Mothers, hug your sons!
Then place your hand on his face and look him in the eyes and tell him you love him, and how proud you are of the person he is. Not what he has done, but who he is. Acceptance. Support. Gifts beyond price.
When will I stop listening for the gunshot on March 19? When will I be able to leave the house without asking myself, if I’d stayed home that day would he still be alive? If I’d just told him I love you that morning would it have been enough to tip the balance? Why did I hesitate that day when I so often added those words? When will I relinquish the magical thought that doing it differently this year would bring about a different outcome, and he’d re-emerge from his other dimension and join ours again? When will I be able to drive away from the house on March 19 without thinking I was causing his death over again, abandoning him again, complying with the script of history instead of fighting it, re-writing it, recreating it?
Like a late night re-run the morning passes and everything is old and familiar and predictable; I know the words and the actions, the schedule. And now he is heading to class. And now he is handing in his last paper. He’ll get an A. And now he’s returning home unexpectedly, instead of going to his on-campus job. And now he is gently taking down the family portrait from the kitchen wall and placing it in his back pack. He will be adding his gun to that bag soon. A gun we didn’t know he had, didn’t want to know. A gun he kept hidden from us but legal, documented, following all the rules of safety. And now he is driving to the lakefront and choosing his location. He will lie down on the levee in view of the water, out of site of the houses. He will listen to the water and the birds one last time. He will breathe in the smell of spring grass and dust, oyster shells and fish. He will turn his face to the sun and feel the warmth, closing his eyes to savor the last moments of life. Then he will turn his right shoulder towards the ground and with his right hand pressing his gun against his heart he will squeeze the trigger and muffle the shot with his body, not wanting anyone to see his wound if they walked by.
A neighbor will hear the shot and call her friend who lives across the street from us. I think someone just shot himself on the levee near my house. I’ve called the police. I wonder who it is. And soon afterwards our neighbor will see a car pull up in front of our house and two plain clothes policemen will walk up the path to our door. Mal will be doing the dishes. I will answer the door. Does Malcolm villarrubia live here? My husband or my son? Your son. When was the last time you saw your son? Do you have id? Mal it’s the police asking about Malcolm.
They’ll come in then and we’ll sit down at the kitchen table. Is Malcolm in trouble? Ma’am your son is dead…we found his body…
And the air will be sucked out of the room and someone will be screaming I don’t understand over and over but in a soft voice – the screaming going on inside her head. Then the script will take over and we will be actors in a drama we would never audition for, and cannot remember the words to. But somehow we will move from one scene to the next, lip syncing while someone speaks our lines for us and someone else rearranges the set. Now the funeral parlor, now the house again, and then the chapel at Jesuit and someone is lowered into the ground.
I wish the play were over and we could go back to normal but someone is asking me to move closer. I don’t want to move closer I don’t like burials. Is this someone we know well, everybody here looks familiar. And then there is a party at our house. Where’s Malcolm, he should be here if we’re having a party? Why is James in town shouldn’t he be at school? Then everyone leaves and the play seems to be over but no one has told us how to exit. We are left on stage with the empty theatre and echoes of the last scene. What do we do now? I don’t know. Do we sleep? How can we sleep? It’s not our life any more it’s a play. Do we exist between the scenes – an R and G question? Will someone enter soon and give us our cues? And the floorboards in the darkened theatre creak in sympathetic tones as the lights slowly dim.
I feel like I am in an emotional loop, moving from funerals to anniversaries to funerals to Mothers Day to Birthdays, Deathdays … maybe it is time to set the calendar aside or maybe it is time to mark different kinds of events. I don’t know. I just feel stretched thin, emotionally translucent, yet somehow numb.
Today is Malcolm’s Birthday. He would have been 30. I like to imagine what he would have been doing, where he would have been living. Maybe teaching, with photography on the side. Maybe living in a cottage in Old Jefferson and coming over for Sunday lunch and leftovers to bring home. I like this fantasy. It warms my heart.
Pain abhors words
thinks them trite
Pain gnaws at your bones
causing you to fade
from lack of substance
But over time
(it’s true what they say)
Anger enters then
the proffered hand of Grief
And at long last – weeps
My Declaration, Tom Baxter
Gonna be someone, gonna give something,
I’m taking it on, I’m taking it on,
It’s gonna be my life, so I’m gonna live each day and each night,
Taking it on, I’m taking it on
’cause I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep running away
So I’m gonna be stronger, I’m gonna be better made, I’m gonna give everything,
Just to bring me back again.
I’m gonna be a braver soul than this,
I’m gonna jump at all those many chances that I’ve missed,
I’m gonna live my life beyond these fears and forms of cowardice that keep leading me on.
I’m gonna shine out like a beacon in the night,
I’m gonna wrap my fingers round the stars tonight,
’cause I’m taking it on, ’cause I’m taking it on…
I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep running away
So I’m gonna be stronger, I’m gonna be better made, I’m gonna give everything,
Just to bring me back again.
So I’m gonna be stronger, I’m gonna be understood and I’m gonna give everything
Just to bring me back again!
So I’m gonna be stronger and I’m gonna be better made, I’m gonna give everything,
Just to bring me back again…
’cause I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep hiding, I can’t keep running away.
My mother never knew about the death of her grandson; in 2007 when he died she was fighting for her own life. Later, when she pulled through, it seemed unnecessarily cruel to burden her with a reality she need never have to face. After all, he lived across the ocean. But now I wonder, does she know? Are they together and getting to know each other?
At this unavoidably religious time of year, the faith of my childhood is easily stirred: images of mothers and infants are ubiquitous and the refrains of traditional Carols drift through the background of my thoughts. I have always loved singing Christmas Carols, not the American Christmas kitsch of Rudolf and Frosty but ”The Coventry Carol” and “In the bleak mid-winter.” When singing Carols I don’t hold back, I sing loud and harmonize freely. My boys used to be a little embarrassed but then James starting enjoying the harmonizing fun himself. It’s good for those around me that I have a decent voice, but I’m not sure tone-deafness would stop me. Then again, maybe it’s just the no holds barred sing along that I enjoy.
In Ireland on the night of my mother’s funeral, the entire family group walked into the small town and, with permission from the owner who knew my Dad’s family well, took over the front bar and had a great musical evening. Starting with Irish drinking songs we easily moved to more contemporary fare and even some original songs. It was wondrous, joyous and something I didn’t realise I missed so much.
Maybe I need to look up that Carolling event this evening in town.
It goes without saying: to love is to lose; to live is to die. Life is just that – love and loss. If we dare to love, we will feel like dying when we lose our beloved. The only question about love and death is: Who will go first? I joke with my husband: If you go first I’ll kill you!
When my mother died a few weeks ago I didn’t seem to feel much. I’m catching up now! But it’s a confusion of feelings: sadness as intense as anger. Yesterday I learned how to scream. I have read about scream therapy and been advised about anger work. I have been encouraged to hit or throw or pummel something other than myself. But I have never managed to do any of this with much energy, so it felt pointless. And my attempts to scream, while driving my car and thus insulated from the hearing world, were always throaty, soprano screeches. Not so yesterday. Yesterday I tensed my chest and my throat and made an ugly, forceful, deep grrr sound. It felt good so I did it again…louder and throatier. And then I cried the rest of the way home. A barrier had been breached.
I am not sure which is worse – having sweet, loving, memories of affection and tenderness, concern and affirmation, and being overcome with grief at her passing, or having no such memories. I tell myself that my good memories are being held hostage by the bad ones I cannot recall; that perhaps as I face the bad memories the good ones will surface, too. That’s what I tell myself.
I do know that my mother cared for me in the ways in which she was capable. My mother taught herself to cook and parent as best she could. The child of upper-middle class parents, she was raised in a private boarding school from the age of about 4, and parented by nannies during vacations at home. Entering nursing school at 18, she was completely unprepared for independent living, but she could dress with taste, recite all the Catholic prayers, crochet and sew, and – of course – play tennis. She could also play piano well enough to have possibly pursued a career in music. But a high school trauma she would never explain caused her to refuse to ever touch the keys again. My mother was a woman of private pain.
My mother loved her children through her coffee cakes, butterfly scones, horseshoe biscuits. She loved them through her hand-washed laundry, not owning a washing machine until she was in her 70’s. She loved her children through her scrubbed carpets and wallpapered rooms – doing all the decorating herself. My mother loved her children by remaining faithful and committed to her husband, a loyalty that cost her the support of her own large family of 8 siblings, none of whom were represented at her funeral. None.
Now I am wondering, did I ever tell her thank you? Or did I just spend my life waiting for the signs of love that 50’s TV shows and James Stewart Christmas movies held out as tantalizing fantasy? Did she know that I noticed her care and was grateful, even though I wished there had been hugs and soft words? I have lost the opportunity to get over my childish, self-centered resentments and be an adult in relation to her. I left home at 18, too. Maybe if I had learned to be angry and to scream 38 years ago I could have had an emotional confrontation and begun an adult relationship with my mother.
Posted in family, grief, loss, Parenting, sadness, suffering
Tagged anger, depression, family, grief, Loss, Loss of a mother, love, parenting, sadness, sorrow