One Strong Mama
Week 33 brings a NEW topic and a great moment in Finding 52’s timeline. Yes, it marks my birthday, which is always a fantastic reason to celebrate….just ask my hubby, he will confirm it is a big deal….but most significantly, this is THE birthday I turn the same age as my Mum, when she died.
I want to wail. I want to cry. I want to rant at the heavens and beat my chest, not prepared to be this age, not ready to accept this reality, not willing to face a year I have been dreading for the last decade.
Yet, here it is.
So I take myself by the scruff of my neck, force heavy lungs with a steady blast of oxygen, lift my chin to brace for this striking blow….and for a moment….I feel Strong. Ready.
Ready for the next 4 weeks of looking at what it means to be Strong.
As always, I begin this new topic by searching for the most intimate version of Strength. The kind that is reserved for ME, for who I am now, and for who I want to become.
My icon for this week, is a birthday card Mum had in her collection of cards. Her writing is not in it, the plastic wrapping still intact, so I am left to guess the ‘special daughter’ description was in fact, meant for me.
I do not remember receiving a birthday card from her that year; forgotten in the bustle of her suddenly declining health. My 22nd birthday, rightly overshadowed by approaching death. Between trying too hard to love my then boyfriend, and losing grip on the parent I had yet to understand, my birthday was of no consequence. Within a week of turning 22, Mum was gone, boyfriend was gone, ending my glorious ‘being 21’ era, and beginning something new….the desert era.
I wandered for months.
Unable to comprehend what direction pointed home….my once certain path now foreign and wild….ghosts of scorched emotions dancing like tormented spirits around a disappearing flame of my remaining soul….
I did not feel Strong. I did not feel young. I did not feel.
Vulnerable to the trickery of a mirage-like saviour appearing before my empty, aching eyes, I headed toward a marriage I thought would elevate me to my former glory days.
It did not.
More hunger. More sadness. More agony….except for one thing.
There is a reason this little guy got put inside a locket with a Grandma he would never meet. Becoming a mother rushed life into shrunken veins, opening my heart to embrace the sacrifice of death as a necessary balance for great joy….the circle completed….
Death must do, so life can be.
That mystical, life transforming perspective held my imagination….and hope….for the next 15 years of no birthday or holiday celebrations. Mirage marriages come with a price.
Maybe it is the reason hubby now takes such care to celebrate each of my birthdays. Trips, concerts, fine dining, fairs, theatre events…..and always a specially wrapped gift or card. My wasted years have been restored and multiplied with joy, endlessly over and above all that the desert took from me.
Now, what about Strength? I have heard many people use this word to describe me, so I must know something about it….
HAH! I think when people tell me I am strong, it is in a moment I actually feel my weakest. Am I consistently being misread, or is there something else going on? This seems a bit odd, so it should be a good place to start exploring.
One of the more recent times I recall being told I was Strong, was near the beginning of this year.
After coming back from a 9 month medical leave, a colleague called me strong. Maybe because I took on a new set of schools in an area that had been neglected for a while, meaning my first order of business was to rebuild trust and relationships. Maybe because a physical setback caused a delay in my original return to work and I had to go back and re-start my treatment. Maybe because our team had lost and added personnel, making it seem as though I was another junior member, my voice no longer being sought as the sage. Or maybe because I swallowed my pride to get the support I needed, in order to get myself up and running again with our teams new or changed procedures. Lots of things change in 9 months!
My colleague’s lives had changed, too. Not that I am not a desperate office gossip, but it is nice to know the bigger chunks in the personal lives of people who work alongside me. Getting married, having a baby, taking a fabulous vacation, renovating or buying a house….those sort of chunks.
I was saddened to hear a sweet, single mom who works on a similar team as ours, had lost her 15 year old son to suicide. She was off work for a time, so it had been a while since we bumped into each other. When a colleague told me the tragic news, I thought of sending her a sympathy card so she knew I was thinking about her and her younger son, both boys a common topic of discussion whenever we met. We would chuckle together about a story of something they said or did, things that make parents want to pull out their hair, and worries she had for her sensitive boy who seemed to be negatively targeted at school.
Several times, I reminded myself to get to that card, but had forgotten day after day….then week after week….until now…. 5 months already passed.
I saw her coming down our long office hallway, mid-morning light from rooftop windows making it easy to recognize who was approaching. I had about 12 seconds, a relatively long time, to formulate what I would say, what would I do, while we walked toward each other. She looked deep in thought, but jolted out of it when she recognized me.
Her usual chin-up, broad smile was replaced by a tilted half-smile as she said hello. I said her name, probably with more emphasis than necessary, and put my hand on her shoulder. She looked surprised, as there are not many affectionate gestures offered from colleague to colleague in our office. I am not sure if following that gesture with a hug, or saying how sorry I was to hear this news started her tears, but they trickled immediately down her face. She looked tired….spent. More lines on her face, more creases in her expressions, evidence of her ‘desert’ days and tormented nights.
As she wiped away her tears, she explained that no one talks to her about him. She understood. They do not want to see her cry or make her feel bad, but that is not what she needs. She wants to talk about how much she misses him, how he made her laugh, how much potential he had to give….but she stays quiet….alone….to not make anyone else feel uncomfortable.
Finding 52 readers….what is wrong with this picture?!?
A grief stricken mother….at a workplace with caring, responsible adults….doing her best to reassemble a shattered heart, and she is worried about other people’s comfort?
This should not be her story. This should not be the suffocating atmosphere she must endure, in order to pass through her days of grief. We chatted on for about another 10 minutes, telling and re-telling our parental woes, our parental frustrations, our parental fears, then parted to continue our scheduled days. She thanked me for remembering him, for talking about him, because she never wants to FORGET.
I get that. I still live that….even after 25 years….I do not want to forget her. I want to remember Mum,
and be okay knowing death has done its job unleashing the creative power of life.
Do I know it gets easier to accept? Yes.
Does my colleague know that? No.
She thinks she is at her weakest. Driving herself crazy at home, vacant and emotionless at work, self described as hollow inside….obliterated. She would not see herself on the Strength squad.
But that is what I saw. One STRONG mama.