Time is one sneaky little bastard. It flies by, whooshing past and spinning us around, blurring some things while making other things annoyingly clear.
As I’m writing this, it’s 5am and I should be in bed, but I’m not. I was just posting a reply to a blog post when it hit me:
It’s June 30 tomorrow. June freaking 30th.
And this year, it’ll be 4 years without my mother gracing our lives.
It fucking sucks.
So, This Thing Happened…
At this time four years ago, my partner and I were excited. We’d made plans to take a train into Toronto on June 30 to see Johnny Clegg, a wonderful musician from South Africa that my partner loves. His music has been part of her life since her childhood years in South Africa, and it was the first time she’d had the chance to see him in a long time. The concert was free, part of Toronto’s Canada Day celebrations. We had the train tickets. We had the thrill. We were committed.
Fast forward to the middle of the night. We’re asleep. I have a strange dream that ends in a bright white light and something unusual I can’t put my finger on…
The cell phone goes off. It’s my family. I hear what my brother’s saying, but it doesn’t make sense. I’m praying he doesn’t mean what I think he means. I ask him to put his girlfriend on. I ask her straight out if my mother’s dead.
There’s silence, a hesitant pause.
My mother’s dead. She went in her sleep. In her bed, right beside my dad. He heard her last breath or death rattle or whatever you want to call it. And he did everything he could — all the CPR he could — but she was gone.
I’ve never screamed over the phone like I did right then.
I went into shock. Freaked out. Cried and cried. I promised my dad we’d be there that afternoon. We’d take the train tickets we had into Toronto already and use them. Then we’d buy tickets for the other train that went into town and be there, at the house.
There were a few quick emails to people I was working with. We packed what we needed, mostly while on autopilot. I think we went on a walk around the neighbourhood just after dawn, crying and sniffling.
I spent the first train ride crying silently, wiping away tears, cursing the child in the seat across from me as he babbled and his parents went on with their lives. Couldn’t they see I was hurting? Couldn’t they just go away and leave me the fuck alone? Why did we have to end up sitting in those group seats instead of the regular ones? I just wanted to sit with my partner with no one else watching, crying for my mommy.
I cried in Union Station, waiting for the next train. People stared at me, but I just kept crying. And my partner, she took care of things. She made sure we kept going.
I managed to hold it together the next train ride. When we got to the station, my brother and his best friend were there. I hugged them hard, but not as hard as I hugged my dad the moment I got into the house. I dropped everything and just hugged him.
It was too much, especially after we’d lost one of Mom’s sisters the year before and her oldest brother a little before that.
That sister also died in her sleep. Their brother died from an aneurysm.
And a few months later after my mom passed, another one of my mom’s sisters died. In her sleep. On September 11. She was discovered by her husband, my uncle, who is also my dad’s brother. She was supposed to be at work but never made it. Both sides of our family took another hit.
Time. It fucking sucks.
All Those Things We Never See Coming
My mom had a rough day at work that last day of her life, but she’d ended it in such a normal way. She went to work; she came home. She went to dinner with my dad and came home. She watched TV while dad was doing his thing on the computer. Then she went to bed and that was how she went out.
God, she was so down to earth.
She liked to crochet and make soft, beautiful baby blankets. She used to sew our Hallowe’en costumes and give trick-or-treaters grab bags stuffed so full with goodies the bags had to be stapled — and gave up her time to hand out those Hallowe’en bags even though it was her birthday. She made the gown I wore to my grade 8 graduation and another gown the first time I went to prom. She made mouth-watering Sunday dinners and taught me how cook and bake. She loved to shop and laugh and smile. She got teary-eyed that one Mother’s Day when I snuck into the house without her suspecting that I’d visit — only hoped. And she worked damn hard, always doing something, always detailed, always intent on doing it right the first time.
We didn’t see her last day coming. Yes, she’d had a problem with her heart the year before — something about her chest filling with fluid and damaging part of the heart — but the doctor had said she was improving. My parents had changed her eating habits. They watched her salt intake. She was taking her pills. But she was on the mend, we were told.
She was on the mend.
But suddenly she was gone, and it hurt. I’ve seen my dad a bit teary eyed before when his step-father died, but I’ve never seen him cry. Not like this. Sitting in the funeral home killed all of us, every word shredding a little more of our hearts, but we got through it. Somehow I found my calm side and kept it together during that meeting, helping to sort out Mom’s obituary and the flowers and the coffin and all that stuff I didn’t know how to do. When dad couldn’t form words, I did my best to find them. And my paternal grandmother, she was strength and love and understanding the whole time. She’s a widow, so she got it, but she’s a mother, too. She knew what her boy needed. She knew what we all needed. (She was as amazing as my maternal grandmother, who’s also a widow and had lost 3 children by that point amidst other tragedies — yet she still carried on. Everything that happened around this time reminded me of why both grandmothers are my heroes. Their lives have been tough, but they’ve pushed back and raised their families to be just as determined.)
We made it through the visitation.
We made it through the funeral.
Somehow, I managed to deliver the eulogy even though I hate public speaking. But for Mom, I did it. I wrote my heart out for her, just like I am now. I was 29 years old, but I wasn’t ready to be without her.
I never got to say goodbye.
The best I had was waving at her from the stairwell in a train station two weeks before she died. When I thought we had time. When I thought she’d see my partner and I get married once we finally got the money for the wedding we wanted. When I thought she’d see me in my first career-specific job.
When I thought she’d still be there.
She was my cheerleader. My first fan. One of my biggest supporters. She encouraged my writing. She fed my reading addiction, even when I was running out of places to put my books. When I was 12, I worked on my first novella. And when I was 14, wanting to be published, my mom helped me send that novella to publishers. She got the big manila envelopes and stamps and sent the submissions off. Then she was there when I got the rejection letters.
She never told me to stop working for it.
What To Do When Your World Falls Apart
I grieved so hard. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even read a simple email. I’d read sentences over and over again, unable to comprehend anything. I hated everything. It was like living in a snow globe, where the rest of my life was hidden behind a blinding, suffocating cloud.
On top of it, there were other deaths that compounded my grief. Two weeks before Mom died, there was the loss of three individuals in a project I’d been working on, trying to get those individuals sent to a better home. Then my aunt passed in September. I couldn’t take it. I was fucking useless.
But then I sat down and wrote a few words of a fantasy novel I’d started during my early years in university. Then I wrote a few more words. They came so easily, so I didn’t stop. I’d put that project aside for so long — I had to in order to concentrate on my Zoology/science degree, especially when I worked security, volunteered, and had a partner at the same time. But then I went back to school after that degree for a post-grad program, and the writing didn’t go anywhere that fast.
Until grief shredded me apart, tearing me down until all that was left was a storyteller.
So I wrote. Considering the novel was an epic fantasy in a series that’s incredibly dark and much in the vein of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series, it was pretty therapeutic. Angst, anger, joy, romance, tears, pain, discovery, the fight for freedom, life, and love when the world is throwing shit at you. I worked a little on the other books in the series, too, including the death of a main character.
Once I got that far, it was an inevitable slide into getting back into writing creatively. My subconscious changed priorities on me. Next thing I knew, my conscious was shifting things, too. I started walking away from the work I had been doing and ran towards writing, one of my first loves, along with animals and music. Writing has always been there, at my core, ever since my mom’s step-dad died when I was 6.
He died the same day I wrote my first story. And I didn’t know it until that night. I cried hard then, too.
So these words, strangely enough, are born from death as much as they’re born from life. It’s no wonder that when Mom left us, it was the only safe, sane place I could find refuge.
A year later, I decided to pursue writing for real. To put myself out there, publishers and rejection and all. Since then, being an author has topped my to do list. This is where the romance novels have come from, and why I’m so humbled and grateful to publishers like Less Than Three Press for giving my work a chance — for helping me pursue a dream I’d put aside. A dream that my mother supported and cheered for and never made me feel ashamed over. Writing has been my breath and thought and my soul reaching out into the universe to make sense of it.
But Mom, sweet Mom, you’re in every word. I hear your love in the silence.
And in every story is a piece of my broken heart saying “I love you” right back.
October 31, 1959 – June 30, 2012