Those who know me well, or who have checked out this blog on occasion, know that the loss of my mother is one of the defining moments of my life. It continues to be it would seem. The process of understanding grief and loss seems to be quite a journey. I’ve gained some new understanding and acceptance of her death in great ways…especially in the past few years.
I was journaling the other night. Something I do regularly, and as I was sitting there realizing how much I enjoy doing that and how positive it is for me, I remembered that years ago my brother had sent me a journal that my mother had kept. It is a journal of quotes and stories that she recorded that are inspirational, many of them about marriage, children, and education. Three things that were very important to her. I’ve had this journal for a long time, and it has sat on my desk in my bedroom ever since Ryan sent it to me. I hadn’t been able to look at it. Something told me to look at it that night.
Meanwhile, leading up to this, I have spent some time deepening my understanding of the process of grief in my life. There are two people I think about with this and feel deeply about in regards to grief, my mother and my former partner which I parted ways with late last year. My feelings among each are intertwined and one affects the other. Each represents a loss of love in my life. How I suppressed that for years in regards to my mom is something I’m trying to avoid in the present, so I’ve been very courageous about being open to these painful feelings regarding both in the past few months. In short, I think I finally felt ready to read her notebook.
When I opened it it hit me like a ton of bricks: seeing her handwriting, looking at what she chose to write about and record in there. Many are simply inspirational quotes. As I read them, I could almost hear them in her voice. That’s a lot to take in. The last time I saw her was over 17 years ago, and I could suddenly remember that morning. I immediately began to cry, and then I read this:
“Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding just as it should.”
This is from the poem “Desiderata”. I had heard of it but not read it before. It caused a jolt inside of me I have not experienced. I felt as if I picked up this book to hear my own mother who has been gone for 17 years tell me exactly what I needed to hear. I suddenly realized what this book is that I’ve been avoiding looking at for so long: a gift from my mother, her writing and inspiration to be with me now.
And there’s no way, of course, that she could ever know that. From what I can tell, she documented these quotes in 1974 probably when pregnant with my older brother. She didn’t knowing I would see those words in 2013 long after she’d passed and receive such relief and comfort from them.
It also brings sadness. As I read more of them, it makes me wonder why she chose them. What was she going through at the time that these words stuck out to her to give some comfort and direction? For those of us who lose parents as younger people, I think that one of the great losses of that is never getting to know them as adults. We relate so differently as adults, and I always saw mom as mom and not as someone out in the world who has her own joys and worries, heartache and inspiration.
I don’t understand loss a lot of the time, and as I get to know myself better I am beginning to understand that I’m a very sensitive person who has tried for a long time to have a thicker skin than I do. But I am understanding better bit by bit in my slow slow way that the heart grieves these losses to gain the gifts of the experience. By becoming so in touch with how much I loved my mother, and my former partner, it is a lesson in just how much capacity I have for love that I don’t really give myself credit for. The pain of grief is, to me, a lesson in just how much love exists in me. And that s a gift.
I am particularly moved by her final entry which is I think written down as her wish for Ryan, my brother and I. It gives me chills actually. It is a prayer called Reassurance. I consider this journal one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received:
Could you spare some Guardian Angels
To give me peace of mind
As my children wander from me
And stretch the ties that bind?
You have heavenly legions, Father.
Could you send me just a few
To guide my eager youngsters
As I give them, Lord, to You?
O thank you, thank you, Father,
And, oh, my glad heart sings.
I’m certain that just now I heard
The swish of passing wings!