I had the uncanny sense of having met my mother for the first time on the morning after her death.
I noticed how I didn’t knock before entering her bedroom; there was now no need. The curtains were open as though she were greeting the morning like any other. As I sat down between her and her view of the window I became aware of scanning her face without knowing why. My thoughts were saying, ‘This is your mother free from hope and fear.’ It was as though I were being introduced to someone I’d known all my life but had never met.
It seemed I now had two mothers: one whose life had been animated by hope, need, fear, drama and emotionality; and then another, a strangely unfamiliar woman unaffected by any of these.
For someone who’d just died she seemed very much alive. It was as though death had brought her into the present; like life, death is only ever in the present. It was as if her death had brought us together in the moment.
As I stroked her face I wondered when we’d last shared such intimacy. My mother looked beautiful, serene. I thought this must be what people call ‘resting in peace’, though I did not see peace; I saw an absence of the drama of life. It was as if she’d had to give up life to become present. Although my mother was gone, to me she had only just appeared.
I wondered what my mother would have made of this new development in our relationship …
I was mystified. Then I became aware that I’d noticed only thoughts, no feelings. As I arose I immediately felt a warm tingling tracking up through my body. My face became soft just as a welling sensation travelled from my stomach. It flushed through my chest and into my skin where it then transformed into a gentle and sudden outburst of tears. I felt immense relief as I became aware of a profound sense of aloneness.
It then struck me, who I’d been in relation to my mother was also gone. I was not now an orphan, as some insist with the death of parents. I knew this because who I was had also gone. I thought, ‘Who am I without the emotionality of my mother?’
From the womb and into childhood my mother not only shaped my world, she was my world: food, warmth, security, care, touch, language, values and relating. The world she’d brought me into was our connection to one another and it was eventually our point of separation. She’d shared many stories about herself, our family, and about how I grew up. I thought I knew her, and yet now looking down at her I realised I knew only her stories, beliefs, doubts, wishes, hopes, fears and some of her secrets. None of this now seemed relevant to the woman laid beside me; her face reflected none of the world that had slipped away the night before.
I knew now that it made no sense to grieve either mother; one had just appeared and the other never existed. Yes people grieve what they never had, and what never was, but this was not that. After all, I have two mothers. I realised that grieving either mother, or indeed the loss of myself, made as much sense as grieving the end of the world.
Even though deep down my mother knew she was dying, she had been praying to God for a miracle to save her from death. She’d wanted to be delivered from death, and I’d wanted her to embrace it. From my perspective death is the miracle. It’s an everyday miracle that releases us from the shackles of hope and fear.
I had wanted her to become intimate with death in life, although I’d long since got over any hope of this. But that didn’t stop me wanting it and, unfortunately, even a small want can fuel a drama. As it was, neither of us got what we wanted.
I now saw clearly how life is a particular kind of death. This thought, this perspective, cut through me like never before. Until now only my mind could grasp this; it had taken my mother’s death for me to see that being born of death is the second and final birth.
A memory of her drifted into mind. When I was five or six years old, she’d taken me snorkelling. We were way out of our depth. I remember holding tightly onto her hand as we looked down at the seabed. Shafts of sunlight danced among the giant fronds of seaweed as they swirled in and out to the power of an invisible current. Afloat in this strange new world I felt safe and awestruck. My mother’s shared sense of underwater wonder is still something that endures with me.
And so here we are again, floating together in silence, sharing another new perspective, a gift so much greater than the sea.
Glenn quotes …
‘Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species’ (Friedrich Nietzsche).