearly all a.m. repairing trikes: fixed the pedal back on Rhys’ (Liz’s now) and then drilled holes in Kate’s saddle and bolted seat back on and repaired pedal etc. Feel clever and useful. (smiley face). Bake an angel food cake too. And don’t lose temper at all (face with halo over it, smiling). ”

She also worries and frets and feels anxious about cost of new dryer until they finally decide what to buy and have it in installed. (No she does not install it herself).

“Laundered- oh blessed dryer! What a joy!! What a difference it makes to  my work- and I can dry anytime- and laundering seems so little effort now- ha heaven! (big smiley face!)”

Can you believe that I don’t have a dryer? Well, I don’t. Have not had one for ten years and I have got used to it. But, blessed dryer, you could dry any old time!

One more bit, but this could go on all day:

“Had a dream – woke up after hysterical screaming ( in sleeping – not real) and all I can recall now was that Rhys had died- I kept realizing I’d never feel his soft skin and his hair. I couldn’t get over the awful horror of him gone; couldn’t believe – oh it was a hideous dream – and also in my dream someone else died soon before and I remember feeling I was losing everyone. And then I woke up – my anguished screaming still resounding in my head- and slowly became aware of the truth – the lovely sweet truth! I lay still and appreciated it quietly and peacefully – and then I went up to see Rhys and we lay and talked and I touched the soft skin and the hair and we smiled at each other. How wonderful! In my dream I recall he looked so young and soft and little, and surely he is – just a little boy. It was a good dream and I hope it has done me good- for I forget how close everything can be to the end at anytime; I forget to appreciate. ”

All right, you have heard from time vault today. The 1960’s appeared before your eyes. Your house wife,even while cleaning and drilling holes in tricycles, was most likely wearing a pretty dress that she had sewn herself, tight around her tiny waist. She had on large black glasses and her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was proud of her house and her dramatic and moody husband working in theater and radio. She loved her beautiful children, especially when they were good. When she dressed up she wore red lipstick and put foundation on her nose, which she considered big and red.

Now  I must run off and clean and cook. By the time I was a young maturing girl my Mom had left this sixties housewife life long behind. She left a different legacy with me. When I was 13 she was changing her life – it was all about writing and working and loving, but more of that later.

I missed you but I was busy thinking

Published December 2, 2013 by megdedwards

portrati of meg by frankI have gone through a quiet stage. I even hesitate to write in my journal.  Sometimes I feel tired just thinking about putting my thoughts into writing.

But I don’t feel bad or sad at all. I am cruising. I am thinking.

I remember talking with an American cousin of mine about whether natural birth changed the character of the person born. Did the painful and intense process of going through the birth channel make the person different compared to those that were born by opening up the belly and emerging directly into air?

She said something about ‘pra sess’ and I did not know what she said at first but then I recognized the American accent and the word ‘process’.  Now whenever I am thinking about the concept of ‘process’ in  psychological  development I say ‘pra sess’ to myself.

I am ‘pra sessing’.

My Mom died last spring on March 1 st.  I am still thinking about that and what it is like to go forward without a mother for the rest of my life. It did not  happen before time, in fact it happened at a natural time. It all happened very naturally.

Of course, I am shot forward in my head to my death and how many years I have left in my ‘back pocket’ as Mom put it to me one day as I sat in the sun on the phone, and waited for the school bus.

I still cry over missing my Dad. He died five years ago on December 15th. I realize now that his death really broke my heart. I was in such pain I actually felt physical pain in my heart and limbs.  I don’t know why it was so much more painful except that it was more sudden. And he had made he me feel less lonely in this world. Always.

During that time of physical exhaustion and mourning, two adolescent  boys, emerging from sort of squalid childhood hidden behind middle class conventions, sexually assaulted my baby child. We fought back, we protected her, we survived the police, social workers and general ignorance around this issue. 

So here I am, five years later, seriously aged but extremely grateful. In this seemingly short span of time my oldest daughter has grown up entirely and my middle child is turning into a man. My baby is no longer a baby. My marriage is stronger than ever. 

After more than a year looking for work I have given up. The final piece of the puzzle was handed to me when my youngest said she wanted to ‘home school’ again. After a day or two to ‘ pra sess’ I jumped in with my full mind and heart.

We are having a blast of full on love and joy every day. We do crafts and cook and clean. We walk and skate and swim. We talk and dream. Math sneaks its way in with no stress or anxiety. We learn as we go. 

I know that I allowed this time with my other children and I see that my life patterns don’t change. Having a baby at 40 meant extending my type of parenting for another 20 years.

I need to adjust, tighten the belt on the budget, and think about writing for money again!

My Mom moves through me. I feel her enjoyment with my domestic bliss. My Dad smiles on me too. They nod at each other, from their distant peaks,  like faulty Greek Gods, united in their pride.

 

Calving Season

Published October 1, 2013 by megdedwards

There was a sharp glint of pink in the universe,

northern lights crackled in the night sky.

There was a deep crack and rolling rumble,

a seismic icy shift, and a quiet shaking

that formed a crack in the mountainous block of ice, the glacier,

the glacier that is me, the mother of you,

when you moved away.

My little world, my grown woman,

you broke off and dropped into the deep cold blue waves.

I see you bobbing up, crowned with the rosy morning sun.

Sparkling like a diamond, glowing ruby,

an aura of love and warmth around you.

The whole world will change, the water will heat up,

Volcanoes will erupt underwater, hot lava freezing on contact with icy water.

The tremors will shake the world, continents will shift a few centimeters,

because you moved.

The earth’s surface is altered, the skin has rippled,

islands are rising out of the sea,

and the mountains have leaned back, sighing.

“Looking down and Away”

Published September 23, 2013 by megdedwards

bb 061“I just smiled at a potted plant, thinking it was you”.

She thought she saw me at her table when I was having a long distance phone call with my Mom.

This was when her mind was beginning to go a bit wild.  I did not know it then but it was a sign of things to come.  I could see her in my mind’s eye, smiling at the plant and I felt her affection, it did not matter that the plant was receiving it. We laughed merrily about the absurdity of her giving her glowing loving face to a potted plant.

We laughed a lot in the last years.  We had as much fun as you can have when someone is evidently dying. On my many visits to Toronto the walk from the bathroom to the couch became increasingly like a marathon with pep talks and breaks along the way.  “This is fun”, said Mom, “a sort of fun, if a bit ridiculous…”  as we collapsed on the pillows in exhaustion and giggles.

“The upside of dying is having your kids come around, a compensation of sorts” said Mom, and also, “I can be insightful, in bizarre moments when I am not making jokes or confessing sins”.  Conversation was intriguing and unpredictable, full of unforgettable images, such as this description of a discussion, “We huddle like rugby players and figure out what next to tackle”.

There were times when her spirits lagged, tired of the tricks of her mind; “I have forgotten why I am here. I don’t know where I am, and, I have forgotten who I am”.

She began to live with one foot in the other world. She saw things; she described images in her mind, as you sat before her. Other images, other times, other space. “I see you looking down and away, most likely at your child ”.  I was sitting beside her, seeing myself in her mind, looking away.

Visions were dreams, objects were symbols, actions or fleeting moments were caught and symbolized. Her mind was making a film, writing a novel, dreaming a poem. Her mind was doing what it was supposed to do, move into the ethereal, leaving behind the earthly limitations of time and space.

My Mom’s main advice to me was to write it down. “You won’t have the energy later. Write it down now”.

I am writing.  And I am thinking about mothers and daughters and what they teach each other. What advice do we act on, what lessons are more bodily memories than lessons. Did my Mom teach me how to make bread or do I just remember her hands and what they did.

What did we learn by accident, what lessons were not meant to be lessons?

My Mom decided that 25 years was long enough for her marriage and that we were all old enough to handle the separation. She would make proud jokes about the 25 year deadline. Once I had been married 25 years I entered a panic. It was as if the due date was over, the marriage was ruined, spoiled, unfit to carry on.

But also I remembered how my Mom thought that her time was up when she was 63 years old, the age her mother died.  We set dates in our minds. I had set myself an invisible deadline.  I felt a surge of emptiness and a dread of the future. I was not sure what I was supposed to do.  I was not sure how to proceed.

When I was a young girl my Mom decided to put aside her married life and become a new woman.  I see now that although her actions destroyed the family unit as it was, it also gave me a very strong sense of what it was to be a woman and look after your own self. Her best gift may have been her destruction of herself as a housewife.

From then on I never questioned looking after myself, my rights, my ability to attract a man, or my right to a good sex life that satisfied me. I felt right about asking for and getting what I wanted. And my beautiful older sisters may have had more trouble with that, being brought up by the good housewife.

I did not question my Mom’s right to live her life fully.  What I did not realize was that I thought that I was disappointing her by living with the same man all my life. I slowly became conscious of my own assumptions about the 25th year of marriage and my own buried wounds.

It was her ball busting moves, limited as they were by her hesitant feminism, and not articulate or entrenched enough to give her a real release from her insecurities, that made me the woman I am today.  I was capable of falling unwisely in love and walking away when I saw the unhealthy nature of that love. Afterwards, I had fun searching for the right man.  I knew when I had found my partner, and I knew when monogamy was worth it.  I knew how to express myself so that we could argue if necessary, and communicate without lying.

Just as my mom must have thought her days were almost over as she aged closer to 63, I had an unconscious unarticulated feeling that my marriage would be over at 25 years. My Mom lived for another 20 years longer than her mother. And she traveled every year, enjoyed her younger boy friend, and did acid in her sixties just to see what it was like.

I see now that I can have the long term marriage that she later spoke of wistfully, watching her old friends who had ‘stuck it out’ in the hard patches and then had loving relationships in their elder years. She wondered what that would have been like. She did not go so far as to regret her actions, but she was not too stubborn or proud to question the path she took.

I recognize that a long term marriage is not a lapse of courage, or an easier path, but a path of my own.  I know she never meant to set up separation and ‘independence’ as the only path.  During the painful process of discovering who she was and what she wanted, she did give me the tools for a real and stable relationship.

She would have been happy to see my husband and me out on our 29th anniversary, laughing and kissing. “Oh Meg”, she says from her location in the ether and energy, “But, of course!  You know, I have always thought Joe was a gem”!  And I smile at our other worldly conversation, and I continue to follow her advice, to write it all down.

Red Sun in Morning

Published September 5, 2013 by megdedwards

morning sun

I type in the dark, fingers missing keys, as my daughter sleeps in shadowy futon couch bed in the corner of my study; a grown woman planning her big move to the west coast of the United States. Today she turns 21.

The first fall without my Mom. She has passed away. Passe Compose.

When I first started this blog I had ideas that ran one after another, in a little line, a queue. The ideas had a persistent quality as if they had to be written down.

I enjoyed writing so much that I can’t remember much else about that time except that I stained my teeth with tea and wrote every day.

After a while I began to nag myself about writing for a more demanding audience than just myself.  I ‘should do this or that’. Write for competitions, write for publication.

That imperative shut down the creative juices pretty dramatically.

Then I read Alice Munro non stop and studied short stories and thought about writing.

In the midst of this I was writing a lot of cover letters for jobs that I needed but did not want.  A lot of writerly charm went into those letters.

I got rejected or never heard from most of those jobs. In the same period my Mom died and left a large gaping hole where I had been focusing a lot of love and care.

In the wake of her death some close relatives of mine took it upon themselves to take out their mourning on me in the form of seemingly arbitrary and hurtful criticisms of my very self.

I felt at a loss to respond to any  of it and was glad to have my own family to love and be loved by.

I lost the joy of writing and I did not post much until one day I was sweetly surprised when a  friend of mine said that she had followed my musings on my Mom’s illness unto death. That she had cried and been moved. And I thought, huh. Well, that is really an amazing compliment. It is a quiet answer, a nod and a smile.

All our voices are people waving at each other from a distance.  We like to share common experiences. We are sociable and optimistic.

I have come to some conclusions after my thinking period, For one thing, short stories are actually memoirs and memoirs are short stories.

Also, I still need a job but my persistence and stoicism in applying to dozens of jobs this spring is starting to give me purchase. I have an interview tomorrow and if that does not work I have another job lined up.

I loved my mom and she is still with me in spirit.  She is happy as a spirit. She was always a bit bigger than this earthly world.

I am still in doubt about obligatory relationships where I am not treated lovingly.  I have been forced into an unpleasant matriarchal position; an irritating authoritative figure who must be denied. I am not my Mother. I reject this whole set up and I retreat.  Carry on without me.

Mama

Published February 19, 2013 by megdedwards

SNOW!My Mom’s dying is so gradual that I feel like I am watching a tree return to the earth. She hardly moves now, and Parkinson’s is stealing her voice and her expressions, just as she feared.

But if I sit beside her and look into her eyes I know what she is thinking.  Her eyes tell me all there is to know, in a place beyond words.

Her hand might reach out to something I cannot see, and sometimes her eyes are looking into another world.  But then she focuses on me and I see all her ideas in her mind.

A few years ago she would have told me anecdotes, or advised me, she might even have indulged in some annoying gossip; those were the days when she was well and whole.

Last summer she became elliptical and poetic.  Her sense of drama was alive; she spoke of her hallucinations and made grand poetic statements.  She was half in a dream world and she became even more articulate and eloquent than usual.

I wrote down some of what she said:

“ How many years do you have left in your back pocket”?

““Do you have any unfinished dreams? How about you? Is there anywhere you want to see? When I look back at my life I notice with some dismay that I have done everything I wanted to do, like a book of coupons”

“…in bizarre moments when I am not making jokes or confessing sins”.

“What is the name of the state that exists when you are not dead, but on the way?”

“Can we reduce the speed”?

“I have a countryside, potatoes, sunshine…”

At 6 am on waking, “Shall we stroll the decks”?

“I am listening, I hear the stories behind the stores, it’s not so much who is getting pregnant by whom, but the gaps in between and what we make of them”.

Last winter and spring I took my youngest children to visit her and sleep on her feather couch, last summer my sister Liz and I took Mom to the cottage, in the fall I took my eldest daughter to spend her birthday with her Virgo Grandma, in the beginning of winter I went back to Toronto and had a few days with all my siblings together with Mom. Then I got really sick and told my Mom I had to go home and rest and I would see her after Christmas.

It was February before I could get to Toronto again, and I traveled by train with my youngest daughter. The little one is full of love and care, kissing her Grandma and laughing at her bizarre comments. Mom gathered her little soft body in her arms and said quietly, “Let me linger over this hug”.

In the last two visits my Mom has talked less about poetry and apparitions and more about me.  Words of love and acceptance, compliments about my personality, my life, my marriage, my kids, myself; it felt like she wanted to be sure her third daughter heard some positive remarks, as if she was trying to make up for a childhood interrupted by divorce and separation.

After a lifetime of being told I was plain and ordinary, I heard that I was beautiful. “We all admire you so”, she said, referring to a cabal of Jewish women her mind had created that had all apparently discussed me. “You are so beautiful”, she said, making me feel suddenly very beautiful. “You have a large amount of kindness; I have only a small amount of kindness”.

I soaked up those last words, the love and the acceptance, the admiration and compliments.  I felt a bit like a potted plant that has been sitting in old dry earth for a long time, still somehow putting out green shoots against all the odds.

Now she has stopped talking and I don’t think there is a more painful experience than our phone conversations.  I call and I can hear her clear her throat, and I can hear her caregiver say, “It is Meg on the phone, talk to her, I will hold the phone for you”.  I say” Hi Mama, how are you?” She says, with all her strength, “Hi Darling”.  She may have something she wants to tell me but she can’t get it out. She struggles, the line goes quiet.

I fill the void by telling her about my day: the washing machine broke, we had a big storm, and the kids are doing this or that. It is very quiet, I say,” Mama, are you there?” She says, ‘Huh’, so I know she is listening.

Last night, as we ‘talked’ I put the cellphone on speaker and made the bed up in new sheets, and put away the laundry. She could hear the squeaking of the misfit drawers and my rustling around; a mother who never stops moving, just like she was for so much of her life.

I told her what I was doing. I rambled; I talked about the infrequency of people who are truly honest about themselves or their motives. I could tell that idea had her thinking. I talked about the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, a writer who surely influenced my mother and consequentially all of our lives. She sighed. I said, “I know you have something to say and I am imagining what you would say”.

When she does rally to communicate, it is sometimes surreal.  Images from the TV work their way into her reality, mixing with her memories; her wildly imaginative mind conjures up anything and everything.  There are still hallucinations that are very real.

One never knows what she is going to say; sometimes it is ordinary but unrealistic. When I told her that I was leaving she cocked her head, gave me a flinty expression, and then started to say, “Well, we know we will have to wait 15 minutes for a street car” in a slow raspy voice. Or, she might use all her strength to tell me that she is going to whip up a simple dinner for us.

This is heart breaking because she is no longer capable of whipping up a simple dinner or hopping out to catch a streetcar.  But I don’t cry, and there are no tears. I laugh, and say, “OK, Mom”. And I smile into her face, and she sees me with her reptilian eyes, green and cool, and makes a small expression of irritation and love.  Just in her eyes; the look that says,’ very amusing’, an eyebrow cocked, a small smirk that says, I am still your Mother.

Last year my heart began to compare her to my sweet pets that have aged and died. I guess it is my closest experience to loving someone who is old and dying. I remembered a frail bony cat that would move its head to catch my eye when I spoke to it. Her fur was no longer rich or thick but dusty and thin. ‘ Don’t tell me to put my cat to sleep’, I told the vet, ‘when she still creeps out to the garden to lie in a sunny patch of grass, a smile in her eyes’.

The one time I put a cat to sleep I felt sick about it. I was late in my first pregnancy and my stray orange cat had a tumor in his eye. I was planning a home birth and I had already lost my other cat to illness during the pregnancy.  I thought it would be better if I did not have a death and birth at the same time in the same apartment.

A nice vet came over and gave him a sedative. I cried over his still lush orange fur, and a tear hit his ear making it twitch. He struggled to move, he must have felt scared by what the sedative was doing to him. Then she held him and put in the needle. I felt very sick, overwhelmed by my actions. I couldn’t eat without the food rising up in my throat.

I don’t know if there is a good time to put someone asleep but I don’t want to do that again with another animal. My first pet beloved cat died lying on my chest. After sighing his body went limp and his body released the last bit of urine, a warm spot on my sweater. He was like my first child; we mourned him like a child.

Since then I have had other sweet cats die of illness and old age and every experience is different. Everyone has their own path. There may be times when sedation would be good.  But doctors tell you that they only sedate the patient to relieve the pain of the loved ones who are watching. The last gasps are not necessarily calm breaths.

I left my Dad before he died.  It seemed like there were enough people around to hold hands, and my Dad and I had always had such a reserved love.  I was also holding out hope he would recover.

My sister said that it did get harder, he did fight death. And then they sedated him so that he could slowly stop breathing.

There are times when I don’t like to be stoned, and I am pretty sure my death is going to be one of those times.  I want to control the experience myself.  I don’t want to feel dizzy and nauseated on top of whatever else I am feeling.

My husband has told me that he wants to kill himself before it gets too late. I have actually heard this a few too many times, so the last time he told me about his desire to end his own life in a timely fashion I told him I will take over the shooting if he becomes too much of a pain. That seemed to amuse him.

As we gently care for our once strong parents, death is always on our minds. We are grateful to have our health and our lives, but it is without the lightheartedness of youth.

We wonder what sort of elderly people we will be, who will look after whom?  Will we be good tempered and brave?  My Mom is giving us her very best. In fact on my last visit she managed a full sentence, sitting up after dinner.  She slowly pronounced, “I am losing my faculties” she said, “but I am trying very hard to be brave”.

I would be proud to go into death as good temperedly as my Mom, “Like a character out of Dickens’” she joked last time after a big cough.  She is moving off very slowly, “Shall we stroll the decks?”  “Can we reduce the speed”?   She is getting every last drop of milk from the saucer.

The spirit in her eye is still flickering, love travels from one eye to another.  I am sending love, I am feeling love and I recognize love.

My last visit with Mom may not be my last visit.  My fingers are ready to fly over the keyboard, book a ticket, pack my old worn bag, get back on that little plane and fly back to her side.


 

 

There is always time to dream, write and paint

Published October 2, 2012 by megdedwards

My sister and I home schooled our kids, hardcore. We did not hesitate to leave behind the current public school curriculum and grade testing.

We taught our kids to read, think, play and explore without anyone telling us how to do it.

Although our Mom never home schooled I think that our confidence in taking over the education of our kids came from her.  I bet our Mom would have home schooled if she thought she had a choice.

She was a very active and busy mother always teaching us details about plants or trees or about art, literature or politics as she cooked and cleaned.  She taught us how to be brave and explore new experiences and places.

My sister and I came from the same home, in a sense. Although she had the young mother who gave dinner parties for her CBC producer husband and sometimes drank martinis with the neighbours and I had the divorcee who rented rooms and smoked pot with her lover, we had the same creative and energetic woman running our lives.

She was not one of those moms that dreaded summer and the return of the children from school.  In the summers we lived in a cabin in the woods by a lake where there was no running water or electricity. We ran in the woods and played in the water and let our imaginations guide our play.

She read aloud and got out paints and games when it rained. She herself was always creating: painting cool designs on our rowboat, illustrating little stories, or sketching our portraits as we played. And when we all left for school in the fall, she actually missed us.

We had a bit of a bohemian mother, but she was competitive too, and not one to be left out of society.  She would put on her best skirt and jacket, a Vogue pattern she sewed herself, when she had parent teacher meetings.  We had porridge every morning and pulled on our sensible boots over our sensible shoes and walked to school on our own. We went to school every day and we were expected to do well.

I did not like school, and as far as I can tell, my sister did not like it either. But in those days one just went to school. The first few years of school were just plain torture, but I toughened up and my shyness was conquered mostly by grade three. It may have been good for me, I don’t know. But when my first child said she did not want to go I accepted her opinion.

As a parent I liked being free from the arbitrary rules of an institution and I loved leaving her little brain to develop without grading or peer- pressure.  She dreamed, decided what she wanted to learn, pursued her own projects and charged forward. It was a beautiful sight.

It is true that some kids fair better on structured schedules than others. Some kids like the constant socializing of school, and some kids really enjoy structured school learning.  Not all children thrive in home schooling. But my overview is that children benefit from free play and unhindered exploration especially between the ages of four to twelve years.

Presently I have two kids enjoying school (mostly) and my sister has an empty nest. In the last eight years or so we have both being pursuing education for its own sake, just for fun and because we like to keep engaged. I finished a long distance certificate in Library Studies and she is a few essays short of a MA.

What we have discovered about ourselves is that we tend to be very good at working for grades and the approval of our teachers. And what we find irritating is that we cannot seem to apply that same discipline and energy to projects of our own choice.

We need someone to say, ‘do this thing, and then hand it in and I will tell you how good it is’.  And frankly, we are embarrassed by this characteristic that seems so deeply ingrained by our parents and the school system.

We are shocked and disgusted by our Pavlovian response to approval. Right now, as our dynamic and powerful Mom is gracefully traveling to the other worlds, with cryptic comments and magical hallucinations, we are left examining who we are and what we should do with ourselves that best expresses her lessons and her rich teachings.

As we step into the world without our mother, I think we want to fulfill some of the artistic gifts that Mom and Dad have given us.  Our mother was a good painter and filmmaker, our father was a good actor and playwright.  When they were young they may have had dreams.  But they did not pass on those dreams. When we dreamed of being a writer or artist, we were quickly brought to earth.

Ironically, it was often pointed out that good art was produced by people who worked hard.  My Dad told me when I was a twelve year old poet that good writing was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I wondered why he told me that and concluded that he must have thought I was not hard working enough.

Now with so much of my life behind me, and so many dreams buried by hesitant living, I think that the best thing you can say to a child is that they do in fact have the talent to do whatever they want. Hard work is the easy part. Believing that you can produce something of value is much harder.

It is possible that the best part of home schooling is being free of the crushing judgment of others. And now that we are older women, my sister and I need to home school ourselves. We need to be the parents we wanted, so we have formed a bond of unconditional support.

If we can ask our children to believe in themselves, the best thing we could do is be a good example.  Our parents did not pursue their artistic dreams, and may have crushed ours by their attitude.  My sister and I have inadvertently been following the same path and need to remember that what we really want is to play without judgment and to explore without fear.

There is always time to dream, write and paint.

Mama is Preparing to Leave this World

Published September 12, 2012 by megdedwards

Every time I return from Toronto I know that these trips will be over soon.

After my Dad and his wife died I never went back to Victoria. The home, the chairs sitting in the sun, the desk with the photos, the box of tea, the couch where I crashed, was gone.

Those very things exist somewhere but they are gone to me.  What made them mine is gone.

I have lived in Cabbagetown at my mom’s apartment so many times this year it feels like my second home.

I fall into the dusty feather couch at night in pure exhaustion and I sleep deeply with the city noises on the periphery; fighting raccoons rummaging in the garbage cans outside my window, men yelling at their partners, the incredibly dull, loud talking neighbors who enjoy their balcony so much.

Every visit things change perceptibly. Mom can no longer walk up the stairs by herself. She no longer makes tea or feeds her cat. The sweet caregivers have become her arms and legs. Our conversations are getting shorter and shorter. She is out of breath, exhausted; often we sit in silence with me holding her hand. Then she might rouse herself to say something random to me, such as, “Did you get through a press agent to attend this event?”

When I am feeling claustrophobic I head out to Parliament Street. It is a city amalgam of rich and poor. I can nod at homeless who rave just like my sister, I can smile at gay guys with their adored dogs, and I can hit my favorite spots. There is a small warmly lit greasy spoon run by a collection of older Asian men and women where classical music plays constantly and everyone is treated with respect and courtesy. Their good reliable food and cheap prices draw in some of the poorest of the neighborhood and each customer is treated like a good person.

There are cool second hand stores, a run-down library and further north on Parliament is a small area full of Indian stores that breathe their exotic spices and foods into my receiving sensory system. In the early morning the streets have that dusty busy feeling of an Indian city, so many people moving together in a hustle of humanity. Ground coffee, spices, the dust from construction, and the scents of perfume as people head to the buses to get to work are an orchestral sensory experience.

It has already occurred to me that this place will not be mine when my Mom dies. There will be no reason to go there and no reason to be there. So the place is seeping into my body.  As the real world diminishes for my Mom, it is increasing for me. I am a receptor of smells, sounds and sights that she no longer needs, her mind a rich enough tapestry.

My Mom is in her head, dreaming and thinking. Sometime she is worried about the motherly duties, and the thought of Christmas puts a frown on her face. How will she have the energy to organize it all!  We can’t insist that she no longer has to do anything, she does not pay attention. Years of looking after our desires are a habit that she cannot let go.

Conversations with my mom have become surreal and poetic, mind blowing. For example, “This book shelf is what it looks like, but not what it seems”. I repeat that back to her to see if that is what she said. She nods, “Yes, because there is another book shelf like this in another identical house in Toronto, and if I move a book here it will move there, and (pause) that would be magic”.  A look of disapproval and disbelief at the word, magic.

She looks towards a window, where for me nothing stands out at all. She smiles, “Do you see that man out there with wings; do you see the small children?”  She acknowledges that we cannot see what she is seeing, but her apparitions are so strong and detailed she cannot quite question their reality.

She says, “I can see Kate smiling and laughing and laughing” and she knows that it is something conjured by her mind and follows with, “Well, that is a nice image for me”.

And the odd images: “Look at the rats all jumping ship, with their feet scurrying as rat’s feet do when they run”.

Other times though she will say something that shows that she was paying attention when that last person was visiting. She will have noticed their health and habits and have a critical remark about one of their foibles.

And every day in my last visit she talked about dying. “Now please don’t get upset but we need you and Rhys and the others, to talk about my death “.  When I tell her that Liz will be visiting in a week she says, “I don’t know if I will make it, but I don’t know if that matters.”

I look at my Mom, lie beside her. Her body is smaller, her skin hangs from her bones, but her stomach stays round and firm, holding all her pain and seeming to symbolize the pain and love of life. The stomach, the womb, all desire:  the center of creation and destruction. Her desires from that center both created her marriage and destroyed it.  Everything is appetite.

And now her desires abate and her appetite for life is less. I gently press the frown on her forehead, but it is permanent. Her eyes are unseeing, half lidded, and skeptical. If I tell her that I don’t see what she sees, she says, “But how do I prove that, I just have to believe that.  You don’t see those boys, that large woman on the corner of the couch?”

I lie on the bed beside her; the bedroom is stuffy and smells permanently of urine. I rest my head on her pillows and hold her hand.  Her eyes are closed and she sleeps deeply for a moment, her breath becoming urgent and painful, deep and racking.

Then she opens a green eye and says to me, “Well, it was odd getting into bed with my husband and his girlfriend”.  I don’t say anything, what is there to say? Then she says after a long pause, “And where are they putting them, in the attic? And are they stacking them up”?

But amidst this random dream talk she is trying to prepare in her organized way, “How much time is left, what am I supposed to do?” and more poetically, “I feel as if I have just finished a book”.

I respond sympathetically, knowing that that feeling when something ends before you want it to,  I say, “And you don’t have another good book to read” and she says, “ Oh no, I have lots”.

On the day of her birthday, in which I am about to throw a small tea party, she rises from the couch under her own strength, which is unusual, and says, standing as tall as she can, “I am not sure if I am up to this, I am much weaker than I used to be” and I realize that she thinks we are going on a plane. Pretty much every day she thinks she is going someplace, and I guess she is.

Seeing her standing on her own, I see her through her own eyes. She is young again and ready for any adventure. I remember watching her prepare herself when I was a teenager. Putting on her makeup, picking jewelry, brushing her hair.

Her bags packed, neatly organized, a skirt that both matches her jacket and her pants so that she can pack lightly but have many options, her ticket and passport neatly in an outside pocket of her purse, which does not have old gum wrappers in it or crumbs like mine.

She has brushed her long soft blond hair and put on red lipstick. I am sitting in her bedroom watching her prepare.

Tiny Moments of Reflection

Published July 13, 2012 by megdedwards

In many tiny moments I think about life and death. If I am carefully pouring sugar water into a small glass bottle for hummingbirds, I think about my Dad and how he would have done this, when he was alive. How my Dad would have enjoyed my bird feeders, and laughed with me about the bird battles over seeds and sugar water. When I smell sweet wild flowers in the air, I think about how this is something we can only do when we are alive, or when I feel a perfect breeze while taking in the laundry off the line. Mundane tasks make the strongest impression in my mind. Making toast, going through books on a shelf, small mundane tasks make me think about what it is to be alive. Daily or weekly tasks that make us feel as if we are getting something done, they are the most potent. As I roll the smelly garbage can to the road, and it makes a trundling sound and I feel the satisfaction of not having forgotten to get the garbage out, I think of what it means to be alive and functioning in our world. Our tasks and thoughts are so very arbitrary, nothing much will matter when we are dead, but everything must matter when we are alive. I think of my Mom who can’t do the smallest chore due to pain and exhaustion. She can’t cook a meal and say ‘there’s lots more’ as she always does, did. She can’t wipe down her table and set out plates and tell an anecdote and open a bottle of wine simultaneously, as I can picture her doing in my mind. She is too tired and her life is slowly coming to an end. Every little part of my life, my child saying, ‘Mama’, calls from my eldest looking for advice, hugs from my muscle bound teenage boy, every weed I pull and bill I pay, reverberates, like the sound of a low bell. Reflecting on being alive while one is alive is not a youthful state. I am not in the sensual moment, free of perspective. I am standing beside myself seeing my hands pouring sugar water. I am not unhappy, just seriously reflective. Lying in my comfortable bed without immediate fear of death or illness, I remember what it felt like to be twenty. The luxury of sleeping when young, when the future is a blank and expectant canvas and all one had to do was move forward. Now I seem to think and fret in bed, thinking of all the things I have to do. I want to bring back that careless mind because my fretful thoughts are unnecessary. I am young now, if I manage to grow old. We are living with death and loss when our parents are sick or dying. This is a predictable phase of middle age, where some of us will act out and grasp our youth, and others may become depressed. I feel fine, though stretched out. My heart and my capable mind are busy planning, scheming, paying bills or putting off paying bills, planning for the very young and very old. What will make all these people around me the happiest, what can I do to facilitate the lives in my small universe. I remember when my mother was in this role, and how she played it. Now her practical life has faded and her best moments are with her vivid memories. My memories collect on dusty shelves; a little child’s humming as she draws, a loving mustache kiss, and the kettle boiling in the morning.

%d bloggers like this: