My mother died this past November. She’s still here, though. I can feel her all around me. She sits beside me as I work. She watches over me while I sleep. Now that she’s gone, she flits through the air around me and watches over me 24 hours a day. She says to me “Ah! So that’s how it is! I can see now. I didn’t understand before.” And finally, after all these years, after all of our many strained and painful conversations, I feel like I am seen.
It was never like that when she was alive. Back then, no matter how clearly I tried to speak, no matter how closely she tried to listen, it always seemed that we just couldn’t understand one another. There was always a wall between us that prevented full comprehension.
And yet, we were close. I think you could say that. We certainly tried. For many years, I called her every week and we would talk for hours. Even when she moved into a nursing home, we still talked every week, or emailed one another, or both.
I always knew what my mother really wanted of me, though. She wanted me to pay her a nice long visit. Not one of those short, little weekend visits that we often did. She wanted me to sleep over and spend an entire week with her. Just the two of us; her and me. She wanted me to play piano duets with her. She wanted me to sit in the dining room and keep her company while she ate. She wanted to show me off to the nurses. Would that really have been so bad?
Somehow, the very idea of spending a full week with my mother completely exhausted me. I knew what she wanted. Just like when I was a child, she would want me to be her little helper, listen to her, and fetch things for her. She would want me to sit there quietly while she talked about her life. Then, once she had finished venting all of her feelings, she would want to pry into my life, asking me all sorts of uncomfortable questions about the particular things I did each day. There always seemed to be something about me that she didn’t quite understand, something that she wasn’t quite happy with. It was dispiriting. I always left my mother feeling more exhausted than when I came.
And so, I put off that much-wanted visit for years. And when I finally acquiesced, it was really too late. By that time, she was already dying. In earnest.
For the first couple of days that I was there, I was still able to speak with her. In between nurse check-ins, and the administering of medications, she would ask me to play piano for her. Once, she asked me to sit closer, and then even closer, until my face was so close to hers we could bump noses with one another. With her piercing blue-green eyes, she looked at me fixedly for a long moment, as if she was memorizing my face. And then, just a suddenly, she broke contact and laid back in her bed without saying a word.
I think that was the last time she was able to truly look at me. After that, she quietly slipped under the veil. Suddenly, she was too weak to remain conscious. She would still move her head to look up at me, smile, and say “hello” each morning, but there would often be no other response from her for the rest of the day.
I stayed by her side and tried to communicate with her as best I could, just as I have always done throughout my life. I sang to her, and read to her. On some days, either my brother or my father would be there too, and we would all talk together. And even though she couldn’t speak, it always felt like my mother was right there, listening, just waiting to jump into the conversation. Just waiting to put in her two cents worth.
My mother loved me. I know she loved me. She loved me beyond measure. I was her daughter. Her only daughter. And she wanted me so badly. There was a primal hunger there, a hunger I never seemed able to fill. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried to please her, she always seemed to want more. It was as if I could never really satisfy her. I could never be the daughter, the person, she truly wanted me to be. I could only be myself, and somehow, that never seemed to be enough.
There was a period there when my mother’s Parkinson’s was worsening, but she was still able to walk around. This was years before she entered the nursing home. She had started to have problems with her vision, and would see double most of the time. “I know you’re not here, but I can see you out of the corner of my eye,” she would say to me over the phone, “It’s like you’re sitting right next to me, yet when I turn my head, you’re gone”. It both pained and pleased me that I was the one she was trying to see. That it was me she so desperately wanted to catch hold of. It meant I was important to her. It meant that, even though I may have failed her in many and varied ways, I still meant a lot to her.
It’s funny how things change. Because that’s the way I feel about her now. If I look around quickly, it’s like she’s right there and I just missed her. Like I couldn’t quite catch her out of the corner of my eye. Mostly though, I just feel her presence all around me. Like she’s sitting next to me, watching me with interest, keeping me company, offering guidance and love. Tragically, it’s only through her death, that I finally feel heard and understood. It’s only through her death that I fully feel the power of her love.
About the author: Rebecca Wong has a BA from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and is currently studying to be a Therapeutic Yoga Teacher, specializing in yoga for depression, anxiety and burnout.