My mum and I worked very very hard to make a good relationship as adults, and we did a lot of fast work after my dad died. Part was because my mum held a lot of herself in check when she was with my dad. It started the "way it was", became the "way it was expected" and finally it became "the way it was easiest". It is not a poor reflection on their relationship as much as a poor reflection on the relationship expectations of their time. My mum did show more of her true self than a lot of her friends did and my father loved her mightily regardless. It shows in all the pictures of the two of them together. It is heard in her friends' voices when they look at the pictures and say, slightly awed, "Your dad *always* looked at her that way." People say that about the way Dave looks at me. Having that type of connection makes me smile wide!
But I do know my mum was not perfect and I will not idolize her more in death than I did in life. I remember the less than perfect moments. Hell, I helped to create some of them. I remember how she tried to get me to raise my kids her way in spite of me being grown. I remember arguing, bitterly, and crying later. I remember when for a time it seemed she loved my husband more than me. She didn't. She just figured he needed to hear the praise more. I straightened her out on that score and she responded not by withdrawing his praise, but by adding mine. <--- It is things like that we did after my dad died. We worked on making our relationship the way we wanted it to be. Sometimes it was hard work. Other times it was easy.
The day before we found out about my mum's brain tumour - I had gone to her house after a *big* fight with Dave. Big fights are so rare these days that there are years between them. It was something stupid, so much so I have *no* idea right now what it was. Probably money or like that. I arrived on her doorstep and when she came to the door (once my dad died she kept the storm door looked since she was alone) she said, surprised, "What are you doing here?" I replied, "I had a fight with Dave and I came here so you could ply me with nicotine and alcohol." She got a big grin and I went in and we drank and smoked and I bitched and she sympathized. It was great. And then I noticed her missing words, and saw the New York Times Crossword puzzle, and since it was only Wednesday it should not be mainly blank. I looked at the clues and knew some answers and was certain then that something was wrong. Talk switched from stupid fight to her health and mind. I was slotted to call her doctor the next morning. I did. I took her to the ER. That was the beginning of the end. It still startles me, how that played out.
I started going to a grief group at the UU church. Once a month. I've been 5 times. I'm not sure how long I'll be going. The first 2 were wonderfully cathartic. The 2nd two I found myself behaving more as a facilitator than a member. I told myself I ether needed to be a member there, or not be there. I should not roll into the role of leader in every group setting. I said to me, "Get over yourself. Be a member." They told us to feel free to find opening or closing words for the group and share. So for the fifth one I did. I didn't find them though, I wrote them. I shared. The 5th meeting was on my birthday. I needed to be a member for that. I was. Here is what I wrote:
"We gather tonight in this circle of support not only to express our grief freely, but to heal. We do not wish to heal away all vestiges of our beloved dead , but to learn to go on in their absence. May we carry their memories with laughter and joy. May we not idolize them in our grief to a level of perfection they did not have in life for their imperfections were part of what made them unique and dearly loved. Remembering them in truth honors them and frees us to express all aspects of our grief. May we carry their memories with us for the rest of our days, not always in front our eyes where they bring tears and not always behind our head where they are forgotten, but beside us and within us where they bring grace. Let their memories be a gentle touch upon our souls and in our hearts and may we reach out to those still living with that same touch and help soothe their spirit with the wisdom we have gained. As we will, it shall be so."
This was very important to me to write and to read. I feel very strongly about not idolizing the dead, not only because it is artificial, but because of the way it makes us feel when we remember the not so good times. And how others try to make us feel when we remember the bad times. The group liked it. They took copies home and that felt good.
One thing that keeps striking me about my mum when she was told she had a brain tumour was how brave she was about it. It continues to amaze me when I think of it. Sure, cut open my skull, dig around in my brain, cut out the nasty stuff, and close me up! Now, when someone tells you that you have a brain tumour and without surgery not only will you die, but maybe quite soon it is not such a hard choice, right? So the bravery of that is relative if you want to live. It is not her saying yes to the surgery that awed me, but the way she did. She had to wait a week for the surgery so the arthritis med that thinned her blood was out of her system. And during that week she accepted the decision with grace, laughter, and calm. Calm? I can't say that I'd be so graceful. And the tumour wasn't in that part of the brain to make her stupid. Hell, they couldn't believe she'd even tuned into the minute changes that led her to the ER. After the surgery and through the hospital stay she remained the same. It was truly an honor to watch her be so, humbling to be surprised by it, and hopeful to think I might face something similar with even a small amount of her grace.
I honor all aspects of my mum in my grief and therefore honor her memory and free myself to move forward.