To paint a picture of bliss between my mother and I, would be totally telling a lie, but so much has become clearer since her passing last November.
It was my 52nd birthday on Tuesday. For the most part, I spent the day with my husband. There were no friends, no busyness and no ‘clutter’ in my day. In the evening, we met with three of our children, their significant others, and our granddaughter, for the loveliest dinner. As I sat at the table, the banter of conversation going on around me, I was overcome with love and deep emotion. Joy was paramount in that myriad of feelings, swirling around my heart. My husband and I, have worked so darn hard, to make these two, separate families, become one, united, not-so-perfect, but hugely functional unit.
Earlier in the day, I had much time to reflect on the fact that this was the first birthday ever in my life, that my mother wasn’t alive. She hadn’t always lived close to me, so we didn’t always spend time together on my birthday, but every morning up to and including my 50th birthday, she would always give me a call and sing “Happy birthday” to me. As a child, I grew up with three younger siblings, and for as long as I can remember, whilst living in our parental home, she would sing each of us awake on our birthdays.
So on Tuesday, I missed her call. Last year, she was living with me in my home on my birthday. She was in the darkest of places in her mind, which was ravaged by Alzheimer’s. The progression of this disease was rapid. My father, unable to cope any longer with her care on his own, reached out to us for help. She came to live with me in July 2018, and passed away on the 15th November, so on the 22nd October, there was no recognition, on her part, of who I was. I never celebrated my birthday last year at all. We did the obligatory dinner with my family, but my heart wasn’t feeling it.
To give you a little perspective, I had always had ‘birth weeks’ in the past. I would celebrate with different friends and family over a week-long period. Why? That’s the question I now ask myself. Did I feel unseen, unheard, and my birthday was my way of drawing attention to myself? I think, in part, that was true. For a brief period of the year, it could be about me.
Today, this could not be further from the truth of my life. Last year, no celebrations, besides with my immediate family. Did I feel less loved? Not at all. I was so busy taking care of my mother, that spending time on myself, was the furthest thing from my mind. And yet, through it all, in giving so much of myself, in loving her, I experienced the most peace. Yes, it was a difficult time. To deny that, would be foolish and inauthentic. But one clear observation for me, is that I deeply value, honour and love myself. So much so, that I no longer ‘need’ that from others. This is not to say I won’t ever celebrate my birthday with friends. The day this post goes live, I’m having some girlfriends around for dinner and drinks. But each one of them, has become so meaningful to me, and I’ve selected just a few, uncomplicated friends, to spend the evening with.
So this year, there was much time, in the quiet of my birthday, to reflect upon the first of my birthdays, without my mother’s presence. Something I was acutely aware of, was that her fragrance lingers in this family always. I woke up to two of my children, singing me “Happy Birthday” in bed. It was a sweet reminder that my mother’s traditions, live on in this family. She had taught me something, and I had in turn, passed it along to my children, and when my precious little granddaughter awoke, she too proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” to me! She’s not yet three! What a beautiful and tangible remnant of my mother’s heart, that continues to live on, despite her passing.
Upon reflecting, I realised that no matter the absence of her physical presence, the essence of who she was, who she is, envelops us and permeates our being, with such sweetness and powerful love. Her gentleness, her fierce love, her strength, her wisdom, her innocence, her simplicity, her uncomplicated self… It all lives on. Even as I write this, intense awareness of her ever-present, forgiving heart, is so palpable. She did not have an easy life, but still she chose to always love. Many times, I didn’t understand her. I was results driven and always needed to know what the next step in life was going to be. Her seeming inertia, was a source of immense frustration to me… until, I am learning that she knew how to allow things to be. She never told me what to do. She shared her opinions gently, and sometimes, those opinions were STRONG! But she never assumed that anyone should take her advice. I am learning, that what I perceived as weakness, was actually a relentless core of inner strength. Her life wasn’t easy, but few knew of her struggles. I can now look back on what she taught me. I am ready to learn and adopt some of her ways, her inner characteristics, her deep sense of self. Qualities I had once deemed pathetic, I’m now beginning to admire. She indeed depicted the expression, “Still waters run deep.”