Comforting Words: Ode to Mother

Monday, May 23, 2005

Ode to Mother

By Sonya

If this ends up coming across half as painful written as it is for me to write, just grab your tissue now.

Periodically throughout life, we are faced with situations and obstacles which, I believe, are given to us to help us understand this journey we call life. If the lesson is not learned, new obstacles will continue to present themselves until you "get it". In short -- kharma is persistent.

My relationship with my mother was not terrific. My formative years appear heavily sated with screaming matches, arguments and punishments. I never seemed to do what was expected of me. It would require a very creative argument for anyone to persuade me that my mother considered me a "good daughter."

In April of 1995, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In my shock and my 22-year old way of coping, I just minimized and sublimated the whole event. I convinced myself that it was not a big deal. Plenty of women beat this every year, and after fighting with ME so well over the past ten years, there was no doubt in my mind that she would fight and beat this one too.

She did. My mother underwent surgery; chemotherapy and the cancer "went away" for seven years. She kept taking shark cartilage, which the herbalists were starting to view as beneficial to keep cancer at bay.

On April Fools' Day 2002, while still teaching in South Korea, my telephone rang at 8 a.m. It was the call that every expatriate dreads. My brother-in-law was on the line and I could hear him saying that my mother was taken to the hospital. Due to the time difference, it was 5 p.m. Sunday in Canada and he suggested I take the next available flight home. I cried for what felt like ten minutes, packed my bags and headed for the airport.

It was her liver this time. I will spare you the details -- she was gone in a week.

Again, I sublimated and ignored the feelings that threatened to overcome me. I had a job to do -- make sure Dad was okay, get the necessary paperwork and clothing organized and quickly get back on the plane to 'my life'. Two weeks later, I was back in Korea.

Periodically, things would creep up. About six months later, I came home from work one evening in uncontrollable tears, unable to comprehend how I was supposed to manage to hand in my university paper on time, work full-time and keep up with the housework. I was paralyzed by the simple thought: "SHE was able to do this juggling act, what is wrong with me?"

Luckily, a friend came over to calm me down and she also did my dishes. However, I still had not learned what the experience was trying to teach me. I guess my mother’s passing still was not "real" enough.

This past March, in a routine examination my doctor found an anomaly in my left breast. After several visits to specialists, ultrasounds AND mammograms, the final diagnosis (luckily) was that it was nothing. We had just over-reacted to something that just "comes standard on this model."

With this health scare still fresh in my mind, I observed what would have been my mother’s 60th birthday on May 1, 2005. Actually, that weekend was one I experienced as movement and changes, in that my flat-mate was moving out and my partner was moving in to the apartment.

It was also a weekend when everyone noticed and remarked that I was snappy and short-tempered all the time. Trying to explain what was going on, we all chalked it up to the stress of the move.

A week later, however, my mood had not improved. I continued my short fuse all week and my students felt the brunt of it. It is entirely possible that I dealt out more detentions in that one-week than I had in the entire previous term.

By the following weekend, we were still unpacking boxes, re-arranging furniture, finding places and spaces for things, shuffling and fitting my partner "physically" into what is now "our" home. Again, my snippiness and short fuse were "excused" by the disaster zone that my apartment had become.

As we could not find the kitchen, on Sunday evening we joined friends for dinner at a local restaurant. The service was slow, the waiter was short with us but the food was good. Just before we left, he apologized, saying he was short-staffed and heavily over-worked, it being Mother's Day and all.

In that moment, it hit me! Right there, in the crowded restaurant, the past two weeks finally made sense. What an epiphany! The frustration, inexplicable sadness, anger and complete impatience suddenly all made sense. One great big "a-ha" moment SWATTED me over the head.

On the way home, I apologized to my partner and explained what I now understood to be the cause of my moods. She cried for me. Her patience and love really are a blessing. I was grieving my mother.

For what it is worth, the processing and grieving is still not done. More time has passed and I am still feeling ill at ease and walking on eggshells. The only improvement is my mindfulness. However, simply being aware of my current temporary fragility and being proactive to cope with it has made a difference.

I do not know how long it will take but I do have to grieve, allow myself to feel and address the issues brought up by my grief. This is difficult to do, largely because I have had a lifetime to perfect the habit of avoiding emotions.

This experience is teaching me that I cannot do that anymore -- the emotions have their ways of finding you. To tell you the truth, I am not sure I have the strength but my hope is that with the help, patience and love of my partner I will have at last be able to be at peace with my mother and the woman that I am.

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