My mother passed away on December 20, 2017 (about 4 ½ months ago), and this Sunday, May 13, 2018, will be my first Mother’s Day without her. For this holiday, my sister and I plan to return to Delaware, where she lived the final years of her life, in an effort to continue our healing journey and process this loss.
Film still from Angel Snow Geese, A rare snow geese migration that I filmed the day after my mother’s passing, as my sister and I were driving to take care of her arrangements.
Loss is a strange thing, and as I have discussed in some of my previous posts, ART AND HEALING and DEATH AND SANCTUARY, I find the process of death and loss quite fascinating and beautiful. As I check in with myself today, in this moment, with regards to my feelings about the loss of my mother, I feel kind of the same way I felt after my first and only significant break-up from a long-term relationship. On the outside, and in the front of my mind, in my day-to-day existence, I feel seemingly nothing. I am not struggling through my days with emotional difficulty, and I do not feel as though I am actively mourning. Similarly, after my break-up, in the months following, I felt “fine”. Of course I was not fine, and several months later I found myself in the emergency room, but that is another story [you can read about it HERE if you are curious].
I admit that for the first few weeks after my mother’s death, I did experience bouts of anger and other explosive emotions, which I of course attributed to her loss, but those explosions have since passed. And yet, as I move through my days, feeling not much of anything in relation to her, I find that I have been getting triggered by small things.
An advertisement for John & Kira’s chocolate company (wow, they are delicious, and local!) that came through my work email
This image caught me off guard and I felt a brief and subtle sting of sadness and pain as I noticed this advertisement, felt the pang, and then moved on with my day. Then, as I was walking through a grocery store parking lot several days ago, I saw an elderly woman sitting in the passenger side of a car with a younger woman in the driver’s seat. They appeared to be a mother and daughter, and the mother, the elderly woman, looked about the same age as my mother when she passed. Her eyes were closed, she had a peaceful but also somewhat strained kind of smile on her face, and her skin was shiny but also worn with age. The sunlight was grazing her face in an almost angelic way. Passing by this scene stung me as well, as I again, moved on with my day and entered the grocery store.
I also feel sadness about her, at times simply looking up at a bright blue sky, or a sky with clouds, or a sky filled with birds. I do not really know why, I just do.
I compare these feelings to the agony, anguish, and utterly debilitating crying fit I experienced over the loss of a man I was infatuated with. It is strange but those romantic tears flowed freely and passionately, even though that relationship was based on unhealthy attachment and obsession. The loss was processed, tears flowed for a time, and then I was free. The healing journey was rather brief, as the emotions involved within this relationship were not necessarily based on love, but rather something a bit more superficial—even though it felt like love at the time!
[Below are four collages I created during this period of infatuated loss. I took the photographs of myself WHILE I was experiencing my emotional hysteria and assembled the collages shortly after. Oh the angst-ridden drama of empty romance!]
But experiencing the loss of something as deep and meaningful as a five-year relationship, or the loss of a parent, feels entirely different from any other kind of loss in life. This grieving process, like love, is so deep that it almost feels like nothing. If you think of the people you love most in your life, right now, how do you feel? By the way, I am talking about the people who know you completely, who you communicate with regularly and effortlessly, who have seen you at your worst, who annoy you, who challenge you, and who you would most likely consider taking a bullet for. When I think of those people in my life, I don’t necessarily feel my heart surge with a wave of overwhelming love. Instead, I might think of the conversation I just had with them. Or I might wonder what they are doing right now. And yet, there is something underneath all of it if I get very quiet with myself and truly tap into my feelings. The love that is there is quite powerful and can actually overwhelm the body and mind. And if I get even quieter with myself, and pay close attention to my body, I feel a heaviness in my chest when I think of these very important people. Those relationships and that kind of love resides within the HEART CHAKRA, and the emotions connected to those people are as deep as the soul allows.
Processing the loss of a long-term relationship, or the loss of a parent, is serious business. The heart chakra is where it all happens and where it all heals. And if I have learned anything about the heart, I have learned that it is gentle. The heart’s process is delicate. The heart is patient. The heart does not scream, shout, or carry on. The heart feels. The heart connects. The heart opens, and the heart closes. The heart rises above. The heart is kind. The heart is infused with innocence. The heart is natural. The heart can be broken, but knows how to put itself back together again. The heart is wise and should be honored. The heart does not care about being cool, but instead chooses warmth. The heart speaks clearly, but in whispers. The heart moves. The heart is mysterious.
A halved chestnut that my sister found as we were walking together in my favorite Wyomissing Parkland
It has been over ten years since my long-term relationship ended, and sometimes, out of nowhere, maybe as I’m brushing my teeth, I start to cry thinking about it. Not necessarily the relationship itself or the actual person, but perhaps the loss of both. That is my heart, still processing the loss. The heart takes its time and takes as long as it needs. It gives me as long as I need to be ready to feel the feelings. And in a moment of softness, it releases a bit more. It loosens its grip on sadness and allows love to replace it.
I imagine my process with my mother is the same kind of thing. This is not something one recovers from easily, regardless of the nature of the relationship—my relationship with my mother was downright difficult, at times frightening, tumultuous, painful, and everything in between, even though I was fortunate enough to reach a place of genuine and lovely forgiveness and peace with her, years earlier. I do not put pressure on myself to feel any particular way and I always honor the feelings that do come up, when they come up, even if they arise at strange times that catch me off guard. Loss is difficult, but it does not have to be a negative thing. It does not have to be something we try to escape or avoid. It hurts, but it is also what makes us feel more alive. Fear does the same. Both can be used as tools to grow and to reach new heights of love.
Blessings to all mothers of the world. We all came from one. We all literally came out of one. Relationships with mothers can be complicated, unpleasant, distant, non-existent, dysfunctional, glorious, amazing, and all other shades of pink. No matter the nature of our relationship with our mother, remember that 50% of who we are comes from her, whether we like it or not. So as we honor our mothers this holiday, we honor ourselves as well.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Mother and daughter (ca. 1996-ish?). Our first reunion after a year of separation, as her addiction took her into the depths of an abusive relationship/situation. She was hospitalized multiple times and her last hospitalization nearly ended her life. The doctors were all certain she would not survive. She was so severely injured that she had to learn to walk and talk all over again. Her body and health never actually fully recovered, but who knew that she would go on to live another 20 years, getting into all kinds of mischief! I love you Mommy and thank you for holding on for another two decades. xo
Visit my YouTube page to watch time lapse videos of the creation of my series of DEATH COLLAGE mixed media works on paper. I began creating these collages shortly after my mother passed and will continue to upload new videos, as this is an ongoing project.