Huge trigger alert on this one. If you are adopted or have recently lost a parent, this blog is raw. It is raw because writing is how I process, and I really need to process this. Again, Orange Pekoe tea with milk, my favourite and my mom’s favourite. Thanks for joining me today. 🤗
So as you probably know, I lost my mother on October 31, 2022. She lived 97 years, most of it in very good health and active in her community. I have already talked about the “final arrangements” and all that that brings forward. Now lets talk about the aftermath and the quiet. The flurry of activity and support is gone. In my case, this is partly due to the distance between where my mother lived and where I live, a 7 hour drive. Now a 7 hour drive in winter conditions, I do not feel worth that risk to my family or friends, and so I am alone in a town where I know so few people.
When one is left so completely alone with grief it is the loudest silence I have ever heard. In all the post-death flurry I was being hugged by cousins, most of whom I have not seen face to face since my dad’s funeral almost 15 years ago, and friends that made the long trek to be with me. I was receiving the sympathies of the Catholic Women’s League, of which mom had been a member for 66 years, prayers from the Sacred Heart League, and a few people who knew her came to the funeral home to offer their condolences. It had never occurred to me that not only do you notice who has come, but also who has not. It’s like a weird sub-conscious roll call. People are so kind when you are grieving, when your pain is fresh and raw. Then, they are gone. Those of you who have reached out or called since then, thank you, it means a lot to me while I travel this new hellish journey.
Now, I am responsible for cleaning out a four bedroom, two storey home that my mother moved into when she was 9 years old, left and lived her life in Toronto, spent her summers working at various resorts, spent most of her married adult life in Cochrane, Ontario until retiring back to Barry’s Bay, caring for her mother, and finally buying and moving into her childhood home again when her mother passed away. As you can imagine, this means clearing out my mother’s things, as well as many of my grandmother’s things. The cleaning out of the home is not the point of this blog, the emotions are.
I have picked up and held every glass, photograph, letter, army papers, cribbage boards, knitting books, quilt books, and many little mementos of my youth, my grandmother’s life, and my parents’ lives, it’s fate resting on my shoulders. I donated 18 decks of playing cards to a local organization, just to give you an idea. For everything I touch I need to decide: keep; donate; give to a family member; or throw it away. Of course I also consult with my brother about what he wants to keep and then, alone, decide the fate of the items he does not want. When he gets overwhelmed by these decisions he simply leaves and goes to his apartment, about 5 blocks away. I find myself alone often, in the deafening silence of this home now devoid of its owner, alone with myself, now devoid of my mother.
Little things that remind me of mom the most are the hardest decisions. Her tea cozy, so badly stained from pouring tea while having thousands of conversations with friends, family, and neighbours. Stained or not, into the ‘keep’ box. Her clothes, boxed up for those in need, but one sweater stashed away in my suitcase, in the hopes of capturing her scent. I admit I had to go back into the winter coat donation bag because I drove here on short notice in late fall, and find myself still here in early winter. Why did you have such short arms mom, when mine are so long. “As long as your chest is warm.” I hear her say as I put on her coat and go shovel the driveway and her beloved deck. I shovel just in case she wants to walk out and see her apple tree that she grew from a store apple seed, “So many people said it would never grow! Look at the apples on it.” she would say with pride. The tree that is still here, while she is not.
Eating while grieving is already a chore, eating alone while grieving is a nightmare. So mostly I just don’t, I pick at this or that so when my family asks what I’m eating I’ll have an honest answer. I know that packing, going up and down the stairs carrying boxes and bags, brooms and mops, as well as carrying garbage bag after garbage bag outside are all calorie burning activities, but eating alone is such a sad thing. Sometimes when I start eating I find myself overcome with regret. Maybe I could have called and chatted with mom sometimes while she ate. Since I have been here these few weeks, I feel like I lived a little of mom’s life in her last few years and it makes me cry. I think of all the meals my mother ate alone because she had outlived most of her family members and friends. When I sit here hoping someone will call just to break the monotony of aloneness I think of how many times I could have, and should have called her. In hindsight, I could have called while she was eating and chatted with her on speaker phone. Why is this affecting me so strongly? Perhaps it is to inspire those of you who have time to do this for your loved one who lives alone? Just do it, so regret does not fill your pillow case with tears like mine has done. Call them.
It may be cliché but honestly the silence is deafening. I wonder if it is not as much the silence that feels weird but the loneliness. To sit here believing that not one person is thinking of you right now and picking up the phone to check in on you makes the ticking of the clock even louder, or the traffic sounds more noticeable as the odd car drives by. Try it, stop for two minutes and hear the sounds you can hear because you have stopped being busy. That is the sound of being alone. I still wake up at night wondering who is crying, until it occurs to me that it is me. Or I wake up because I hear the phantom sounds my mother made when I would be staying here with her, realize that I will never hear those sounds again, and cry. It amazes me how much crying one person can do and how suddenly it overwhelms. Dropping one of her knitting needles makes a sound I understand that I will never hear again because she can no longer drop it, cry. The unmistakable creak of her chair at the kitchen table as she played cards, never creaking the same way again, cry. When the calls did come I cannot describe how grateful I felt, that you were there, thinking of me and breaking the silence, even briefly.
Now I must acknowledge my adult adopted person pain specifically. I have talked before about the curse of feeling different sometimes because I was adopted, and how I take things to heart and relate them to my adoption. Believe me, this is not on purpose, and I feel the feelings subconsciously before my conscious self tells me I’m being ridiculous. Like, are people not wrapping around me the same way because I did not lose my “real” mother, and so I’m probably fine? Am I able to give away family pictures to family members more easily because I can’t look for resemblances to myself or my children and grandchildren in these ancestral pictures? Instead, I feel like biological family members should have the old photos because they can make those comparisons. When I look at the few pictures I have squirrelled away to take home I note that they are pictures of my granny, whom I once lived with for 3 months, and of my parents, my brother and me. All other photos are packed away for my aunts, uncles or cousins.
Many people at the funeral mentioned to me that they had always found it uncanny how much I look like my mother (but tall like her mother) and how much I am like my mother in personality, even though I was adopted, (they always add that like a sad qualifier, that punches me in the gut, every time). Sometimes I feel like I should take out a photo of my birth mother so they can compare which one I look more like, but that would be rude. I was raised better than that. I was raised by my mother and my father, not my ‘adopted’ mother and father. I was raised to be a good and kind person and they nurtured a sense of humour that usually gets me through the worst of times. It is hard to be funny with just yourself as the audience. Although, if you ever get a chance to see my mother’s headstone . . . I warned her not to die on Halloween and she defied me! Who has the last laugh mom?
I just need to be clear. I loved my mother like a daughter loves her mother, not like an adopted daughter loves her adoptive mother, and I grieve for her with everything in me. Enough said.
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