an open letter to my mother
this is two really heady postings in a day. i'm taking the weekend off.
blackness. utter blackness found me as i rocked fetally in the corner, on the cold hardwood floor that february night.
rocking, rocking. alone in blackness. perhaps a metaphor for my future, i wondered? blackness. aloneness. isolation. fear. nowhere to go.
because of cancer. angry cells gnashing and clawing at what little health lived in you. mutations eating you from the inside out. tumours spongeing up your blood, leaving you in the throes of anemia, a wasted, pallid mockery of the beauty you once had been.
the prognosis? grim. rare, they said. aggressive. “mysterious.”
“a rare, mysterious killer,” as if that somehow made my fear more palateable.
“we’ve done what we could,” he told me. the liar. the fucking rat bastard. what they did was break the tumour, dropping the grapefruit-sized mass on your ribcage. they spilled the cancer’s seed back into your fertile belly.
it burst. it spilled. it took hold. you produced a harvest of cancer. a veritable bounty. a cancer crop.
you succumbed to a web of tumours so large, so intrusive, that they obstructed and shut down every major internal organ.
but the rat bastard never told me he dropped the ball, and with it, what little chance you had at life. no, i had to wait as my rage consumed me, drinking myself into increasing stupors nightly. months later, i learnt the truth: butterfingers.
i sunk to new lows. cavernous lows. sub-terranean.
i drank more after that. filled with fucking hatred for a medical system that almost works. for doctors working too long of shifts, having too shaky hands. for that slip of the finger.
i gulped through a nightly bottle of red through much of that first year, lost in a whirlwind of that angst and hatred.
my future held blackness.
i’d been down so long, with love, at the bank, and now this, the threat of being rudderless. a daughter without a mother.
and six years have passed in the longest time of my life, in a heartbeat, in a haze. i don’t know where those years have gone, but i’m stunned at all they encapsulate.
and i’m so glad to be on this side of it now. my god, the changes i have seen, the depths i have gained.
i don’t expect this grief to ever leave me, and truth be told, i hope it never does. knowing what i’ve lost keeps me tethered to what remains. keeps me holding on to that which i still have.
and what i still have are the lessons you taught me. the woman you were. the woman i should become. that i have become. and the bounties it all brings.
in your dying days, a clarity of values found you. you realized what you had squandered, that you played the game well finally, but far too late in the game. how great this gift of life is, how important dreams and desires are, and since your death, i have striven to hold those values as my own.
but this year, this time, your death day is different. this time, it comes after the steepest, sharpest incline of growth i've ever had. brushing with death and dreaming of greatness, this past year has been the year that has finally given me a sense of self like none i’ve ever known.
that sense that you yourself only obtained within months of your death. the sense of self i only gained from escaping mine.
there’s a strangeness to my grief this year. i have imagined you on a payphone in heaven, in a cloud of whiteness, beaming with a proud smile as we talk of my small accomplishments, of the dreams taking shape before me, and a warmness fills me.
then i open my eyes and the flatness, emptiness, this strange new normal returns.
but that’s just another part of me now, a part i sometimes embrace, when the time is right.
come 4:14 a.m. tonight, it’ll have been six years.
six years since i awoke with a shot in the dark, confused why i was sitting up in the night with this sudden unavoidable sense that all the good in the world had been snuffed in an instant.
six years since my door cracked open and your neice entered to find me awake, a faint stream of light pouring in the door, hitting me in the eyes.
“steffani...” she started, tears in her eyes.
and then i knew what had been snuffed. across town, in a hospital, you wheezed your last breath and expired the moment before i awoke.
devastated, i was consoled by one thing -- even in death, we remained tangibly linked.
and no matter how alone i ever feel, that stays with me, that mysterious bond that keeps you in me.
like that moment during your memorial in that rented space on jericho hill, as the clouds broke, the sun began to shine, and the reverend said, “i’m sure shirley jean left this life thankful --” when a gusty wind crashed a window open and roared into the service, blowing copies of my eulogy across the checkered floor.
silence befell us all as just sat there for a few brief, miraculous seconds as the breeze worked the room, then quelled, remaining calm for the remainder of the service.
but we all suspected the weather had little to do with it. it was a rare moment where disbelievers suspend skepticism and, without speaking of it, everyone knows something slightly inexplicable just occured.
since then, i’ve always suspected you’ve been in my life in some capacity, though i’ve never been conscious of how.
some days, you’re a feeling. a fuzziness that hangs over me and covers me in a soft coat of contentment. a haze of easiness that leaves me impermeable to the cruel world outside.
other days, i remember the woman i lost, the mother who made me who i am, and a tsunami of sorrow engulfs me, pulling me under, leaving me turning, churning in a tidal wave of terror, alone, reaching, trying to break the surface, but choking, suspended a wall of liquid horror.
fortunately that fear seldom finds me now, but it’s still something i know will return. after all, it’s what loss is, and that i understand.
but in that loss i have found so much of myself, and i’m grateful.
for that, thank you. x