I’ve been putting this off – too personal, too close. Then again, I committed to Real & True when I started this blog: uncensored, straight from the heart. So, this is about life without Mum, about grieving, and about the concept of home.
Grieving is such a weird process. The poet John Roedel likens it to a ninja that leaps out at you when you least expect it and that’s pretty much how I experience it, too. Mum died some nine months ago. She was the centre of our family, the sun around which we all orbited. She was that even for me, despite us being at odds with one another for most of my life. I remember wondering how I would feel when she died. I expected a kind of disorientation, a deep sadness. I thought I would feel guilty about all the times we’d clashed, about our inability to have a close, easy mother/daughter relationship although we made up a lot of ground during her final years. What I didn’t expect was such a profound feeling of homelessness. Throughout all these years she was my home, the sanctuary I could always return to, no questions asked. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t realize this until she was no longer there.
The raw pain that followed the initial protective numbness became less acute after a few weeks, but then I dropped off the edge of a precipice and just kept on spiralling down. No – that sounds way too dramatic, it wasn’t dramatic at all. It was as though all the lights were dimmed, all emotion was dulled, everything was at a distance and I was drifting through a heavy grey fog that would not lift for several months. I was going through the basic motions of living, on autopilot though for all the world I probably looked and acted the same as always. The feeling that I was now homeless set in during that time.
I don’t know how to describe the utter rootlessness I felt, the absence of that central point of reference without which I had no parameters to navigate by. I was consumed by the thought that one day we would inflict this suffering on our own children and try as we might, we could not prevent it. Everything had shifted. I would drive along the roads of my childhood, now my home turf again after decades of living abroad, and I felt a devastation that left me hollowed out. Everything was so familiar and yet so alien. To get to the shops I had to drive past the care home where Mum spent the last few months of her life and I ‘saw’ her at the window, looking out for me, waving at me: a knife through my heart, every time. I remember waking up in tears every morning, I remember stumbling about at home for days on end, unable to get it together to talk to anyone or step out into the world or even get dressed. I didn’t fight it. I simply didn’t have the energy.
Thankfully, this distressing state of suspension finally eased off a short while ago. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t even looked towards Mum’s window when I passed the care home and I felt like a traitor: how could I not remember? Why didn’t I hurt as I used to? Guilt and relief jostling for centre stage…
I think I’ve finally started to accept what-is. Mum has left her body, she’s back to being pure energy, spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it. I feel her presence often, I can talk to her now in ways I never could during her physical life, she can talk to me in ways she couldn’t before either. But she is no longer ‘here’, no longer the tangible centre of our family.
What that tells me is that I need to be centred in myself – my true home cannot be a place or another person. People move on. Places, buildings, the house we now live in as well as Mum’s house where we all grew up, they will likely outlast us, but they don’t belong to us; we don’t belong to them. We borrow them for a while, we park our stuff in them, rest up, feel safe and recharge in them. But one day we will leave. We’ll die or move away. We are temporary in this life. Trying to hold on to what-was creates suffering. Nothing else. Only suffering.
When we remember without clinging, when we accept the temporariness of everyone and everything, we can allow pain and grief to rage through us for a time, and then we can allow pain and grief to ebb away, softly and gently, and come to visit just once in a while without dominating our lives forever more. We can allow ourselves, our lives, to become enriched by the gift of having known, enriched by the many memories now encoded in our soul.
Mum, no longer here in physical form, is part of me in ways I could not have comprehended before. She is part of what made me who I am now. What hurts is all-that-was still engraved on my mind, the habit of knowing her in our family home, seeing her bustling about in her kitchen, her smile when something delighted her, her voice on the phone… Those are the memories that punch me in the gut unexpectedly, leaping out at me like John Roedel’s ninjas. Maybe in time I’ll get used to them.
Here’s what it’s like right now: I am exhausted. Physically, mentally and emotionally. I think I need to let go and trust the process of grieving and healing, trust that in due course I will know that I am indeed my own sanctuary, my own centre, my own lodestar.
We all need that. We all want that. We all are that.