I’ve been grieving all year in many ways: imagining I just saw her (wasn’t it yesterday?), re-reading old letters from her, recalling the sound of her voice, feeling her as me when I raise my arm, or move in a certain way that feels like her. I’ve been nursing old wounds and experiencing some shame and guilt about ways I know I hurt or begrudged her in small and not so small ways. I’ve been especially aware of both her limitations and her brilliance, her passion and her steadfastness in the face of my resistance. I have been aware of the deep longing to understand and be understood that we shared. I’ve massaged the tender places where her love always managed to penetrate my prickliness.
I’ve been missing my mother, and wondering who in the world I am without her. I’ve seen that I am actually just as attached to my mother as I was when I was a tiny girl.
And I’ve been dreaming for several months that I’m in an intense struggle to separate from this attachment. It’s as if I’ve been trying to loosen the grip on myself as a reflection of my mother’s image of me. Even though I’ve been certain that this image limits me, I’ve clung to it, because it has felt safer and more familiar than any alternative. I haven’t been sure I could live without this reflection.
A friend recently announced her own discovery that she actually was, in a profound way, no longer her mother’s daughter. I was stunned at this revelation. I had never imagined this possibility for myself; I didn’t even know what it meant, or whether it was something I wanted for myself.
I never thought I’d be able to say goodbye to my mother, or to the house she lived in for almost 50 years. I visited in July with my brothers and sisters, and felt her presence, not only through the many things we divided among ourselves, but underneath the layers of paint and wallpaper we uncovered as we prepared the house for sale. Mom kept surfacing. I shed many tears with my family, and resisted leaving. When I eventually did, I felt certain I would need to return at least once more to say goodbye in the quiet of solitude: just me, my mother and these reflected images, together for one last time.
But something is shifting in the past few days and weeks. I am aware of a dark, spacious emptiness; no longer the aching void of loss, but a deep, black, peaceful spaciousness within. It’s a watery depth, imbued with shimmering light and immense quiet. In my mind’s eye I can see my mother’s image moving soundlessly across this fluid surface, away from me into a watery distance, carried in a tiny boat just large enough for one. She moves calmly, no looking back, with measured strokes. She’s moving on, leaving me alone, but not lonely, feeling whole and complete without her: not deficient, not missing anything, but completely alone. A deep, peaceful clarity has me aware that I need nothing at this moment: not even a mother.
I don’t know if I can (or need to) say that I am no longer my mother’s daughter. She lives with me in my memories and dreams, through all that she helped to nurture and create and all who ever experienced her deep brown eyes.
My mother is gone now, leaving me utterly without a reference point, other than the smooth, glass-like surface of the black water that is even now flowing through me, carrying me on its current, to parts unknown, with no rudder, no paddle, no anchor: no idea of who I am.