A Bereaved Mother. Is that how you’re going to define yourself forever? A friend asked me this. And for a long while the question bothered me. Mostly because it seemed to suggest I’d lost my self as well as my daughter. But A Bereaved Mother is not all of who I am. When my daughter died I lost my old life, and in many ways I changed. Yet I am still me. And if you ask me who or what that is, you will get only an abbreviated account of where I stand at that one moment in time.
And yes, being a mother is forever. I am a proud mother of an amazing live grown son and of a beloved daughter who died. This will always be towards the beginning of the complex outline of how I define myself.
In Ithaca New York’s cold wet winter, we lit candles and campfires, bonfires even, to herald in the New Year. At the time, I didn’t know that on the opposite side of our planet, in Australia, not too far from where I left my daughter’s ashes, there was ongoing, worsening fiery devastation. The media is now filled with images of wildfires forcing people and their pets to flee to nearby shores, houses exploding, homes and whole towns in smoldering ruins, volunteers comforting injured koalas and kangaroos… they say half a billion animals have been lost. And I don’t know how many hearts have been broken in all this. But I will never again be able to bask in the warm glow of a fire without remembering the videos of roaring flames and smoky orange skies, and people trapped on beaches, watching as winds sweep the blazes ever closer.
Friends gathering for a holiday feast arrived at my home with delectable dishes and a huge bouquet of roses. Roses in winter. Who’s getting married? I said upon seeing so much pink, although I was immediately drawn to it.
There was no Christmas tree in the house, again, this year. No Hanukah decorations. I hadn’t even bothered to light candles. At the last minute, realizing how dark the place was, I’d turned on extra lights all around. But the roses outshone even the fake fireplace. And now, days later, I’m still getting lost just gazing into the depths of those bright blossoms.
What brightens the holiday season for you?
As the sun bowed down to the longest night of the year, the Snow Queen challenged her guests to set intentions for the beginning of winter. Mine was to play more. To party. To dance. To carry on with wild abandon like my daughter did, the daughter who died.
The Snow Queen pretended to throw snowballs at me. Just to get me started.
What are your intentions for this season?
“I’m bringing over my leftover bottle of Vouvray. Also, can I pick up some chicken thighs for us to do up? They’re supposed to be healthy for you so I’ll be wanting to learn how to make magnificent thighs.”
That’s what I thought I had texted to the girlfriend I often have dinner with. Only, somehow I ended up sending the text to my carpenter (who knows us both), (who’s young and married) instead. He texted back, “Sounds good! Hehe.” Then, for the first time in years, I laughed ferociously.
The sound reminded me of my dead mother’s laugh. A hysterical high shriek that blasted out in between gasps for breath. My friend thought I was crying. And later I did cry, feeling guilty about feeling good, and missing my mother and my daughter and the days when laughing was simply a part of living.
I’m learning to laugh again. It will take some practice.
What’s out there to laugh about?
When I pulled back the curtains to see the sun rise, I thought the panes of my French door were spectacularly frosted over. Until I realized the glass was completely shattered. I have friends like that who have been through so much you kinda wonder how they can still stand without crumbling. Broken but still beautiful.