For you, the dress code is casual.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

All the Leaves are Brown, and the Sky isn't Grey

There's the smell of woodsmoke wafting into my bedroom. A sign the fall is upon us, despite the uncharacteristically sunny days Vancouver is experiencing as we head into -- wait for it -- an actual weekend, and in late October, no less. Sunshine is expected until Tuesday. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Or a Hobgoblin or something.

I just finished watching Grey's Anatomy. It ended with Meredith Grey finally deciding to dispose of her mother's ashes... letting them rinse from her hands under the showerheads in the O.R., just like her world-class, heartless surgeon mother would probably want, since she believed in nothing of an afterlife, nor of any religion.

I've been thinking of my mother a lot lately, and I don't really know what's predicated such thoughts, but there it is. There they are. Often.

Me, I let her ashes fall from the cardboard box we put her in, since she demanded we not spend "senseless" money on an urn -- "an overpriced vase", she said. So, there I was, on a sailboat whose name escapes me, out on the water on the Sunshine Coast, letting her ashes be carried by the breeze, when an errant gust blew up and instead sprayed her remains onto me.

Moral of the story: Never, ever wear suntan lotion when you're disposing of a loved one's ashes at sea. What can I say? It was a sunny, hot August day, and I felt sunscreen was called for. Oopsies. Oopsoes squared, really.

But her ashes not only landed on me, they stuck to me. I was forced to scrub her off with towels, then shower her off later. Until you've had the experience of knowing that your mother's ashes stuck to you are the closest you'll ever be tp her again again, you can't imagine what a morbidly amusing yet unbelievably torn moment that is. It's, honestly, the original "damned if you do, but certainly damned if you don't" moment.

Mom's wishes were to be scattered at sea via a sailboat. Not some testosterone-charged powerboat, or any piddly rowboat. It had to be a sailboat. And that's what we did. The winds showed up, naturally. Everyone aboard was drinking red wine, which my mother would have approved of on shore, but would have railed against on the seas... drinking and boating was irresponsible, she thought. She was nothing if not a very, very responsible captain of the sailing seas.

Those ruling the boat lost control of it more than once. The hat my Uncle Joe wore, that he'd worn for three decades of boating, blew off in a gust of wind. Every time we circled back and thought we had the hat saved, a sudden gust of wind would prevent us from rescuing it. Not once, not twice, but THREE times. And then, in an instant, this weird little whirlpool swept up and sucked that hat under. It was never seen again.

Also, every single one of us spilled wine on us. We all thought "she" was speaking to us from the grave and admonishing us for failing to adhere to safe sailing, and also for taking the cheater's way out, breaking the law, and scattering her ashes "too close" to shore, according to the law books. She was law-abiding to a fault. She never once cheated on her taxes until she was completely bankrupt in the year before her death, and then only as a matter of necessity. Lying was for liars, she'd say.

Our struggles onboard when merely trying to carry out her complicated wishes makes me laugh today. Made me laugh then, too. She was stout-hearted and never took the easy way out on confrontation, not that I recall. I liked it, honestly. I liked that it seemed she spoke from "the beyond".

She seemed to do that at the funeral, too. When I finished her eulogy, the windows in the room blew open and a massive gush of wind rushed in and filled the hall, sweeping everyone up in silence, and before we knew it, the wind was gone and all was once again silent. Kind of like a cosmic "I hear ya, and I bid thee farewell." The rest of the day was calm. I know, because my brother and I took a litre of wine and some glasses to the beach and hung with a friend of the family as the three of us got light-headed staring at the thing my mother loved more than life itself, the ocean. Never once did the wind blow. No, it was dead calm. Dead. Calm.

Every now and then I wish she was "normal" and had a grave, a place I could go and lie stooped against as I drown my losses in a good red wine, but she doesn't. She has the ocean. The ocean is my mother. What little, or rather what lot, is left of her. I sometimes go there, and the winds are like she's there with me. But I haven't gone there much in the last year. Not much at all. One of the last real times I spent on the ocean was February 21, 2006, her birthday, when I quit my job, thinking it was what I was "supposed" to do. I snapped a shot of the sunset, thinking it boded well for my future. (That photo is included here.)

How wrong I was. Sure, in some ways it was the right thing to do. I've gone through some real heady, trying experiences in the year and a half since. But I'm past that now. I've come full circle. I've done my hamster-in-a-wheel trick of trying so hard to get everywhere but honestly going nowhere, and now I'm back where I should've been all along. How much I have grown, though. And how much I believe in myself. How much I know what it is I can endure, and better yet, surpass, in all the days that lie before me. Had I the choice to do it all over again... well... against my better judgment, I'd probably do exactly what I did. I like the woman I am today versus the girl I was 19 months ago.

But the urge to visit with Mom is stronger than it's been in a long while. I'll not go to the Sunshine Coast and sit upon her bench there, though. I'll hike down to the ocean on Saturday, a lesser-travelled route where I can be sure of some escape from the madding crowds, and a little eery silence with which to spend some quality time with all that I've lost, and all that I've gained.

I like fighting the good fight. I like, better yet, knowing I've fought it and have come through, perhaps not unscathed, but come through nonetheless. Life shouldn't be easy. It shouldn't be without its challenges. It should be ripe with loss and love and trials and triumph. It should have all of those things, or it's nothing what life should be. Not the life of champions. Not the life of me. Me, I've lived the well-rounded life, and I don't mind it one bit. I'm ready to receive more of the same, but the different would also hit the spot.

Yeah, I'm thinking lots of Mom of late, but not in too bad a way. I figure wherever she is, she's well into her wine and cheese and crackers, and a snicker dances upon her lips as she amuses herself with my unnecessary struggles of late and the sudden calm I've happened upon. She, too, enjoyed a challenge, but she also enjoyed, like me, living to see the other side. And, if one of us had to do the living, I'm sure she would've chosen me.

The following is a poem I found in the month or two after her death, flipping through a poetry book on grieving. I typed it up, printed it, framed it, and it's been in my home these last eight years, and I suspect I shall have it around for the remainder of my days. I know my mother would have loved it, and if I can feel it has been true at the end of my life, then I will have lived a life to be proud of. It's from Horace's Odes.
Happy the man and happy he alone
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed in spite of fate are mine.
Not heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been has been, and I have had my hour.
What else can I say? Some days I miss my mother, and some days I feel she's never really left me. Today, strangely enough, feels like the latter, and I really couldn't be happier. Here's to Horace and his Odes. Couldn't have said it better, but the Lord knows I've tried.