Sunday, May 26, 2013

layer upon layer

My dear cuz and ever constant friend,

It was delightful to come home and find your letter waiting for me. Snail mail is such a good invention, it’s a wonder nobody ever though of it before. What better way to wrap a gift than in an envelope?...

…Everyone comments positively on the photo used for mother’s funeral service. Perhaps I’m projecting, but to me it is just another photo in which she appears haunted and lost. It was taken at her engagement do. If you saw the whole photo, rather than the portion used for the funeral service, you would notice that she could not bring herself to look at him, even then. Not in any of the photos taken that night. Even in the wedding photos they are both looking in different directions.

I had thought there was only one photo – which I can’t seem to find – in which she seemed to be living in the moment. But I was wrong; I remember now the delight on her face when you and Z dropped in to visit her at Murchison last year. It was another rare moment captured – can we say “on film” any more?

Your thoughts, comments and memories of my mother are appreciated; they’re made more special by the spirit in which they’ve been given.

What is it like, do you think, for people without large extended families? Ours seems to have been characterised, in part, by a progressive barn dance in which children shifted their affection from their mother to one aunt or another. Is it easier to accept the foibles of nieces or nephews because the bond is slightly distant? On its own this would not be enough, of course – none of the sisters liked all of their nephews and nieces, how could they? With so many nephews and nieces that would be a statistical improbability. But as you know, she genuinely liked and admired you.

I remember your own mother with a great deal of affection and gratitude. With affection because I felt it was reciprocated and with gratitude because there was much for me to be grateful for. At the same time, it was easy for me to like her because I was free, as we all were, to pick and choose when and why to attach ourselves to alternative mother figures, and who those mother figures would be. I didn’t have to pay for your mother's affection by being her daughter 24/7.

It’s right and just that we can take people as we find them, without being blind to any parts of their character that don’t affect us too personally. Yet in all those years I only once felt a glimpse of the mother you must have seen so often. I can’t remember what I said, only that her face closed down for a split second, as if a security wall had slammed down over the tellers’ windows in a bank. It was just a tiny “aha!” moment, for me, but one that humanised her.

As for my own mother, I assure you the “forgiving” is easy. Who of us can forgive ourselves our own failings without first forgiving others? It’s the “liking” and the “feeling grief-stricken” that elude me.

I found myself in St Francis’ church a few weeks ago when I was in town with JJ. As one does, when there, I lit a few candles and for the first time dedicated one solely to my mother, only to be instantly overwhelmed by a strong sense of pity. Perhaps the wounds are healing.

After your own mother died, did you sense some shift in your relationships with your brothers and sisters? Of course, your mother was the keeper of the genealogies, and the glue that bound the larger family together. Has there been a shift in extended relations because the glue is gone, or simply because we became, long ago, our own selves with our own lives? A bit of both?

It’s also possible that the shift at this end has a different cause – that I never really got to know B1 at all until the funeral.

Now that Aunty is living here, we eat at a table each night in a true spirit of communion, and we chat. Our chats are frank and, like Aunty, non-judgmental. Topics and observations wander at random. She and your mother decided years ago about my mother that "that’s just the way she is”.

She gives clues away, sometimes, about how B1 thought and felt about mother. It’s pretty much what I always felt he felt.
When he gave the eulogy at mother’s funeral he faltered for just a moment: It was the first time ever I saw him betray any emotion – positive or negative – about her at all. About anything important, really.
So here am I on the cusp of 60; I’ve only torn away one layer of his “onion” and I doubt I’ll ever get to remove another.

It was a great relief for me that he took care of the funeral arrangements. It’s impossible that anyone could have done a better job, but so sad that she was damned with such faint praise – so much so that I felt a tad embarrassed for her. She deserved at least a little credit for sometimes trying; after all, credit need not be confused with affection. But I’ve no idea how it could have been said without implying more negatives.

B2, on the other hand, is gutted. He and mother argued at cross purposes constantly, all her life, but he visited her every month without fail right up to the end.

When B1 mentioned, after the funeral, that we must arrange a date to scatter her ashes, my heart sank a little. A week later, B2 went to collect the ashes and take them home as he felt it would be more respectful than leaving her alone on an undertaker’s shelf. 
How do I say “no”, I don’t want any part of the scattering? I'm pretty confident I can predict what B1 will say: Nothing.

Why do I feel the need to stay on good terms with B2, or even in touch? I admire him enormously, and miss the companion he was when we were kids, but when I’m around him it’s exhausting – possibly for him as much as for me. I’m worn out his habit of taking offence at or misinterpreting my most innocent statements. 
I wonder where he gets that from?

It occurred to me last week that I need a Doctor’s Certificate. I don’t need time off from work, or from home and the day-to-day stresses of home life, I just want some time off from all the other crap. From house selling and will executioning and personal obligations I'm not sure I want. Can you recommend anyone who bulk-bills?


  1. Snap. you are not alone. I cannot remember a single instance of my mother being friendly toward me. The good part is that it saved me grief when she died of chain-smoking. I am often intrigued by bloggers and other people with deep attachments to their parents, possibly envious. My father is 90 in a week and I cannot bring myself (Only Child, due to inherit) to go near him, or cope with the challenge of finding a birthday card which does not proclaim love and admiration for the recipient. sigh.

    The time off that you need, might be found at one of those 'weekend luxury spas' where you can bliss out, tune out, to aromatherapy massage and hot baths and open fires and good wine. Executors are allowed to award themselves a fee which ought to cover it. good luck.

    1. Oh, the card thing. The sickly, syrupy sticky stuff. Or the two major alternatives: the you're a pisspot isn't it funny ha ha genre, and the you're so old... funny ha ha genre.

      But I was blessed. If I had been someone else's child I would never have had three such wonderful aunts.

  2. Thanx for showing there's always something for which to be thankful - even if it's by default. Blank cards to write ones own message are my solution - say as much/little with as much/little sentiment/feeling/depth.

    Besides, isn't there something faintly ridiculous about a card that proclaims 'Now you're 50' or 'Merry Christmas to my maternal cousin once removed'? As if the recipient didn't know ...

    1. Oh, the town from which my mother's family hails is a small one. I can walk down the street and spot a "prick relative" a mile off, just by certain physical features. [not one of them has my nose, the lucky sods].

      We all seem to know, as you put it, who is from which branch of the family, but I don't send them cards. Letters and presents are not for "occasions" ordained by outsiders, but by the events and feelings of other moments. Otherwise I really would have little to say, blank card or not. But I know how you feel.