Sunday, February 19, 2012

DIARY 152 - Is It All About My Mother?

Things appear, on the surface at least, to be returning to a vacuous type of normality. I'm back in Cambridge, with the usual people and surroundings providing some sense of reassurance ~ the comfort of the familiar. Tomorrow it will be a month since my Mother died, and well over a fortnight since the funeral.  Jnanasalin has gone off on a nine day retreat, so I'm spending more time on my own. I've been finding communal social situations difficult anyway. The noise, banter and general busyness of it makes my nerves feel raw and I find a blanket of solitude protects me from its abrasiveness. Yet, when I am alone, I invariably find ways to distract myself with emotionally empty things. Logically I'd like the restoration of meaning and a re-engagement with life to return, but the heart for this has currently vacated the vicinity. I keep doing the things of life as I always do, but its as if the essence of me is locked away in some distant annex. The fact that these activities are what my life usually consists of, seems to make me want to reject or push them away, like an inedible meal. There is no hunger as yet for the life affirming present. This lack of congruence between what I do and what I feel like doing, is getting easier to manage simply through patience and familiarity, but its not yet ready to leave.

I have moments, when inconsolable sadness emerges unbidden. Grief appears at times to be an abstracted feeling, one not necessarily triggered by specific recollections, but fed by an underground force with a more existential imperative. A space has opened up in my psychic world, one that wasn't there before, a Mother shaped void that no one else but her could fill.  I loved my Mother, and this was reciprocated. I felt I was my Mother's favourite child. After all I was the most like her ~ or was I? How much did I become formed in her likeness?  It was often noted, how facially like her I was, and this was true, externally we were very similar. But it didn't stop there, I also took it to mean I was 'internally like' her as well. This was sometimes spoken of , and hence reinforced, by my Mother herself. It was a litany I came to loath the size and shape of.  It wasn't that I disliked my Mother, but I did dislike being 'like my Mother.' The constant comparison, turned me into an identical person, one that as I grew up seemed not to allow me space to be fully me. Often her natural mothering desire to protect me from the worst of the world and the worst in myself, I could find quite suffocating. Who my Father is, has frequently remained a mystery to both my sister and I. How he's felt about things, like my being gay, I knew only through what my Mother told me. His quietly benign and genial presence was frequently overshadowed by my Mothers need for attention. Only now in my mature adulthood can I begin to see how like my Father I am.

Emotionally the insecurity and lack of confidence I have experienced at times during my life, is similar to that of my Mother's, but also to countless other people I've met. It it's unique only in the specific details, not in the generality. Its difficult now to retrospectively disentangle how much I picked up from her and how much is just an existential characteristic of me being me anyway. The more extravagant outgoing aspects of my nature has often found themselves fighting against being buried beneath a seeming avalanche of more introverted emotions. Perhaps I did unfairly blamed my Mother for this, for which I must ask forgiveness. Yes, its hard to take full responsibility for this, but now maybe the time to do so. Until my late teens/early twenties, I was too close and far too confiding in my Mother. My life gradually became more concealed as I made a life for myself, and became more active as a gay man. Hiding who I was when I went home, though often internally unbearable, became outwardly second nature. Yet this was just the beginning of my parents not really comprehending or, indeed, wanting to fully understand what their son's life was really about. Gay, artistic, a performer,a vegetarian, a Buddhist living in a community, why I wanted to be all these was somewhat incomprehensible to them. However much I dropped pennies into their well, I rarely got more than distant distorted echoes back. They really couldn't get it. So as they and I both got older, I ceased trying to build a bridge between my world and their's, for it would only have collapsed by the next time I visited.

I was often a shy child, over sensitive to perceived slights or criticisms. I was quite reserved and quiet in company, so my Mother took to talking for me, telling everyone present how I was doing, as if I'd just been suddenly struck dumb over dinner. This was something she was already had practice doing, having spent her married life speaking for her quietly self contained and undemonstrative husband, in public situations. As I moved into adulthood, this tendency to talk for me did continue, and I left it until quite late in my adult life, before I finally took the bull by the horns and told her to stop. I think I did publicly shame her in order to make my point all the more clearer, but it did cease from then on. It took me decades to gain confidence, and feel able to make my opinions and presence felt in social situations. I was rarely able to do that when my Mother was around. In order to feel able to discover and be who I was, had meant moving away, limiting communication, and putting some emotional distance between Mum and I. Sorry for that Mum, I know that must have hurt you. Yet you were sometimes like a radio station that took up far too much bandwidth, leaving an insufficient amount for anyone else. Everything had to pass through my Mother, like she was the whole families emotional conduit and censor. Now she is gone, its possible that my Father, Sister and I could now renegotiate our relationship. If we should want to get to know each other better, of course!

I think only now do I feel able to forgive my Mother and forgive myself too, for all this stuff. Its strange what a death can liberate. This week, I have been thinking what would have been once unthinkable. That, now she is no longer here, its possible for me to accept that I am to some extent like my Mother, and I'm done with pretending otherwise. I can be myself these days, without feeling smothered by the immediacy of my Mother's relationship with me. I've expended too much energy in the past trying to become someone, other than the son who's 'too like his Mother.' yet ironically bumping into it all the time. My sense of being independent was to some extent a necessary artifice, but also a reaction to a past dependence that still felt too emotionally loaded. Yet, my determination to create, to do what I wanted and be whatever I am, however unconventional it may be, my emotional steadiness, my quiet kindness and dependability are as much, if not more, a characteristic of my Father, than my Mother. So, perhaps for the first time, I'm perceiving what the real nature of my inheritance has been from my Mother ~ and my Father. Acceptance and forgiveness,  may be my guiding watchwords over the coming weeks, months, if not years.    

Sunday, February 05, 2012

DIARY 151 - Eulogy

 12th June 1929 ~ 20th January 2012

I once worked in a crematorium in Cambridge and over the period of two years I worked there, I heard hundreds of eulogies. As an unrelated observer I was frequently presented with a vivid picture of the deceased persons character, and often deeply moved. These eulogies rarely put much emphasis on their ambitions, successes, careers or material achievements, but spoke mostly of the effect the person had upon them, and what they loved or valued about them. So, as I sit here writing this eulogy for my own Mother, I naturally find myself recollecting her personality, qualities, and general approach to life, and how these traits of character were often a response to the crucible of life.

My Mum with my Dad in the Summer of 2011

Most people if they met my Mother would find themselves instantly put at ease by her warm lively and appreciative conversation. Though often overly self conscious, introverted and a little retiring by nature in larger gatherings, she rarely found connecting or talking one to one with people difficult. My Mother was intrigued by, and possessed an endless curiosity about people and their lives. She’d often said ‘I’m not being nosey, I’m just interested’ and though this was a tricky balance to maintain ,this was indeed mostly how it was. She was always respectful, polite and never prurient in her interest. She was also very loyal too, with a good many friendships that lasted her whole life. This ability to connect quickly and easily with people, was founded upon that very real caring interest, she was able to be a friend to many people, by being an empathic, humorous and supportive listener. She might not be able to resolve a problem or dilemma, but she could hear it fully, and with a receptive kind heart.

My Mother spent large parts of her last decade of life housebound. Though there were occasional trips out in her wheelchair to supermarkets, cafes and to visit close family. These became less and less frequent as the complicated, and often compounding, mixture of ailments she suffered from, began taking their toll. On the whole she bore the discomfort and suffering of these as philosophically as she could, without resentment and with good humour. My Mother was always ready to have a laugh at life, at herself or her predicament. It was only in the last few months of her life, when things were getting demonstrably more difficult, did her patient, positive and usually cheerful demeanour begin to flag. She bore this with honesty, and talked of it as lightly as she could, which often masked what she was actually feeling.

As a child, I remember my Mother as being kind and appreciative, but she also knew when and where to enforce discipline. The boundaries were laid out firmly, but fairly, and Janet and I crossed them at our peril. Any punishment that may have resulted from something stupid I had done, rarely felt disproportionate or unjustified. I think this was because it was founded on a very real love and concern for us, and because both my Mother and Father had themselves a clear idea of what social or ethical behaviour was or was not acceptable, and sought to instil that in us.

Over the years my Mother became an fluent talker and teller of stories. Though by no means an extrovert, nevertheless she had a strong presence in our family. Her mind, almost to the very end, had a sharpness and strength of recollection for that telling detail. So whenever I came home on a visit, the first evening would often consist of my Mother speaking, often in inexhaustible detail, of all the things that had happened to her, stories about members of my family, of her friends, places or events. Sometimes I have to say, I had no idea at all who, where or what she was talking about, and I just took to nodding in all the appropriate places. She was the reliable repository of our families oral history, its tall stories and its myths. Those small incidents from ones early childhood, or teenage, which most Mothers still delight in embarrassing their grown up sons and daughters with. That faculty of memory and recollection was to keep her mentally alert, aware and active, which made her physical deterioration all the harder for her.

There were times when I chose to do things which didn’t necessarily match my parents expectations or aspirations for me. But, my parents have rarely been proscriptive, allowing both Janet and myself, to develop and go our own way in life. The only proviso being that whatever we did would potentially make us happier. On this journey through life, I have been sustained by knowing that I have been loved and appreciated. I have said goodbye to what physically remains of my Mother, but her love will always be with me. For this I am profoundly grateful.

DIARY 150 - A Death in my Family

In the early hours of the 20th January my Mother died. She'd been just ten days out of hospital. But the Mother I saw five days before on the15th January was not the same woman I'd visited barely a month before. She was frail, tired, dizzy and quite depressed after three weeks in hospital. Something of my Mother's spirit had been broken. A mild heart attack had left her with feet that could at any moment spontaneously start to jiggle. She kept regretfully recollecting the loss of her physical control, vitality and capability. It must be hard being still mentally alert, and hence fully aware of ones physical decline. Now she was dependent on carers to wash and clothe her. Whilst the constant loving attention of my Father tried to do the rest.

She perked up a bit over the weekend, and my last memory of her was the fond kiss and loving beam of her smile, as I left to catch my train. Her condition didn't improve much over the next few days, her blood sugar levels still fluctuating wildly. Then on Thursday night whilst brushing her teeth, she had a fatal heart attack and keeled over into the shower cubicle. The emergency services got her heart going again, but by the time she reached Scunthorpe General Hospital she'd not been breathing for quite some time. Reluctant to revive her because she would have lost all mental capability and consciousness, she was thankfully allowed to die.

I was on retreat at Padmaloka, just beginning the second day. That morning after meditation and breakfast I sat in my room, and heard much walking up and down the corridor outside. I thought 'one of those people is going to knock on my door.' As previously arranged, Jnanasalin had rung and left a message. My Mum had died, and he and Aryajaya were already half way to Padmaloka to pick me up. As soon as I hung up I sobbed heavily for a while, as yet that's the only crying I've done. Once back in Cambridge, and after a call to my sister, there was a quick turn around and re-packing before Jnanasalin and I set off for Crowle.

January is a busy time in Crematoriums, with all the backlog from the Christamas and New Year break to be caught up on. So my Mother's funeral ended up not being until the 1st February. The fortnight in-between I stayed with my Father, and Jnanasalin came, went and came back again. When he was here we went regularly out for coffee and cake in the morning and for a drink in a local pub in the evening ~ just so we got out of the house for a while. But mostly we cooked meals for my Dad and kept him company, went with him to register the death, and started sorting through draws and cupboards. Oh, and we watched lots of trashy day time TV, mostly quizzes and several antiques programmes. No, you really don't want to know which ones. They are addictive.

My Father seems outwardly fine, quite philosophical and, externally at least, emotionally equanimous. But then it really is impossible to read my Father, to tell how he's feeling, he gives absolutely nothing away. There's just his genial kind smile.The funeral when it did arrive, was a blessed relief. I wrote a eulogy that the minister read for me. Family and friends arrived. Jnansalin, is only known as my boyfriend to a handful of my closest relatives. I didn't think it appropriate to bluntly 'come out' to them at my Mother's funeral. My Mother would have been embarrassed and mortified. However, even though I quietly presented him as 'a good friend of mine' the cat was recognised as out of the bag, much more than anyone expected.

Anyway, I'm now back in Cambridge, and reacquainting myself with my life here, after the strange activity-less existence of my Crowle bardo. Tidying up is one of those things I like to do before I re-engage with something. So I've spent the last few days, re-organising, pruning the gently inflating range of my
possessions.  I've been attending to the needs of my Dad, and that meant I had to put my own to one side. Today, I was walking to Tesco to print out some photos of my Mum & Dad  and I felt grief-like emotions stirring themselves.  I imagine that these will continue to ruffle the surface and depths for sometime to come.

The strongest moment so far,was the morning after Jnansalin and I had arrived at my Dad's. I came down stairs to take my usual morning shower, I instantly noticed there were blotches of my Mother's blood and scuff marks still remaining from where she'd fallen into the shower cubicle. I paused briefly, for a moment feel distinctly unsure as my emotions griped and churned. Then I took a deep breath, and had my shower, making sure these last tangible reminders of my own Mother's death, were washed away, so as not to perturb anyone else.