I had intended to write a post about my mother one the one-year anniversary of her death, November 19. But for several reasons (one being that it was emotionally not easy to write such a post), I didn’t get to it until now.
When I was composing the post in my head at the time, it was mainly about what my mom’s death had brought us. Besides the tremendous sadness of losing her, I also wanted to share that somehow, her death (and the fact that my dad found a new partner rather quickly and wasn’t a bundle of loneliness and misery we had to go and take care of) gave my sister and me a kind of liberty. Of course we would never say that we favored this liberty over having our mother, but – at least to me – it did offer some peace of mind. The umbilical chord had finally been completely cut. Let me explain: ever since we’d been living abroad, and even more so since the birth of our son, I always had this urge to move back to Holland. Not immediately, but someday in the not too far future. I wanted to be close to my mom, to have her around to babysit my child(ren), to be my reliable source to fall back on when I was in doubt. To have that person close to you whom you don’t need to explain anything to, she already knows. This feeling made me restless – always wanting to leave, even though hubby had no desire to move back to the lowlands any time soon. However, when she had died, this feeling was almost immediately gone. I wanted to stay where I was. I had good and affordable childcare for my son, we had built some nice friendships with local and international people, I liked this city, I even got some more interesting work projects. It was as if I finally was able to appreciate this and value it for what it was. In a way, I think a similar thing happened to my sister. She lives in the US and talks at least once a year about moving back to Holland, about wanting her kids to grow up with their Dutch cousins, etc. However, just before my mom got her death sentence, they had sold their house in a very uninspiring town, to move to a town close to a big city, with all the cultural offerings they were missing so much. They briefly thought about abandoning that move and moving straight back to Holland, but luckily they didn’t do so. My mom got to experience the positive change it made for my sister, but also the rest of her family – and even when she was sick mentioned to me once that moving to that town was the best decision my sister had made. Then my mom died, and my sister had the urge to stay in Holland to take care of my dad. But they were getting into each other’s space, and not much later, my dad met someone new (something my sister had a lot more trouble with than I, but that’s a separate story). A year after they had rented their new home, they got the news that the owners wanted to get rid of it. So it was move or buy. Again there were discussions about family in Holland, etc. etc. But in the meantime my sister had also obtained her US citizenship (my brother-in-law had done it a few years before – having to give up his Dutch citizenship, but my sister could keep dual, the kids already had dual citizenship since birth). They bought.
So something along this line would have been my initial thought for a post. I didn’t dwell daily on missing my mom. I was even glad that the tensions that were there sometimes between us and my parents (mainly because of stuff my mom did that irritated the hell out of my hubby) were now gone. I did miss that I couldn’t call her regarding my pregnancy, talking to my dad about it was just not the same. But since we lived far away, she hadn’t been present much in daily life, so that just continued. If I stopped and reflected, I could get very sad (and still can) about the memory that is gone. My mom remembered everything, my dad remembers hardly anything, She was a better listener, or at least made an effort to register things from our daily lives –my birthday was almost two weeks ago, on a Friday, of course my dad called when I was at the pool for my prenatal swimming that I’ve been doing every week since September – and I cried when I heard his voicemail, knowing that if my mom still had been alive, she would have remembered, and they would have called early, to catch me before I left.
For the first anniversary of her death we went to Paris with my dad and his girlfriend (I didn’t want to drive all the way up to Holland and wasn’t sure airlines would still allow me to fly). I had mentioned to my dad a few weeks earlier that I wanted to light a candle for my mom at the Notre Dame cathedral. We would also take a walk at the Père Lachaise cemetery. My dad’s girlfriend would be there, but she had already indicated that there would be enough opportunity for my dad and me to take some time apart and mourn. It all seemed to be a good plan and we were enjoying the weekend and the fact that we were spending time together. The day we arrived we took the walk at the cemetery (beautiful views over Paris), I saw a grave of an artists we’d been to an exhibit of once when we were vacationing in France. He made a lot of (crazy) paintings with violins, which I really liked and I had tried to get (a reproduction of) one of his works, but to no avail. I made a photo of the grave. I asked my dad if he’d seen it, he said he did, but he didn’t remember the vacation story. I emailed the photo to my sister. She didn’t remember either. My mom would have.
The next day, November 19, we went to Notre Dame in the morning. When we arrived there it seemed my dad wanted to split up – but not the way we had talked about, but him staying with the girlfriend. He was nervous. I told him I wanted to light the candle with him, what the girlfriend and my hubby wanted to do was up to them, if someone could take the toddler, that would be good. So finally my dad asked his girlfriend to walk around with our toddler, while he and I lit a candle and hubby was there too to take a picture. Then when we had taken our moment, my dad asked me to give the girlfriend a hug later, because this was difficult for her too. I didn’t really react at first, but when I was outside again I screamed “No” in my head. This was our moment. If someone needed to be comforted it was me not her!
Then a few days later, when we were all back home, my dad called me and told me he and the girlfriend had had an argument. Apparently she had first said she didn’t even want to come to Paris, because it was too hard. Then she still came, but had said she didn’t want to come to Notre Dame with us, but in the end she did. I was mad. I told him she could have opened her mouth at breakfast, when we were discussing what to do that day. But maybe it was also my dad, because he always wants to have everyone around him and do everything together, so maybe she did suggest she would go do something else and meet up with us later, and he convinced her to come along anyway. I don’t know. I told him they should find a way to deal with it. I understand it is difficult, but my dad clearly still doesn’t know how to manage dealing with mourning my mom and having a girlfriend, but it doesn’t work this way – we now cannot talk about my mom when his girlfriend is there, so even though when we see each other we all have a nice time, and I don’t blame him for having found someone new (yes, it was soon, but these things sometimes just happen, that’s life), but we can’t shut out my mom. The girlfriend should not see my mom as competition. They are incomparable anyway.
That was the anniversary weekend. A month later it was my birthday, a week later it was Christmas, and I entered the final month of pregnancy. On Friday I made a very ordinary but apparently completely wrong movement and pulled my lower back. It hurt the entire weekend, I couldn’t bend, walking was difficult, etc. Thanks to some stretching and massaging I started feeling a little better on Sunday afternoon. On Monday evening the osteopath thankfully had time to see me. These are the to-go to specialists in France for muscle aches, back pain etc, but I always forget that they are part shrinks (they work from the ‘cranio-sacral’ standpoint, I’m more used to physical therapists or chiropractors who massage or ‘crack’ you and give you exercises), so there I was, lying on the table and then the question came, if something had happened recently. So I first said no, and then I said well, maybe I’m missing my mom a bit more around the Holidays and the nearing end of the pregnancy, and oh, there was this thing that happened around the anniversary of her death… So while he was working on me, my back pain went from a 5-6 to an 8 - which the osteopath said was perfectly normal, because I need to release it all, it will start to feel better soon and disappear in a few days.
The hour on the massage table made me reflect again. On how I have lost an anchor place with my mom’s passing, on how difficult it can be that that one person, who knew everything about me, is just no longer there. And I thought about the text again that was on a condolence card someone sent us last year. It’s part of a poem by a Dutch (Christian oriented) poet:
Zeven maal om de aarde te gaan, (to go around the earth seven times)
als het zou moeten op handen en voeten; (if necessary on all fours)
zeven maal, om die ene te groeten (seven times, just to greet that one person)
die daar lachend te wachten zou staan. (who would be waiting there, smiling)
Zeven maal om de aarde te gaan. (to go around the earth seven times)
Sometimes the urge to just wanting to see her, touch her, one more time, smiling, like she used to be, before she got sick, can hurt so much. And I wish her grave wasn’t 900 km away, and I could go visit it often, and just sit there, and be with her in spirit.
(and yes, my back is already starting to feel better…)
Thanks for reading all the way to the end.