Hello, Old Friend

Hello, Old Friend

            It matters not if your mother has been gone for six weeks, six years or sixty-four years, as mine has.  A mother’s love was our first love and remains that anchor always.

            Sometimes unexpectedly, I will feel an ache deep inside that sits heavy like a boulder and has the makings of an avalanche.  I go about my day, my life, as if there was no weight upon my heart, but my insides recognize this visitor.  I am reminded of it, this faint knowledge that it’s almost Mother’s Day, and I hope the rockslide of emotions don’t start.  I want to stay the course and keep everything in its place.

            I love being a mother, myself, although I have endured times of angst as I stumbled along trying to do “it” right.  Being a mother and grandmother has been my biggest blessing.  My daughters have grown up right before my eyes and no longer make me macaroni angels or hand painted plaques that say, “Prayer Changes Things.” They are always so good to shower me with gifts and thoughtful cards that I save in a big box, safely tucked away.  Someday, when I am gone, they will find it and laugh at me for saving so much, but that’s alright, I could not bear to throw away their words or thoughtfulness.

            Yet, when it comes to Mother’s Day, I fall silent.  I feel uncertain of what to do with myself and I am deeply aware that the sadness I feel is not in aligned with the way most of the world thinks.

            I want to cry and sit alone with my sadness.  I want to look at pictures and have a cup of tea or a glass of wine.  And, at the same time I want to go with my daughters for a long walk among flowers and beautiful trees, feeling the sunshine on our faces, confirming I am alive.  My feelings are a contrast as day is to night. 

            I want to celebrate my mother.  I want to celebrate being a mother and my daughter being a mother.  But there’s that ache deep inside that wants nothing to do with sunshine, long walks or brunch.  That ache says, “You’re alone, so be alone. No one understands anyway.”  That ache makes me separate and odd because I hurt on a day others feel joy and gratitude.

            I’ve long ago made sense of being left motherless.  I understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and more than that, I understand that this ache will not kill me.  While there are times I thought it might, it has become an old friend, although unwanted, that is familiar and will retreat after a time. This old ache will go back to where it lives, underneath my heart, lodged over to the side.  But it will come back another time, perhaps unannounced, smaller in size. 

 Please don’t feel sorry for me, as that is not what I want.  I know I am okay.  I am not alone on this motherless journey; I know there are far too many who travel with me.  I want them to know it is fine to have feelings that go back and forth.  It is okay to have the ache and still want the sunshine.  It will not always hurt this bad, so go ahead and feel.  God in His wisdom has given us the ability to see both sides, to feel both sadness and sunshine. 

            “And gradually his memory slipped a little, as memories do, even those with so much love attached to them; as if there is an unconscious healing process within the mind which mends up in spite of our desperate determination never to forget.”
― Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds  

Listen

Story and photographs by Nancy Malcolm

I was not prepared for the relationships with my grown daughters.   I am forever their mother, but I am not needed as a parent anymore.

That was and is a hard dynamic for me to change.  We wrestle with control and often talk in circles, trying to be heard.  We have a back and forth, push and pull dance with multi-meaning dialogues.  They seem to understand this much better than I do.

“Mom, I KNOW.  I know what I need to do,” I hear them say.

“Mother, you raised us, don’t you realize we KNOW what you think?” they recite.

“Mom, I just want you to listen.  You don’t have to fix anything or give advice.”

But, sometimes I say ‘it’ again, only louder or rephrased, thinking they didn’t hear me or quite understand my point.  The real point is, I think I know what is best for them and what they should do.  On one such occasion when frustrations were high and tempers rising, I heard a voice inside myself whisper, 

“Listen.  Listen with your heart not your ears.”  

My lips clamped shut almost instantly, but my self-righteousness still wanted a voice.  Smugness is a deadly sin you see, and even a shaft of light cannot penetrate the hard outer shell of a superior, puffed up wisenheimer.  Old habits are hard to break.

My mother died of a brain tumor when I was four years old.  In my childish mind I envision myself as the perfect daughter.  So perfect in fact, she would never have left me.  I would have been obedient, and hung on her every word.  I would have sought her wisdom and cherished our talks.  I would give anything to hear her voice and listen to her point of view.  I saw myself that way and I admonished my girls for taking me for granted.  My self pity reminded me that I had no mother to listen to and my ungrateful girls had me.

“Listen,” my whisper said.  “Heart listening opens closed doors, hushes smugness, sends love not loathing…listen.”  

My sanctimonious attitude does not listen well.  It strains to get one more word in.  It plans a good comeback.  It is selfish and self-centered.  

I heard an acronym once:  WAIT- Why Am I Talking?  There are very few times in life when you should keep talking and talking.  Most of life is listening, at least if you want happy relationships and peace.

 “Listen” my whisper said.  “Hush.”

Listen to the ocean when you are there.

Listen to the toddler ramble on about his musings.

Listen to your husband’s snore and be grateful he is alive.

Listen to the elderly person in the grocery store and ask a question.

Listen to your heart, your gut and your best friend.

I wanted my daughters to listen to me.  But, what I really wanted was to be heard.  My thoughts, my heart, and my words were all vying for a way out, expressing what was inside.  My outside didn’t match my inside and I wanted the real me to be seen and heard.  Instead, I said to my daughter, “You’re not listening to me.”  Neither one of us was listening and we ended our conversation agreeing to disagree, leaving dissatisfied and hurt.

Finally I got quiet and sat with my hand over my heart, a practice I knew, but had conveniently forgotten.  “What’s wrong?”  I asked myself.  “What can I do to make you feel better?”  And then I listened.  I heard myself ramble on about my feelings and fears; my doubts and worries; my suggestions for my daughter.  Sometimes my worries are so vivid that I can’t seem to stop the cycle of obsessive thoughts.  I want my girls to be happy and I mistakenly think I know what is best for them.  I forget to remember that my adult children must listen to themselves.  They have their own inner guidance and wisdom to tap into and their own hearts to follow. They are wise, strong and courageous.  

 So, I listened to myself and in the process I did feel heard, all without continuing to talk.   My shoulders lowered, my breath deepened and my body finally felt relaxed.

“Go on,”  I whispered to myself.  “ I’m listening.”

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

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Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord, my soul, to take.

 

When I was growing up, that was the nightly prayer I said before going to sleep.  My Daddy made sure I knelt beside my bed and recited these simple words.

There are few things in life harder than losing a child.  It doesn’t matter how old, how young, miscarriage, or stillbirth, the death of a child is unspeakable.  Those who have not walked this path, rarely understand the deep emotions.  Their sympathy is sincere but the empathy only comes from experience.

In 1977 my daughter, Autumn was stillborn.  I had never known anyone who had lost a child or had a stillbirth.  I had a lot of shame surrounding it and since my own mother was deceased, I felt I had no one to share this shame and confusion with.  My shame stemmed from not being able to give birth to a healthy child and I felt totally inept as a woman.  I had no one to help me understand or guide me in being compassionate towards myself.

A few of my friends had experienced miscarriages in their early pregnancies, but I had gone through hours of labor and delivery only to find out she had never taken a breath.  Now, 41 years later, I have known a few women who have had the same sadness.  I have had the privilege of sharing my experience, strength and hope with them and they with me.

Recently, I have found two organizations that give hope, love, and support to the grieving parents.  One was in our local newspaper recently, called, “Angel Wings of Lake Travis.”  These volunteers make burial gowns for these infants who are victims of an untimely death.  Often the parents are unprepared or unable to provide a garment for the child to be buried in.  These precious burial gowns are made from donated wedding dresses.  The volunteers sew little gowns with a vest and bow tie for the boys and an exquisite gown for the girls.  The gown is given to the family free of charge.  What a meaningful way to help these parents say goodbye to their precious little one.

Another organization dear to me is, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.”  When I was taking a photography class recently, a volunteer spoke to us about giving our time as a photographer.  NILMDTS trains, educates, and mobilizes professional photographers to provide beautiful portraits to families facing the death of their infant.  The free gift of a professional portrait serves to honor the child and the family, thus providing an important step in the healing process.

What makes these so special to me is the fact that I had neither for Autumn.  She had no burial clothes and I have no photograph or tangible reminder of her little soul.  I know I cannot change these facts, but I would give anything to help another family have the healing closure they and their babies deserve.

I hope you will visit these two websites and take time to read about their missions, and to donate if you are so moved.

Thank you for reading and allowing me to share something so close to my heart.

://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/about/mission-and-history/

http://angelwingslaketravis.wixsite.com/angelwingslaketravis

The Autumn of My Life

Old Grief and New LossThe Autumn of my life began in July 1977.  I was 8 months pregnant when I suddenly went into labor and delivered my daughter….stillborn.

As suddenly as a life is conceived, a life may end.  As much as we may want, anticipate and long for a child, we may equally grieve and mourn and fall prey to depression.  There is no guidebook or manual to read that instructs us on how to be…how to cope… or how to live with the sadness.

Because my mother died when I was very young, I didn’t know what to expect with pregnancy or delivery.  I didn’t know about children or even the smallest part of mothering.  You would think, however, that I would have known how to deal with the loss and pain, but alas.. I did not.

It seems I was completely inept at grieving.  All the years of missing my mother somehow tumbled into the loss of my child.  It became one and the same.  Old grief and new loss melded.  

Through time, of course, a slow mending began and healing took root, but parts were hard and lonely and dark.  Then finally, another pregnancy.  During this 2nd pregnancy, I dared not to plan or prepare.  I waited to think of names and I drug my feet at buying a crib.  Then somewhere after the 8th month, I took a breath and instinctively knew it would be ok.  I felt an inkling of peace, a boost of hope, and a firm resolve that no matter what, everything would be alright.  And, it was.

My Autumn would turn 40 years old this July.  In my mind, she is a baby.  A wee little soul flying back from whence she came.  I sometimes like to think that maybe my mother is holding my daughter.  Hopefully, my mother was there to meet her as she floated to the other side.  Perhaps, the two of them have enjoyed these 40 years together as grandmother and grandchild.  It heals my soul to think so.  My mother, who never lived to be a grandmother and my daughter, who didn’t live to be a child, living perfectly together, healed and whole; connected, just like I would have wanted.

Someday, when my time here is ended, I know those two will be there to greet me as I cross the bridge.  Hand in hand, two souls will welcome me and whisper, “We missed you!” My heart will know them instantly and in that moment, the Autumn of my life will be complete.

Mothering Motherless

 

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Being a motherless mother has its own set of rules, fears and thought patterns.  I cannot speak for all motherless mothers, yet, what I’m about to say  will make perfect sense to them.

I used to have an idealistic vision of myself as a parent.  I was not prepared for this overwhelming feeling that I wanted my mother.  For me, because  my mother died when I was so young, I did not have a mature enough mindset to even begin to grieve her, until I became a mother.

As strange as it may seem, I felt blindsided with emotions and grief because all of a sudden I was stepping into ‘her’ realm, motherhood.  Which also meant, that something bad might happen.  It could happen to me and it could happen to my children.

I had an overshadowing feeling of fear.  I was afraid I was doing “it” all wrong, after all, I never even remembered being mothered, how could I know what to do?  I read Dr. Spock’s book, watched and asked my friends and constantly second guessed my ability to mother.  While this was happening, I was simultaneously severely over protective and fearful about everything.  Neurotic?  For sure.

These feelings would seem to settle down until a new phase of development would begin.  How do I know the right thing to do?  I couldn’t ask my mother and I needed her reassurance so much.  I kept telling my children that I loved them.  I wanted them to know, really know.  But, then the questions would start…what if they forgot? Or what if I died, would they be able to remember my words?  My voice?

Every since becoming a mother, I have had the stark realization that I could die at any time.  The year I turned 33 was the longest and most dreaded year of my  life.  My mother died when she was 33.  While I knew intellectually it (probably) would not happen, emotionally I waited for those 365 days to pass, so I would know for sure.

I have made it well past the age of 33 and now even both of my girls are past that age.  I’ve learned a lot about living from this fear of dying and I know in my heart, that my mother was giving me her love and assurance all along. I see it now and I can look back without staring, without blame.   I can forgive myself for some of those crazies and  breathe a little more deeply.