Every time something happens, whether it’s good or bad, I wish I could call my mother. But I can’t. She died in 2017, four years ago.
So I do the next best thing. I play all the the Travellers and Bruce Cockburn albums she and my father used to listen to, and open my mind to the inevitable kaleidoscope of memories:
Holding onto my mother’s hand – tightly – when meeting my baby brother for the first time.
Going to the library with my mother at age 5 to get my first library card.
Marching down a car-free Allen Expressway with Mom and Dad and my brother in Toronto to ‘stop the Spadina’ expressway.
Mom throwing the vacuum cleaner at my father when he told her he didn’t want her to go back to work. (She did go back.)
Myself as a teenager telling Mom to f-off, and Mom telling me to f-off:
Me: “You can’t say that to me!”
Mom: “No, YOU can’t say that to ME.”
Mom (finally!) telling my first girlfriend she could sleep with me in my bedroom.
Mom threatening a home intruder with a very small vacuum cleaner attachment, backup for me up as I escorted him out of the house.
Mom wringing her hands when she told me she’d stopped drinking, then letting me pull her into a hug.
Mom from her hospital bed telling me how proud she was of my writing accomplishments, before telling me how strange it was to be dying.
The moment when Mom stopped being my mother, when she got so sick that I had to put the daughter part of myself away, becoming an advocate for the woman who’d advocated for so many others, a caretaker for the woman who’d taken care of me.
I remember holding my mother while she screamed and cried out in pain. I remember riding the hot wave of anger that rose between us on the hard days when she was sick of life and tired of everyone who loved her. I remember Mom’s relief at sharing her hospital room with a union organizer.
I remember the two of us laughing together later in the muted hush of that same room while cars zipped by in coloured blurs on the freeway outside:
Me: “What are you laughing about?”
Mom: “I don’t know. What are you laughing about?”
Me: “I don’t know, either.”
The two of us laughing harder than ever.
I remember filling out the “Get to Know Me” form in the palliative care unit, because Mom was too weak to write the answers herself.
Telling Mom how proud I was of the woman she was, for all the work she’d done to make the world a better place, how happy I was to be her daughter. Saying what needed to be said while she could still hear it. Telling her all these things again after she’d fallen into a coma, in case she could still hear it.
Kissing her still warm forehead after she’d gone, saying good-bye.
A friend of mine once told me that she was waiting for the day when daughters did not have to kill their mothers in order to become themselves. I remember those fights, the killing days. These days, I am learning to see my mother in myself: in a ringing laugh, our fierce-eyed comments, our wide-eyed wonder at the ever-moving miracle of life, our unbridled love for all things books and music – is it any wonder that my brother became a musician and I became a writer? We carry her anger at injustice, her determination that the world can – and will – be a better place.
Thanks, Mom. For everything.