Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sorting Out/Through the Past . . .


Here's the thing.
Everything I've told you about my family and my mother over the past few weeks is true.
And so much of it is false.

Thrown back into preparing and teaching classes, meeting with students, and marking their work, writing their final exams, I keep receiving warm words of condolences from friends and colleagues, words that often include some reference to what a strong woman my mother must have been, what a wonderful mother to have raised such a family. And I realize that this is certainly the impression I've given in anything I've said and written to most, particularly since Mom's decline started in earnest two months ago. And it's even mostly true. Except. . .

So I'm pondering and sorting and weighing and marvelling.

And I clicked, haphazardly, on one of those links that Blogger kindly provides below each post, and it led me to this, written for Mother's Day 3 years ago: http://materfamiliasknits.blogspot.ca/2010/05/mothers-day-memories-and-musings.html I got closer to some of the truths that have been edited out of more recent posts -- or, at least, haven't seemed as relevant in light of bigger truths that have emerged in death's shadow . . .

That's all, for now. I'm still working through, and I may be forever, that puzzle over what's true and what's false and how so much can be both at once.

 But meanwhile, isn't this a great photograph? I'd never seen it before this week, not in my almost 60 years. . . . she's on the right, obviously, standing next to her mother, my Grandmother, who rarely smiled in photographs. Definitely smiling are her two younger brothers. They're all on an outing, in Vancouver's Stanley Park, and Mom would have been somewhere between 17 and 20, I'm guessing. . .


24 comments:

  1. I love that picture. It's sometimes so funny to see pictures of our parents in a more carefree state, as it wasn't one we often got to see. I think mother/daughter relationships are one big puzzle that we may never solve. My mom too struggled, I think, with either depression or other types of mental illness and tended to self-medicate with alcohol (and food, and recklessness). What I experienced as often abusive and erratic behavior, I attributed to antagonism on her part. But in retrospect, she probably had less control over it than I imagined at the time. Sorry, seem to have made this all about me, wasn't my intention! I think what I'm trying to say is that we continue to process these relationships, even after our mothers are no longer with us.

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    1. I read a fair bit of psychoanalytic theory (much of it feminist, post-structuralist stuff) for my dissertation years ago, but I never really got the concept of introjection or incorporation until after my Dad died and I saw how much of him was, almost literally, inside me. And now I'm doing that with my Mom, but I found her so much more troubling to have a relationship with -- as you say, that mother-daughter thing, one many of us never figure out. Part of me figures that on the brink of 60, perhaps I should let it all go; part of me is still fascinated.

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  2. Well that's it, isn't it? We are taught to speak only in the most glowing terms about those who have died. And like you, I have begun to represent members of my family as they were (they were well-known for those qualities)- not solely as the eulogies portray them. And they were loved anyway.

    Is this what you mean to say? Perhaps I have made an inaccurate inference. Loss stirs up so much.

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    1. I gave my mother's eulogy, and I included references to the difficulties my mother experienced and that she herself posed. But I worried, in doing that, that I might cause discomfort to the living in their time of loss. Turned out my family was quite accepting of that, but still, it's a tricky time to rock any boats.
      More importantly, I feel uncomfortable ever representing aspects of family life (any aspects of life/style, really) here in terms that might appear unrealistically rosy and set up standards that others feel they can't meet. Too often, we end up selecting out, for our blogs, that material which most indicates our shared humanity, shared reality.
      So yes, you got at what I meant to say, but I'm perhaps thinking a bit beyond my personal experience as well.

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  3. Ignoring the characteristics, be they good or bad, of those who have died does them a disservice, in my mind. They lived, they struggled, as we all do, to varying degrees. Sifting, sorting through memories, these are the processes of grief that take time.

    As a side note, my mother was the eldest of 10 children. She remembers her mother crying when she discovered she was expecting yet another child. I don't know what, if any, birth control was available in the 30s and 40s but she probably wouldn't have used it anyway. (Mennonite) How fortunate we are to be able to choose.

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    1. Ah yes, your mother's experience resonates! I think mine, 5th girl, 8th child, never felt particularly special, when young. As the eldest of 12 myself (2 foster sisters), I never directly connected the depression with pregnancy until I hit adulthood and looked back . . . We're fortunate indeed!

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  4. Here's the thing. Brilliant.

    Maybe this is your chance to free yourself of having to voice an image of your mother that's false.

    Or maybe I mean me. But still. xoxoxox.

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    1. It's complicated though, isn't it? See above, to Duchesse. . .

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  5. This photo is genius! I must go now to re-read your post of 3 years ago. I'm sure it will be enlightening...

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    1. Isn't it a great photo?! I was so delighted to discover it!

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  6. Just coming back after reading your post from Mothers' Day three years ago. I've left my comment there, where it seemed somehow more appropriate.

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  7. Frances, I love this post! You've captured so many of the emotions I'm feeling. Your eulogy was such a truthful portrait of Mom, I was so thankful!
    I too had never seen this picture, and as you know I'd been making a point of getting a hold of as many as I could so that I could scan them and show them to Mom enlarged on the screen. The original print of this picture was about 1 1\2 X 2 1\2. I couldn't believe it when I found this one!

    BTW I don't recall seeing the pictures from the Mother's Day posting before. I'd love to have copies of the ones with me in them.
    Leona

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    1. Leona! Didn't know you read me here, and I'm glad to know you like the post. I did wonder if some of my siblings might be relieved--thankful, to use your word-- to have that side of mom acknowledged. But I also wondered if some might be hurt or angered (not the case, I was so relieved!)
      Those pictures in the Mother's Day post were from my own camera, so you wouldn't have seen them -- I did say at one point that I should give you a copy, and will make myself act on that thought soon. xo

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  9. I read you Mother's Day post of three years ago and felt what a complex and strong woman your mother must have been. It seems that she did her best for every one of the 12 children in spite of her personal challenges. That is all that anyone can do. My father, who recently died, did not show a lot of emotion while I was growing up. He was a man and he played his hard-working father role. Only when he was in the weaker, more vulnerable state, did I have a sense of the gentle side of him. Looking at your photos now, you probably will see a lot now that you may have missed before. Your girl mother on the bike and with her brothers looks like she was fun. You saw her loving side at the end with Harriet. I guess in the middle part between girl and elderly woman, she had her happy days and her sad days. You may never understand all the pieces of the puzzle of your mother but you may understand yourself better.

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  10. Thanks for this, Madame. . . I do think she did her best, although that often left us wanting. Like your father, she allowed us to see more of her gentle side in her last years, and I'm glad we got that view. And yes, I'm truly blessed to have that beautiful moment when she was so happy to see our lovely baby. Finally, you're right that it's only understanding myself that I have a chance of now -- we never really can know another, can we?

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  11. Frances, the photo is delightful and know exactly what you mean about representing loved ones honestly. It is a tricky business, but definitely worthwhile. I'm off to read the mother's day post...

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  12. In your response to Duchesse you say that " we end up selecting out, for our blogs, that material which most indicates our shared humanity, shared reality." That, I think, is key in your current sorting process. Less-than-ideal childhoods are for many of us a shared reality. I don't think there is a woman among us who would question that the line between truth and intentions is easily blurred when we look back at our childhood. Yet respect, or reticence, often holds the editor's pen and that may not be a bad thing. As we've aged and become more knowledgeable of our shared humanity how can we not extend that same understandings to our mothers? Their realities offered fewer resources than ours...

    Your recent posts have me thinking about my own mother quite a bit lately. My mother is still living. She was - who she was - and did what she could - like many of her contemporaries. Like many of us. Sometimes it was not enough but it's done. How I view her - and our shared history - has changed over the years. Are there incidents/offerings/efforts to appreciate? Certainly. Is there grace enough in my heart to understand the gaps in her mothering? I certainly hope so.
    Your mother's day post was a fine and honestly balanced piece, so many of us can relate to it. The photos you've shared recently are wonderful. We do marvel at those glimpses of our mothers in out-of-character moments. They are good reminders that we may never know the whole story...

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    1. Thank you for this thoughtful response, Ilona. There was so much I was able to love and appreciate about my mother, and I was able to let her know that -- as she did for me -- throughout our life together. There was also, back to my teens at least, a constraint that I have puzzled and fussed and worried over. I'm so glad, overall, that between us, guided by whatever she and my father taught us from the outset, my siblings and I chose, and were able, to keep that love and appreciation foremost so that we feel good about the reciprocal care and love of her last days (months, years). Still, I expect I will keep wondering what we've all missed out -- and I admit that I hope to avoid some of the patterns she got stuck in. . . . (at best, I'll probably just make different mistakes, right?!)

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  13. I am so glad you have posted this. I hope that doesn't sound frivolous or callous. Our parents are or were as complex and awkward as we are. There is such a drive to simplify and it is so hard to know what to share and what to keep private. My father is dying slowly with a heartbreaking loss of independence, competence and function. I admire hugely how he is coping with it. For the last week my sister and I have struggled to cope with his desire for a resolution of a problem which arose in one of his relationships some years ago with which we cannot help him. I do not blog about this because the computer is one of the few things he is left with and I know that he reads and enjoys my blog. I wish to be honest but need to be considerate so I have to be silent. At least I still have my father with me. If freedom to be more honest only comes with losing him I will take what I have now. I do appreciate very much your careful and caring honesty.

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    1. Oh, you seem to know much of what I'm talking about. Really, there is so much to learn from each other about this part of our lives, it's a shame that by now we've generally learned to put things in perspective and just to get on with it (which, I must admit, is the path I see myself most likely to take as the weeks once again regain their normal patterns. . . )
      Enjoy your father while he's with you -- sounds as if you have already put that at the top of your list. Honesty and freedom are so important, yet sometimes overrated. . .

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  14. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, of course, but I have found that this very useful guidance has allowed me to explore more deeply my understanding of and resonance with my own late mother, who was, as one might phrase it, a difficult woman. Acknowledging her nature honestly is now something I can do with safety, a fact that surprises me and, I hope, allows me to gain a more nuanced and adult appreciation of her life (and my own). What used to frighten me and cause me to censor my own perceptions for fear of being a tattle-tale or a vengeful little snot now provides me with grist for the mill of increasingly refined and honest and (amazingly) loving memory. I am confident that as you are interpreting and re-interpreting your mom, you too will discover that acknowledging even (perhaps especially) her difficult aspects does not imply disloyalty, unkindness, callousness, or flippancy. In my experience, reflection redefines the "bonum" part of the saying, expanding it to include the real, now tempered with compassion.

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    1. This is an important recognition -- the possibility of redefining what we call "bonum." We might also redefine "mortuis," I'd suggest, as they have a way of continuing to live in us. . . And in our changing comprehension and narration of their lives. . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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