my mother died.
it's been four days, i think. and how do i feel? i have no idea. sometimes i feel absolutely nothing at all, like i will never feel anything again. also i feel a million things at once. i am devastated. i feel cheated. i am sad. depressed. unmotivated. i feel like i was robbed of this relationship that took about ten years to blossom. i also feel like i don't have the right to mourn the loss of my mother the way my brother and sister do. i did not grow up with her like they did and i already have a mother.
after a lifetime of feeling like the puzzle piece that did not quite fit anywhere at all, being in her presence was a relief. like kicking off your high heels after a long hard day and sliding into slippers that just envelop your swollen feet. hugging her, breathing her smell, looking into her eyes... i didn't need to be with her my whole life to hear that satisfying "click" of the puzzle piece fitting perfectly in place, or to know that she was a part of me and i was a part of her. it felt so good to be found. and i know it felt the same for her. what was hard was coming to terms with biology, with DNA. with both of us adopted as babies, we both believed so strongly for so long that nurture overcame anything nature could throw our ways. this, we learned, was not true. the connection was there before either of us was able to accept it. our lives may have been as different as day and night when we came together, but she got me and i got her, even when it would have been a whole heck of a lot easier for both of us if we hadn't.
i spent much of my life feeling unnoticed and unnurtured and uncelebrated and unheard. i was a crybaby to get attention (this didn't work) and ended up with nicknames like "Sarah Heartburn" which i didn't even understand, let alone find funny. i was told again and again that i had no sense of humor, that i had to learn to play by myself, that i was making a bigger deal out of X or Y or Z than i should. i rebelled and revolted and did all kinds of things that got different kinds of attention (this didn't help) which resulted in nicknames i'm not even going to list. the antidote to this materialized in my birth mother. she noticed. she listened and talked back. she nurtured and celebrated. all of which was validating in a way i'd never experienced. the relief i felt was indescribable. i had a soul sister. i wasn't alone with my sensitivity, my reactive and moody self because she was like that too. and that made it easier to be less sensitive, less reactive, and just more myself.
so it's all so wrong to be sitting here typing these things in the past tense. listened. talked. nurtured. celebrated. it's not right that there will be no more listening, nurturing or celebrating. she was so young, so healthy, so ALIVE. i thought we had years, decades. she was going to be at newbie's birth. she was the only one we wanted there and i knew there would be fallout from the other grandmothers in our lives but i didn't care. she would walk into our apartment and get right down on the floor to play with the baby. she sat on the kitchen floor and brushed cheerios and cat hair off her designer clothes and just loved on my kid. she held her for hours, unwilling to let her cry herself to sleep. she fed her and bathed her and just loved her - and me - from near and far. after a year of this, i began to imagine family visits for years to come. in my mind she was right next to me at bee's high school graduation, at her wedding. how can she be gone when i felt like we were just getting started?
and now i have more questions. what happens now? her family is family to me, but am i family to her family? do they want me around at all? do they look at me and see her and does it hurt or does it help? do i reach out to them? and if i do, how? and when? or do i back off? last week we talked about how many people would be so deeply affected by this loss. my sister said "she had a lot of love to give." i, too, have a lot of love to give and i want to give that love to my mother's family -- they are my family too. but how do i express this? how much do they know about me? what did she say about me? does it matter? do i have the right to be there, to ask questions, to expect answers? do i have the right to ask for a keepsake? will i become more comfortable with these details that we never needed to iron out? and what the hell do i tell people without having to launch into a long personal history that i don't particularly want to share? i can't say "i lost my mother" without feeling that i have to explain that i have two. though i may overshare in my blog, in the rest of my life i am somewhat tight-lipped. it feels weird and wrong to go into detail, like i have to make excuses or validate my feelings of loss. i didn't explain anything at work. i just said it was my mother. so what happens when someone walks up to my father when he is there to walk the dogs and offers their condolences on the loss of his wife, my mom, who is at home and doing just fine? i don't want to explain and i don't want to hear "oh, it was ONLY your birth mother." she was the only connection i had to myself for so long when i felt so alone for even longer. she taught me how to be me when i hated everything about myself. she helped me see that even in my flaws there is strength. in being like me, she taught me to like me. so there is no ONLY. this is like losing a limb.
what does it mean to have two mothers? how can i be so devastated by this? i have only "known" her again for twelve years. though before that i thought about her in some capacity every day. we connected during the absolute worst, darkest, most unpleasant part of my life. i would not have blamed her if she'd never wanted to talk to me again. one of the first things she said to me was that all my life she'd only ever wanted to know that i was happy. and back then i definitely wasn't, so if that was her only wish, meeting me must have been heartbreaking. but for me, meeting her again was a whirlwind, getting to know her was like looking in the mirror. there was no mistaking the connection. we looked and acted so much alike. yet building a relationship was nothing short of a challenge, if for no other reason than we both led our lives with our hearts more than our minds. and there was just so much ambivalence and confusion and guilt about my birth. so much revisiting that neither of us wanted to do but both of us needed to. so much to undo, like abandonment issues, oversensitivity, guilt and anger (whether perceived or real). and yet there was so much good - we looked alike and talked alike, we felt alike and we loved and lived alike in so many ways. this nearly undid us as while it is so good to be like someone it can also be completely unhelpful and unproductive. and there is no code, no guideline for how to be a mother or a daughter to someone you know so well but have only just met, especially when we already had families with mothers and daughters - as well as sons and fathers - to consider but not compare. we were constantly hurting each other without intending to. yet we both tried. for years we tried. she'd call and leave message after message at times when i refused to pick up. i'd send long confusing emotional emails in response that sent her retreating into silence. we made connections both small and big, in fits and starts. for every two baby steps forward we took one back, but we were slowly coming to a place of peace. and when bee came, it all clicked and we were suddenly in a place full of constant and consistent joy and love. bee wasn't even a week old when she made the trip to us and we walked in the rain to lunch. she held my daughter and stared into her face. she said, "i know this face. i know this nose, these lips." she wept as she talked to the baby like she'd known her forever. then she looked at me with tears running down her cheeks. she asked now that i had experienced childbirth and held my baby in my arms, could i ever understand how she didn't keep me? can you ever forgive me? i cried and said you were so brave, so strong. i couldn't have done it. i admire you for being able to do what you had to do. and we are here now. there is nothing to forgive. it doesn't matter anymore. and it really didn't.
she has told me she had no choice. she had no options. still a child herself, her mother made this terrible decision for her and it's something she was never able to forgive. instead, she looked ahead. we were both able to focus on bee, this tiny little life that we were both going to get to keep.
so she became bee's grandma. she fussed over us all. she remembered our birthdays, our anniversary with gifts that were exactly what we wanted or needed, so festively wrapped that opening each box felt like going a party. she called and texted regularly. she drove four hours each way to take us to dinner, to babysit so we could go out. she stayed late or came early when she had business in new york. she talked to me about what made her happy and what made her sad, what she loved about life and what she found frustrating. i felt trusted. and she earned our trust. i never censored myself around her. she was the only person we left bee with and i knew we could count on her to be there when the new baby came. she opened her home and her life to us in ways no one ever did before. she bought a stroller, a high chair and a booster seat to help us travel to her more lightly and more often but we never even got to use them. we were supposed to visit for memorial day weekend to celebrate my husband's birthday and to make summer plans and talk about what we needed from her at the birth. i was looking forward to this visit so much. standing in her dining room without her three days ago as we packed up our cheerios and soy milk and got ready to make the sad trip home, my sister nudged me. "did you see this?" on the corkboard in the middle of pictures of bee and other family babies, next to the red sox season schedule, was a post it note with my name on it pinned to a handful of vegan recipes cut out from various newspapers and magazines. she'd been looking forward to the visit too.
i am now staring at the screen. rereading what i've written. not knowing how to end this. i am not willing to end this. i feel crushed by the loss of what we had but thinking about the loss of our future is so difficult that i can barely breathe. i need to focus on the positive. i feel lucky to have come to such a loving place with her and i feel honored that my husband, my daughter and i were among the people she loved the most. i am looking ahead to new beginnings with the family i was just getting to know and love too.
she sent me an email a few months ago that in five sentences made me happier than anything anyone has ever said to me before or since that i will close this entry with. it sums up everything i have written in a way that lets me know we were on the same page before she died and that she saw ahead of her a lifetime that included me and my husband and child(ren).
Aimee, more and more, I feel the joy inherent in our relationship. In some ways our type of circumstances can make for an extraordinary connection. We have so many real ties and resemblances and over time we have been able to shake off most of the haunting murmurs in our attics.
I am very very happy to have you, Bee and Johnny in my heart.
I love you.
I am very very happy to have you, Bee and Johnny in my heart.
I love you.
I love you too.