Her Bad Mother

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Another View of Distance...

... a happier view. I know that this post has a dismal start, but it gets better, albeit somewhat sappily better. And - gratuitous WonderBaby photos!

I was thirteen years old when my grandmother, my mother’s mother, died. I was devastated. She had been as much my friend and my ally as she had been my grandmother: she conspired with me to find magic in every corner, to find excitement and adventure in every moment of the day. I adored her.

At the time, I found it difficult to understand that she was gone for good. I remained convinced in my heart, for some time, that I would find her again, somehow, that I would encounter her at a bus stop or in a café, that someday I would turn a corner and she would be there, again. The finality of death was beyond my psychic grasp: it just wasn’t possible that someone I loved so much could just be gone, forever gone. That she ceased to be present in my world did not, it seemed to me, stand as proof that she had ceased to be. I could not comprehend, with my whole soul, the concept of ceasing to be. I was still attached to her, and so – I felt - she still must be. I understood mortality, but I did not feel that understanding in my heart and in my soul, and so I did not understand death, really.

Fear of death, to me, was fear of loss, the disappearance of someone from the landscape of my life, the alteration of that landscape forever. My fear of death is, I realized this week, still this: fear of loss, fear of altered landscape.

My husband said to me, this week, as we reflected upon the shadow of death over our landscape – my (step)grandmother in a coma, the diagnosis of skin cancer in my mother, my nephew’s continual decline – that he was feeling the weight of his own mortality. That all this talk of death was increasing that weight, a weight, he said, that seemed to have fallen heavily upon him in the very moment that his daughter was born.

Time and mortality have taken on a different meaning since we had WonderBaby. Time feels more measured: how old will we be when she starts school? When she finishes school? When (if) she gets married? Has children of her own? Will we be here? We so badly want to be here. The fear of death that lurks in our hearts is a fear of absence, of a forced exile from her life, of missing that life. Part of my reaction to the sudden appearance of the shadow of death in the lives of my grandparents and my mother was rooted in exactly this fear: they will miss her, they are missing her, this distance in time and space is a sort of exile and the time for overcoming it is drawing short.

The fear that is provoked by my nephew’s condition is somewhat different, but not unrelated. I fear, deeply, the loss of him. But the deeper, stronger fear – the deeper, stronger sadness – is of his loss, the loss of his future. The foreshortening of his horizon, the erasure of his landscape. The greatest loss, when he dies, will not be mine or my sister’s or WonderBaby’s – it will be his. This is what hurts the heart, provokes the fear, draws the shadows closer. This is what every parent fears – the loss of the promise of such a beautiful life, the unfolding of a horizon drawn short.

But what I was reminded of this week – by my mother, who wisely pointed out to me that love is stronger than distance, than loss, than fear, and by my friends (by you, such precious friends), who have been gathering their trumpets to demonstrate that love blares louder than any fear (more on this on Monday) – was that death can shrink in the face of love. If not in fact, then at least in spirit.

(Banal, I know, but don’t the insights of the heart usually sound banal? They sometimes have a tinny ring when spoken aloud, a dull weight when plotted across the page. But they feel warm in the heart, and that’s what matters to me right now.)

My grandmother is in a coma, my mother is being treated for skin cancer and my nephew has a terminal illness. These facts are inescapable. But the pain and fear that could attend these facts is escapable. I needn’t dwell on the inevitability of loss; I needn’t dwell on the threat of pain. With my nephew in particular, there is a life, a now, to be celebrated (a life that we will always celebrate, even when the now has passed.) There’s love. There’s a lot of love.

I understand death, now, no better than I did when I was a child; I cannot fully reconcile my head and my heart to loss. I know that I have no control over death – I will die, my child will die, we all will die, there will be loss, inevitably, we will face loss. But I know this, too: I do have some control over life, over how much joy I put into it and pull out of it. I have control over love.

I cannot breach the distance of death, but I can extend love over any distance. I can love to the moon and then around the stars and back again. I can love to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, to the level of everday's most quiet need. I can love higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide.*

Love has its own distance. I can control that distance, extend it as far across time and space as my heart allows. Those distances are great – wonderfully, powerfully, blessedly great.

*(I can borrow fragments of poetry from Browning and Cummings.)

(I'll be back up and visiting this weekend, as my spirits are somewhat restored. I've missed you. Sorry that I haven't kept up with all of YOUR lives.

And, big, wonderful things are afoot this coming week. Fantastic, heart-bursting things. Check back Monday.)


Okay, so it's not Monday, but here it is: the awesomest friends in the world, led by the super-awesome Kristen and Julie, decided that they would do something awesome to make my world seem a little less unawesome and here's what they came up with:

Her Bad Auction

It's a super-awesome amazing project, an auction with items donated from across the blogosphere and beyond, with all proceeds going to the Canadian Muscular Dystrophy Association in Tanner's name.

I'll have more to say about this tomorrow, much more. 'Til then, go check it out, and plan your bidding. And feel all warm and fuzzy about just how extraordinary people can be.


Blogger Mouse said...

I remember reading Epicurean philosophy, particularly Lucretius and his diatribe against the fear of death. He gives so many reasons why people shouldn't be afraid of death and includes a bit where Nature addresses the mourners who are left behind and chastises them for mourning since the dead feel no pain. And I remember thinking, "but you've missed the point. They mourn not because they think the dead is suffering in the afterlife, but because they are suffering from the pain of their own loss."

I also remember the added dimension of grief when my grandmother died a few years ago. She was the very last grandparent I had, and I felt this sudden shifting of the generations and it made me that much more aware of this inevitable march.

It's good to acknowledge the fear of loss, but thank you for reminding me to remember the now.

1:16 PM  
Blogger motherbumper said...

I constantly have to remind myself to live in today. It's so important to enjoy our loves for what they are now.

1:42 PM  
Blogger fuzzypeach said...

It is hard to deal with the fact that someday I will be gone and I won't get to be in my daughter's life any longer... also harder to think that her own life might be cut short. It's too awful to think about, so I do as one should and try to live a life as full of love as possible. Thank you for your eloquent words on the matter.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think there's something about the birth of your child that shows you how scary the world is and how fleeting our time in it is. I know I have felt that, and feared even more the death of my own parents, since the little angel was born.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Suburban Gorgon said...

This is an incredibly powerful piece of writing. The heightened awareness of death is something I have grappled with in the two years since my daughter was born more than ever before, and also the fear of time. I am 36 years old. The odds that I will be a grandmother in time to really enjoy it are slim. But love does trump fear like paper trumps rock - it envelops it and surrounds it, even if it cannot actually make it go away.

The triteness of the phrase "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself".....but it's the truth, isn't it? If we live our lives afraid for all the inevitability of loss, then we lose our lives as well as everything else. We lose those moments with our grandmothers, with our children, with our spouses, because we corrupt them with our own fear.

I'm going to be thinking about this all day. And about you, and what you're having to wrap your brain around. Keep those arms around Wonderbaby. Hold her tight. It helps.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

It may be cliche, but things that I never feared for myself became far more frightening when we brought Q into the world. But then the joy has become tenfold as well. Love makes life worth living.

Much love to your family.

2:39 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Well said Catherine. Since Jane was born I remind myself every day to try to live in the moment.

I'm very, very excited about what's happening Monday.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

i still have those moments - the moments i walk down the street, looking for my dad's face, as if he might still be around somewhere, watching me, keeping up to date on my life, hurting when i hurt, loving me through it all. love can indeed overcome distance - in both directions - in all directions. i am sending you love, and i know many others are as well. i hope you feel the love enfolding you and your family. it's there.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

The first instinct when faced with death and loss is to immerse yourself in negativity and focus on nothing but that impending loss. I'm glad that part is over for you and you can now remind yourself that there is much life left to be enjoyed. Because there is SO much life, good life, to be a part of.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Blog said...

This is such an inspiring and beautiful post. You always have a way of concretizing many of my more abstract, unformed thoughts. Thank you for that.

When I lost my beloved cat in May, I thought a lot about death. I had an entire day to say good bye to him (before the vet came to our home to put him down), and it wasn't enough. When he was gone, the realization that he was *gone* was mind-blowing and devastating. But, this utter sense of loss taught me so much about life and love. That every day with our loved ones NOW is precious. Because there's no way to say good bye. I'm now so thankful for everyday with all of my loved ones -- Simba's death taught me such a valuable lesson on life and on loving in the now.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Catherine for writing this. I was able to reflect on some of my own memories that I was afraid to revisit on Wednesday.


1:00 AM  
Blogger Mom O Matic said...

Love and hugs for you. Beautiful thoughts, thank you for sharing them with us.

1:06 AM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Love to you all. I really have wondered what I could offer.. Friend, I can offer my ear whenever you need it.. or in this case my eyes I suppose.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've just been having a marathon reading session of your latest entries--catching up.. I'm sorry I was not there to offer support earlier, but this post is just lovely if bittersweet.

when i left the hospital with Sam (now 3 weeks ago) I sat in the wheelchair and waited for my husband to pull up the car. As I sat there I watched a very old man slowly make his way in through the revolving doors to the reception, and I suddenly began to weep in the realization that one day the child I held in my arms would be old. Old like that. And potentially alone, and there would be nothing I could do about it, because I would be gone.

Yes. Utterly banal and cheesy (and hormonally driven in part). But crushing nonetheless.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I'm so sorry that I missed your outpouring of need on Monday, but wanted pass along my prayers and good thoughts for you and your family. My heartfelt wish is that the love that you write of so eloquently will give you some measure of peace and comfort, knowing that although you can't change the inevitable, you can make the moments that you have into memories that will (eventually) be stronger than the loss.

blah-de-blah... basically I just wanna say "I'm sorry." and "I'm here." !" But there I go trying to be all wise and comforting... :)

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much, much love to you. You and your family have been in my thoughts.

11:05 AM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

Oh, honey, I am glad you are finding some comforting thoughts right now- and yes, it's true, love makes distance go away, even if it's harder to express over those stretches.

As Mouse said up top, I too felt an especial loss with my last grandparent's passing, knowing that the next must be much closer - how terrifying. But WonderBaby, Pumpkinpie, they step into line and everyone moves up a place, our mother becoming grandmothers, ourselves becoming mothers. And so it goes on.

It's really with someone like Tanner that I find it harder to be philosophical because it seems counter to that natural wheel that the youngest shouldn't take up thread and continue. I know, though, that he will always be with all of you, and I think that is the most important thing that we leave behind, no matter how long we're here, is the memories we have given other people while we're here.

Goodness, I'm carrying on and on now, but know I'm thinking of you.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never thought about mortality as much until I had kids.

But I never enjoyed my life as much until I had kids.

I just have to hope that I'll be here and that she'll/they'll be here and if not, that either of us will have the power to go on.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Redneck Mommy said...

I'm finding it difficult with this current season to embrace the joy of life, to grasp hold of the love that surrounds me and celebrate life, when the overwhelming echo of loss seems to be deafening. Last year I was numb with loss; this year, a year has come and gone and I must find new legs to stand on.

Thank you for reminding me that love has no distance. It is true.

4:19 PM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

HBM, These are moving thoughts. Thank you so much for reminding us what we do have control over -- the love we put out there and shar with our family and friends. My best friend died in August after a long bout with breast cancer, and that brought back so much about me beloved grandfather who passed away many years ago, and I thought I had moved beyond that grief. I was wrong. But I agree, as you say, that our control is in the love we put out there. Thank you for your wise and wonderful words.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Stefania Pomponi Butler aka CityMama said...

So much love and beauty in these words. I wish you peace, HBM.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Jezer said...

When Al was born, the realization of mortality was crushing. Yes, I always knew that noone gets out of here alive, but until that point, frankly, it never really mattered much. That sudden understanding was so crushing that I sobbed and could not--and still cannot--put into words the enormity of my grief and fear.

But, then, there is that other little creature for whom I make the most of each day. Who reminds me that one day one of us will be gone. That one day, we will ALL be gone.

But today is ours.

I love this series of WonderBaby's photos. They are stunning.

9:15 PM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

You so eloquently have put into words what I feel when I see my children.

I'm so sorry you're family is having such a rough go of it at the moment.

Thank you for the reminder that love is stronger than death, and stronger than fear.

11:25 PM  
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1:16 AM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

ah, yes....we brought you up at our little wedding this weekend...you were in our thoughts..as is the auction.

1:27 AM  
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2:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your words made me remember what i promised myself i would never forget.

thank you.

6:00 AM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

No one understands life, or death, like a mother. Of that I am sure.

Those pictures are seriously beautiful - in compostition and subject.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Mad said...

HBM, I've been super busy of late with little time to comment but I want to say something. I have experienced a lot of death. A lot. I had been planning for weeks to write about it over the holidays and I am still not sure if I will. I have walked this road so many times and in the end I can come up against nothing but the platitudes b/c I think all those platitudes might be right. Death is a natural part of our life cycle. We live so sheltered from it--in so much ease and comfort--but death is always there. It takes our elderly and often our young. I think I've told you before about how my 3-year-old neice beat insurmountable odds with AML leukemia a few years back. Even though she beat the odds my sister, 13 years later, still waits to exhale with every breath because the spectre of the disease's return is never gone.

Oooo HBM, I don't know where this comment is going which means that I may have to blog about it all over the next couple of weeks. I just want you to know that I understand quite a bit of what you are going through and I send out all the positive energy I've got.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Sandra said...

This is a most gorgeous piece of writing that gets right to the soul of all that you've been grappling with. Sending the biggest hugs I have your way.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

I know that you don't really know me, but I wanted to say that my thoughts are with you. And that your words don't sound "tinny" at all, but I know the feeling that you just can't seem to write all that you are feeling. The pictures, though, speak volumes.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

I was faced with death at a young age as well with the loss of my dad when I was 16, he at 49. My husband is now 47 and I can't help but think now of all the life that my dad lost out on. He missed the birth of all his grandkids, he had a kick-ass job at the time, he missed all our marriages, etc. When you are 16, 49 seems like a long time away, but now that my husband is closing in on that, I can't help but feel scared about the end of it all. Death really is so unfathomable, and so haunting, and we all see it as so far away. But that's a good thing because we wouldn't enjoy life if we obsessed about death all the time. And when we have kids, we certainly bump up a generation which brings to light all of our own mortality.

Insightful post. Thanks for sharing your inner thoughts with the rest of us. It's an important subject.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Crunchy Carpets said...

HBM....my mom was treated a while back for a cancerous melanoma on her leg. They think they got it all...but it scared the bejeezus out of her and she checks ALL her moles now.

My grandma and my dad died in the UK when I was in my teens.

Being that all we received was a letter...it was very hard to reconcile them being dead.

I keep expecting sightings of my dad...you know...like elvis.

I think thought that death is still easier to bear when it is older people....when it haunts children....you just have to wonder 'why'?

Hang in there....

2:04 PM  
Blogger Beck said...

I read this, was overwhelmed and couldn't comment. So now I'm back. This post is just lovely - and the thing about so many things that are "banal" is that they're common because they're true. Loving in the face of death is one of the single bravest things in life.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

You're so right - instead of dwelling on death, we should celebrate the life and love we have around us at the present.

I learned this lesson when we lost a friend to a sudden brain aneurysm at 30 years old, just days after the birth of his first child. The fragility of life, at any age, came into focus, and many of his friends realized how much we needed to enjoy the time we had together and not worry so much about the parting we know must come. Our friend had lived his life that way, and many of us hope we can do the same.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we have been living in the spectre of death ourselves - my grandmother has had so many near misses. And then we also have several chronic (but not fatal) illnesses to cope with daily.

Like you, we are trying to live our lives more fully.

I'm happy I was able to donate something for the auction, and my daughter loved writing a Christmas card to your nephew.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

It's a shame, in a way, that we need to be brushed or touched by death to fully appreciate how important it is to keep death in its place.

Thank you all so much for your thoughts.

5:45 PM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

This is a wonderful reminder about what we should focus on, love and life. Yes, death will always be with us, lurking in the background. It's inevitable. In fact, it's part of life. But we can celebrate love and life and the wonders of the world daily in all the little things. In our little ones.


7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lost my sister and both my parents at a relatively young age.

My mortality is always on my mind.

I miss the comic Bloom County, because the character Opus was always confiding his fears....

10:28 AM  

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