“Too often people ask why I write about melancholy
and loneliness and despondency
while I appear to be such a happy person.”
– from Either/Or: Notes From a Difficult Year by Yiyun Li
I don’t want to imply, with the opening quote and subsequent image, that we need to cue the following music.
Still, feel free to let it play while you read on:
My hospice training starts on Friday evening. We were given a little pre-meeting homework, which of course, I’m avoiding. Because isn’t that what one always does with homework?
I did, however, read the assignment. It is about drawing a chart illustrating your losses in life. So this work is utilizing two of my favourite things – art and writing. Seriously, how hard can it be?
It also asks us to consider that not all losses are as a result of death. Moving, divorce, big changes and disruptions are losses. Even some things that we consider gains can also come with their own inherent losses.
Which sent me off in another direction and back to the tears of that damned clown.
I have been told that I am an extrovert and, with my rather delicate laugh, someone who is seen as optimistic and, dare I say, fun.
Please play the next short link to hear how freaking fun I truly am.
I’ve been working on some memoir stories which has me thinking about my mother. And, in this last little while, something else happened…I was applying lipstick and I noticed myself carefully blotting my lips. I realized that this wasn’t the first time, but still, it’s pretty new behaviour. This is not my usual thing at all.
When, dear God, did I start doing this??
Because here’s the deal: it is exactly what I remember my mother doing – carefully pressing her lips into a folded square of toilet paper, and later, when we were richer, the extravagance of a genuine Kleenex.
It’s like some sort of dormant virus/memory – that I absorbed as a child – is suddenly manifesting. It kind of freaks me out. More than a little. Because what it makes me ask is this: Is becoming my mother inevitable?
Here’s what scares me about that: a while back I wrote a blog post that mentioned something about Mom. A couple of people emailed me and said they remembered her large laugh and how much fun it was to come to our house.
For the life of me, I can’t conjure up those fun times. And if this lipstick thing is the start of me becoming more like my mother? I want the happier version.
Because what I do remember is Mom crying. I remember her guilt for herself and all that she imposed on me. I remember her sad prayers. Even in the photos where she’s smiling, mostly I see her anxiety.
Yet I remember her helping so many people.
And I know she was known for her loud laugh. Obviously these people aren’t lying about their experiences.
I believe we are the sum of our stories. So why am I only remembering part of the story? Is this sad-mother narrative simply one that I’ve told myself and therefore I won’t allow any contradictory tales to mess with my storyline? I hope that’s not the case. I am trying very hard to think of her happier moments. I do not want to play out my part in this story, if I’ve got the story wrong.
Because it’s simply not possible that she, or any of us, are singing in only one key.
Certainly, I am not pretending to be happy when I’m out and about and being described as such. With me, what you see is pretty much what you get. I genuinely enjoy hanging out with (most) people.
And too, I also sing, laugh and dance when there is no one watching at all.
But I also cry. Sometimes, inadvertently, in public. Most other times, privately.
Maybe what I was witnessing, and remembering now, were simply my mother’s in-home private sadnesses. Perhaps, from a child’s perspective, seeing your mother cry holds more power than watching her laugh.
I know this for sure. With every story, there is always more than we know or can ever remember, including the story we tell about ourselves. We are a complex stew of all our moments and memories. Or, as I’m sure my homework will point out if I ever get it done – losses and gains.
I have worked hard at releasing the guilt and shame I grew up with. Instead, I want to truly embody the best parts of my mother. To that end, I’m working hard at trying to remember things clearly.
For now, I think I’ll go apply some more lipstick and say hello to my mother in the mirror.
Maybe we’ll share a private laugh at how this is all turning out.