Writing

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Metamorphosis

Published May 24, 2015 by megdedwards

meg writing

I wrote poems when I was a child. I remember one that was pretty straight forward. It was about my life plan. I wanted children and then I wanted to write. At least that was the gist.

When I mentioned this at breakfast the other day my husband said, ‘Be careful what you wish for, they say, because you just might get it’, but then he smiled because he must have wished for a sexy wife and a happy home with delightful children.

Then I had an epiphany. I had to stop and think; place my index finger on my lips and frown. All the whirring sounds of breakfast, a child asking where her brush was, a cheap dishwasher taking off like a jet engine, faded away and my mind focused on one point: had I been pursuing this plan all along? Was I living out a lifeline that I had set up when I was ten years old? I had to shake my head. I had to smile.

What really took me by surprise was that I have spent much of my life quietly thinking that I had failed; that I had not lived my dream life. I was critical of myself for not having ‘become a writer”. What I didn’t realize was that I was a writer, and always had been. My own child self had given me plenty of time to find a good man and create beautiful children and write and think all along the way.

I have always been writing, thinking about writing, reading, and writing some more. I wrote for myself, I wrote for academics, I wrote for the free ranging feminist community. I wrote on film, art, theater, computer technology, medical topics and local politics and events. I wrote about everything and anything as a freelance journalist. I wrote cover stories on everything from chocolate to female impersonators.

I have never stopped writing and one of the classic photos my kids took of me is of the back of my head, my hair casually clipped up, typing away at the computer. I had a Mom just like that – typing, frowning, placing her finger in her upper lip while she was thinking. We were trained to wait til she had finished her thought before interrupting.

And like all writers I also wrote poetry and stories. Files, folders and black journals full of emotions and ideas formed into words. It does not matter if anyone noticed. I have been following that plan like a blueprint. I do have the happy home that I imagined. It is becoming more possible to do more writing as they grow older.

Later that same day while I was wandering aimlessly around Facebook I saw the image of a donkey tied to a plastic chair and under it was written, ‘Sometimes the obstacles you imagine are not as big as you thought’. I think I heard a chorus of hallelujah in my brain. Second level to the epiphany!

The next day I stared writing a novel. I jumped in with no plan and no particular structure. I wrote and I wrote and at about 10,000 words (thank you Nanowrimo for getting me going) I re- thought the main character and introduced another character and kept going. At about 30,000 words I knew who I was writing about, why I was writing and how it was going to end.

I have long dreamed of this moment. I am ecstatically happy and not in a temporary way in which you expect that sad drop of disappointment later. I can’t be disappointed about results or expectations because I am entirely happy about recognizing who I am and acting on it. I have acknowledged my childhood plan.

Characters and scenes from short stories that I wrote long ago are queuing up. Some of them want to be in this novel, some of them want their own novel. I am enjoying the big canvas; I am taking my time building characters and scenes. I am having fun doing it and I know someone else will have fun reading it.

I am confident about my created world. It reminds me of the process of my rug hooking, a hobby I began last winter when I was homeschooling my youngest. I enjoy the process; the visual concept, the gathering of the wool, the painting in colors and textures. While I am pulling strips of hand cut wool up through the holes of the burlap my mind relaxes and indulges in day dreaming. I listen to music and I think about things. Halfway through one rug I have an idea for the next one.

And this is how I feel about my stories now. Working in an entirely different medium helped bring about this commitment to the novel. Just as I always finished every rug I began, even when I had thought of an even better idea for the next one, I know I have to finish this story before I begin the next one.

It is incredibly satisfying to recognize that all my earlier writing is not wasted. It had its place in the forming of my characters and visions. I don’t need those dusty files anymore because the characters have burst out of their tight little short story forms and lunged forth into characters who want more space to develop. Poems, images, and dreams are becoming living thoughts in my fictional characters.

When I was a child I wrote because I loved to and that spirit is returning. Writing is my friend. I am writing because I want to. Sometimes it does take discipline to sit down and write but it is work I was meant to do.

Lost scarf with gold thread

Published September 9, 2014 by megdedwards

Sunset-Vernon_BC-2014_08_11

I  had a beautiful scarf that I bought myself when I was out shopping with my precious first daughter. It was a warm gold and orange and turquoise, just vibrant and fiery and calming all at once.

I was wearing it on the day that I looked into my car’s rear view mirror and saw my friend looking in panic at something on her driveway. The snow was piled high and blocked my view. I thought she saw a dead cat.

But it was her husband. I left my little daughter in her car seat in the parked car and ran over.

When I was alone with my friend’s dead husband I could not leave his head on the ice. My friend had run into the house to get a phone. He did not seem to be alive but I was not sure.  He looked dead. I put my hand on his chest and  I turned him on to his side. When I moved him he involuntarily sighed. It did sound exactly like a man sighing but I also knew that the weight of his body had probably pushed the last bit of air from his chest.

I was alone with him for a minute or two.  It was intimate except that I did not know him and he was already dead.  He did not move.  I knew he was dead but when my friend ran back I pumped on his chest as she took instructions. As we waited for the ambulance I took off my beautiful scarf and put it under his head. It seemed so horribly cold to lie with your bare head on the icy driveway.

My little girl was waiting in the car. I dropped her at her preschool later so that I could have tea with my friend who had lost her husband that very afternoon. My little daughter saw nothing.  She was facing the other direction when I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the look of horror on my friend’s face. There was a big pile of snow so I could not see the body of her husband yet, I just saw her look and run.

That is one death. And one scarf. I have lost that scarf now and I have lost a lot of favorite things. I remember thinking, will I still want to wear this scarf later? And I did take it home, once his body had been moved to the truck and we were all inside having tea. I had my scarf. But I lost it later. I keep hoping I will find it in a bag of winter things.

When I went home I was all alone, the kids were in school. I crawled into my bed with all my clothes on. I called my Dad’s wife who was dying of heart break and I said, ‘I did not know who to call but I knew that if I called you I would not be able to make you more unhappy than you already are”.  I knew she was miserable after the death of her beloved, my Dad. She never recovered. She helped me on that afternoon though. It was good to talk to someone.

Later when I took my little girl and her brother to visit my step mom on my deceased Dad’s birthday, so she would not be alone, she was a walking ghost.

Her face was grey, she was thin and under nourished although she made herself soups and took herself off to yoga and listened to audio tapes that tried to tell her to remain present. We cheered her and distracted her but I wish we had taken her home with us to our chaotic, loving home.

She died of a sudden heart attack on her bathroom floor, her sweet little nightgown covering her carefully tended body.  Alone on the floor for days before anyone knew that she had not gone to her yoga retreat. When I heard I was frantic with panic. I thought I had killed her.

Had I left her a phone message that upset her and broke her heart?  Had my phone message about the sexual abuse of my cherubic soft haired baby girl been the final blow? What did I say? I could not remember. Did I leave a message, did I call and ask her to call me back, was I weeping?

But thank god for my big sister, who always wants to solve the pain in the world. She threw in a hook, deep into the ocean and pulled out some words of salvation,  She told me that if my step mother had heard I was in pain she would have called me back. She would have been there for me.

I felt great relief when I realized that my sister was right. I knew that was true. While my pain was almost killing me it would not have killed her. She would have called me and offered her help and love.

My message rang out in an empty house. She was already lying dead on the floor, oblivious to my pain or the curse of a storm cloud that was resting on ‘my happy little family’.

I cannot find that scarf. I have other things. I have my Dad’s wild staring eyes as I tell him I am going home because my kids needed me. I will see you in the spring, Dad.

I have the love of my step mother stamped in my heart. She told me she loved me when we sat by Dad’s hospital bed. She was a proper lady, very similar to my friend who invited the local volunteer firemen in for tea when her husband was carefully stowed away in the truck.

“What do I do now?” she asked me? And I said, “Let’s make some tea”.

We all sat around her table and talked about her husband. She cried a little and reached out involuntarily for his cap when she saw it on the back of the chair.  A repressed gasp, just audible.

I can’t find that scarf anywhere and I was determined that its brush with death would not stop me from wearing it.

I have my happy family; my little girl has healed from her assaults but carries that wound forever inside. She is growing into a preteen ripe with womanly power.  I smother her with love and attention.

I have no Mom anymore. She died the next year, singing and joking and lifting her eyebrows and squinting her eyes to continue contact with her children until the last moment. In my spirit world my dead are wrapped in my beautiful scarf.

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.

 

“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 – Last Word

Published March 13, 2013 by megdedwards

dusk 020I made one more trip to see mom before she died.

I went straight down to see her and was dismayed to see how lifeless she was. She had not been sitting up for a few days, and she had stopped eating.

I knew that, and I knew what was happening, and I knew why I was there. But when I lifted her hand with her pretty rings on it and it was lifeless, I was shocked.

She was dying, and was already leaving. No squeeze from her hand. No energy in the capable hand that had washed me, patted me, lifted a finger in admonition, cooked me many meals, typed out so many stories.

I leaned over her ear and said “It’s Meg”, she made a small sound. I sat beside her and said the first thing that came into my mind. In the last few years I had done that with her, just released thoughts straight out of my mind into hers. No sensor, no fear. I said, “You must be very happy”, if she could have, she may have moved an eyebrow. “Your kids are all around, and everyone is happy and healthy. You did a good job, you are a good Mama”. She said, “Mama”.

The last word she said to me was “Mama”. Her last word.

I rambled on after that, and said “Do you remember when we went to the cottage, just you and me?” I  was talking about the first thing on my mind. “Do you remember how we had orange pop on our picnic?” She made a ‘Huh’ sound. She remembered, and I was glad I was reminding her of a moment that we shared, when I was about 12 or so, and before I was a young woman and so defensive and easily offended.

Then I told her, “Liz and I are going to go visit Kate for her birthday, and bring her some presents and make her feel special. Do not die while we are gone, wait for us”. We went and saw Kate, who was in high form but loved the presents and cake that we brought her. When we returned we told Mom how much Kate had enjoyed seeing us. I could feel relief in her almost inert body.

She had stopped moving and her feet were very cold. There were no more words out of her. The Cheynes-Stokes breathing typical of a dying person had been replaced by a hard strong breathing that seemed to take over her whole body. I sat beside with my hand on her chest, feeling the breath pound through her lungs and beat her tired heart. It looked like hard labour.

My brother’s face was pale with concern, watching her hard breathing was hurting him. But I said to him, it is almost like the body is doing this all by itself.

At about eleven at night we all prepared for bed, thinking that Mom might have another few days like this. The night caregiver Mafe was settling into her chair when Mom made a sound, and opened her eyes. Then she stopped breathing and Mafe said into the monitor, “Liz, you should come” and Liz flew down the stairs. When she got to the bed Mom was still and quiet.

Liz approached me on the couch in the other room. I was just slowly falling into deep sleep, I had heard a voice, and wondered what it was, but the night was drawing me down. Then Liz woke me and I thought, why would anyone wake me? “Meg, Mom died”. I leapt out of bed and ran to her room.

I placed my hand on her now still and quiet chest. No more deep strident breaths, no more living. No more oxygen, no more heart pounding away in a universal beat; just a quiet body.

Liz and Mafe began to move around in a slow but frantic manner, looking for the clothes that we wanted her to wear. They went into the closets and started pulling out random bags of clothing. They were quiet but I wanted to do some sort of primeval wail. I said something, like “I just want you to know, I am going to make some noises”.

A keening sound was arriving in my stomach and pushing its way up to my throat. Later we thought how funny our behavior was, me warning them of my wailing, them digging through random bags of clothing.

A tableau emerged, of Liz and Mafe crying and washing her body while I sat up by the pillow, with my hands around my Mom’s face. I was holding her mouth up, pushing her mouth shut so she would not be left with her mouth hanging open. I cried and wailed and held on tight.

It was still my Mom but it was obviously not my Mom. She would not have liked anyone to force her to do anything, even if it was to close her mouth for the viewing of her body.

The hard labour of the breathing, the naked woman in the hands of other women and the bedroom setting reminded me of home births. We labored with her, to take her to the next life. I am so grateful for that. There were no anonymous nurses, no matter how well meaning, no bells or harsh lighting. We had complete control of the ‘home death’, as I began to see it in my mind.

Then, just as in a home birth, we made strong tea and sat around her bed. She was dressed in my beautiful wedding gown, a second hand raw silk dress that I had given her. She had on make-up and her hair was brushed. Her head was tilted back as if she had just leaned back and passed out. Her eyebrows were calm and majestic, her mouth calm and almost in a smile. If you knelt beside her you could almost imagine her puckering her lips in a kiss, lifting an eyebrow.

I remembered lying beside her as a little child, when she wanted me to nap. I remembered watching her nap.

At 3 am Liz and I crashed. We had taken all the medicine out of the room and cleaned it out of the detritus of life. It was now a viewing room, cold and empty except for Mom, a candle and Mom’s cat that would not leave her side.

As I crawled into the couch, with a comforter around me, I found myself holding on to a teddy bear that we had cleared out of her room. I laughed inwardly, Mam, are you tucking me up with a bear? And I passed out.

Mama’s other prime caregiver Remia had gone home but on the arrival of our text she turned right around to come back, crying the whole way. She and Mafe sat and prayed for our Mom while we slept. I don’t know if they slept at all.

The next day, when I woke at 6 am I was hit suddenly by the loss. I was never going to take tea to my Mom again. I remembered going up to my Mom’s bedroom when I was a young mother living in her ground floor apartment with my little girl and baby boy. She was the only one up at that early hour. How she gladly dropped her book when she saw me, and put her arms out for the baby.

There was not a time when I sat down on her bed when she did not rustle about trying to cover me with blankets and make sure I was warm. I have so many visions of her, flashes of her being. She does not really feel gone.

The day she lay in state, like a queen or a movie star, we had visits and we sat in the kitchen with family and close friends. We drank very good scotch and we talked and laughed just as she said we were to do.

Now we are preparing for her public Wake on Friday. It should be a Wake  like no other. We do not know what to expect, but that is what is beautiful about  life.

Toronto-20130301-00844

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.


 

 

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