Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter's fugue

There are no broken bones, nothing dislodged, nothing strained but my mother does have 8 stitches in her head and lots of bruising.

She fell yesterday. Turned to get her walker as she was leaving her apartment and tripped over one of the wheels. Went down hard. Hit her head on the edge of a table and had to be taken to hospital by ambulance. She's okay. Just shaken up and sore.

Me on the other hand. I'm not so sure.

My mother and I have a fractious past. I want her to be someone else. She wants me to leave her alone to be who she is. It's not a good mix. I carry with me the child's need to be seen. She carries with her the need to be heard born from a lifetime of living with my father who seldom heard anything but the sound of his anger pushing him to call out. In that place where our needs collide and remain unmet, there is turmoil, strife, discord.

I spent the day with her yesterday at the hospital. Normally, my eldest sister would be there. She is my mother's main source of care. Unlike me, her past with mum's instability is more recent. Her memories of mum's sharp tongue less acidic. Until a few years ago, when I consciously distanced myself from my mother, I was the target of her discord whenever she fell into one of her 'moods'. One of those dark places where she needed to know she was needed, wanted, visible, valuable. Without me on the scene to lift the dark curtain of her despair, she has taken to targeting others, namely my eldest sister who does so much for her; the one who takes her shopping and to the bank and doctors. The one who calls her everyday, is always there when she needs something, always answers her call for help.

I don't make a good nurse. My bedside manner sucks.

"What if my hip is broken?" my mother asked, pain etched across her face as she attempted to shift her body into a more comfortable position on the emergency room bed.

"We will deal with that after we know the results of the x-rays," I told her. "Worrying about it now only eats up energy you need to keep yourself calm."

"I need to phone your sister and apologize. Where is she?" "she cried.

We'd known her mood was shifting as the holiday season approached and the cold weather descended. Christmas is a tough time for my mother. Her heart aches for the loss of my father and my brother. For my nieces absence from her life. Her body yearns to break free of the arthritis that cripples her at the best of times. Housebound with winter's harsh arrival, her arthritis fires up, searing her joints with pain, grating upon every breath like ice crystals edge the air on a bitter cold day. In her winter fugue, my mother slips into the darkness of sorrow and sinks into despair. In despair, she strikes out to ease the pain, to lift the burden of her sorrow by creating chaos in the world around her, a world she often does not understand. It is her pattern.

"You can phone J. later mum." I took a breath. A deep one. I knew that in her cry for my sister's aid my little girl was waking up. Look at me. Look at me. I'm here. Aren't I good enough? An edge of reason slipped away as I tried to calm my fears. "J needs some time to get over her anger. She was really hurt by what you said."

She turned her head away. Looked at the curtain on the other side of the bed. "This is God's way of punishing me," she whispered.

I sighed. "God doesn't work that way. He doesn't make you fall. Accidents happen, they're not part of some celestial plan to get even with us earthlings."

I was raised in a Catholic household. A home where the giant, unseen hand of God could come crashing down out of the heaven's above to punish me for every little transgression. I lived in fear of God's unseen hand. Lived in fear of turning my back on the slightest shadow in case God was lurking, watching, eyeing me up for some future punishment for a transgression I had yet to enact. I feared God and lived with guilt as my constant companion. I was not a perfect child. I grew to accept the back of my father's hand, my mother's brush as a reminder of my imperfections.

My mother eyed me from the pillows. Her white hair was streaked with dried blood. The paramedic had wrapped white gauze around her head. It sat upon the top of her head like a crown. He'd affixed a bright pink sticker to the gauze. It had a picture of Jasmine from the Disney film Aladdin on it. "Now you're a princess," he'd said.

She shook her head. Jasmine danced upon her forehead. "This is how I must pay for my sins. I must thank the Lord for this pain and pray for His forgiveness."

I took another deep breath reminding myself to go slowly. I didn't want to start hyperventilating and be in need of medical assistance of my own.

I am always amazed when my child comes hurtling out of the past pleading for a voice. Pleading for my mother to acknowledge me, see me, hear me. Amazed but not all that surprised. It is the one area of my life where I continue to struggle with claiming peace of mind as I hurriedly put up boundaries within my psyche to keep myself safe.

Perhaps the lesson in this is to not put up mental barricades but rather to let them down, to open my heart and mind to the one thing I know I share with my mother, love, in all its Divine perfection, in all its human peccadilloes.

Earlier this year, when I was at Super Choices, a personal development course that looks at family of origin issues so we can identify their patterns and how they manifest in our lives today, I realized that my memories of my childhood, particularly infancy, were not all that affirming. The story in our family is that my father lost a case of beer and twenty dollars because I was a girl. My mother wanted me to be born on December 8, the day of the Immaculate Conception. I burst into the world a few minutes after midnight on December 9. Growing up, that story was oft repeated. To make sense of it, to find the humour in it, I internalized the idea that I was a disappointment, unwanted, not needed in our family. I told myself I could never do anything right that pleased my mother and so, I lived up to my beliefs.

Now, it was just a 'story', but it crystallized into an internal messaging system that leaped across the synapses of my brain, re-wiring my inner belief in the birthright of my magnificence to one of profound disappointment in who I was as a human being. Butting up against the discomfort of that belief, I acted out, railing against its inequities as I constantly fought the notion that I was impaired at birth, destined to be a disappointment in life.

Throughout my adult life I struggled to rid myself of the yoke of those limiting beliefs, and in most areas of my life, have succeeded. I know deep within me that I am a precious, loved and loving child of God-- until I spend time with my mother and the little girl awakens to the child's yearning for a mother's love. A perfect, idealized, unrealistic love of my imaginings, a love beyond the capacity of my mother's human ability.

It is one of the gifts of spending time with my mother. I come front and center with my insecurities, my human foibles acting out in my being less than who I want to be, less than who I am meant to be.

Time with my mother is a lesson in humility.

The gift is, I get to awaken once again to the joy and knowledge that I am not that needy child. Not that wounded heart searching for a mother's love perfect beyond the human realm.

Divine love is unconditional. Human love not so pure. I know my mother loves me. And I know that I love her -- it's the unconditional part we both struggle with. In our human form, we place conditions on how we love, on how we interact, on who we are. In those conditions lie the patterns of our past, the familial boundaries upon which we dance.

My mother gave me the gift of life. She is the womb through which I was born. In reality, she is a human being with needs. An old lady who yearns for peace. In her quest to create it, she finds herself lost in the past, a past that was not always loving, a past in which she struggled to find the love she so desperately needed.

The gift I can give my mother today is to let go of my anger. To let go of my need for her to see me as I see me, and to accept she can only see me through her eyes. Her eyes are growing weaker. The harder I rail against my need for her to open them to my truth, the harder she fights to hold onto the one thing no one can take from her, memories of her past, her memories of herself as a mother who loves her children beyond all else. Truth is, she does.

In accepting her truth, I let go of my need for her to acknowledge my truth as the only truth there is. There are many truths within us, between us, around us. When I let go of my need for my truth to be the only truth, I give into the truth that love is the foundation of all that we are, all that we mean to each other, all that we share.

The past is history. We cannot change it. My mother wants it to rest in peace. I want it to be acknowledged so we can create a different today.

Neither of us is right. Neither of us is wrong.

In our human condition, we love each other and struggle to see each other through eyes of love, not of fear.

My mother fears that when I look at her, I see only the imperfections of the past. And I fear that when she looks at me, she sees only the imperfections of the past.

This morning, I let go of the past and step into this moment where I am all I'm meant to be, living fearlessly in love with myself, passionately in love with the world around me.

I can't change the past. I can change its hold upon me today.

The question is am I willing to do what it takes to create a world of peace? Am I willing to let go of the past to give into love embracing all my human foibles.

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