Sunday, February 12, 2012

Motherless? Never.

In the tiny black and white photo I keep in my mom's old jewelry box, Richard looks like a short Peter Sellers. Richard was a small man, my grandma confirms, smart as a whip and capable of handling any task, from cleaning a dove he'd shot to arguing both sides of a political issue at a party.

Peter Sellers, my grandpa's doppelganger
You could say my mom was fatherless at a young age. Richard, her father, died when she was ten. You could say I was motherless at a relatively young age, too. By the time I was 19, I knew my mom wouldn't be around to celebrate my buying my first home or being granted tenure. You could say that these things are tragedies.

It ain't easy when we experience losses that go against "the natural order." The death of a child or the loss of a parent at a young age is not a walk in the park. Recently, I had to put my 14 year-old cat, Lily, to sleep. Although my mom initially rebelled against my idea of bringing this white cat home ("Think of all the white hair over your purple furniture!), she immediately fell in love. When I went on trips around the world, Lily would curl up with her foster mother. When I had to surrender that cat's life, it felt like I was cutting yet another string that connected me to my mother.

But is it really true that those who have lost parents are really motherless, fatherless? What does it mean when a parent dies?

I had dinner and a lovely walk with a friend of my mom's recently. As the sun began to set, the frogs by the river started croaking their rusty evening songs. We talked about getting older, teaching, and raising children (this includes pets, of course :-).

That night, I had one of those "Oh, now I get it!" dreams that shed light on one of those issues that has held you captive for years. In the dream, I was sitting at my grandmother's counter top, looking at the spot on the stove where my grandma usually stood as my brother and I ate our dinners. Instead of my grandma in the kitchen, though, it was Richard, the grandfather I never knew except for memories told and retold by my mother and grandmother, tied to the tiny black and white photo.

"It's OK your grandma got remarried," Richard said. From his quiet and sweet demeanor, I knew who he was immediately. "I'm glad she had a stepfather, someone to take care of her and give her brothers and a sister. And I'm glad you had a grandfather."

I awoke from the dream stunned. I am careful to write down dreams that seem like they might have something to offer, and I hastily jotted it down.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a mother, to be mothered. I think I've been working these past few years to understand that I'm OK without a mother. I'm trying to accept that it's OK that I've found ways to be mothered--and to mother--even without her lovely presence. I think one of the hardest parts about the healing process after someone dies is to begin to be alright with the fact that you're going to get that love elsewhere. But I don't think we should worry about that. The human heart is vast enough to preserve a space for those we've lost while making room for new opportunities for love.

So when a female friend pays for my glass of white wine and cheeseburger after an evening of laughter and tears, or when another friend envelops me in a random embrace after noticing my long face, I accept it: I'm still being mothered.


feralchick said...

Love. :)

La said...

whoa. how did i miss this post? we find more things in common as we age, don't we? one day we shall have that tea w C and talk to our hearts' content.

strong piece, thanks for sharing.

Anne said...

"The human heart is vast enough to preserve a space for those we've lost while making room for new opportunities for love."

-- Beautiful. I love your writing.

BikramYoginiRunner said...

This is beautiful, Elisa!

Marilee said...

I miss her, too, but I know she would be so glad to know you are feeling mothered. I'm sure it's what she expected.

Martina said...

That was amazing, you are amazing.