Thursday, November 1, 2012

Always in my heart

Our first meeting.  April 24, 2010.

This is such a difficult post to write.  I don't want to fuck it up and I hope I give it the justice it deserves.  As I write this, tears stream down my face.  I didn't think I would have such a strong reaction to what happened yesterday, but I find myself highly emotional and on the constant verge of tears.  My birth mother passed away.  I don't know why I am so emotional.  Is it because I didn't get enough time with her?  Is it because I know all too well what her children and loved ones are feeling right now? Is it because it has brought back so many memories of my mother's passing nine years ago?  Is it because I mourn for a woman who had to make a decision that no mother should have to make?  Is it because my birth mother had to struggle through a life I can't even begin to imagine?  Maybe it is all of those things.  All I know is that her passing has affected me much harder than I thought possible.

Not because I didn't care about her.  Just the opposite.  I cared very much.  But I've only seen her three times my whole adult life and spoken to her maybe a dozen times on the phone.  We were strangers. Strangers that were connected by blood.  We kept a comfortable distance from each other.  I know that she was uncomfortable around me, and I was around her as well.  Even though that barrier was between us, I still always cared and I know she did too.

The last time I saw her was in February of 2012.  I met her in Toronto after work with one of her daughters and we had dinner at one of her favourite restaurants.  It was a nice visit, and it was more comfortable than our last visit which happened during Christmas 2011.  She lived on the reserve which is a six hour drive from Toronto.  She had to come down to Toronto for a couple of visits though because she had to have some medical tests performed.  Her health was not good. She was a type 2 diabetic.

The last time we spoke was in late spring.  She told me that she'd had a couple of stints in the hospital but that she was feeling better.  She didn't let on how serious her health issues were, and I know she wouldn't.  She didn't want others to make a big deal or to worry.  So I didn't worry.  But I should have.  We had a pretty private relationship.  Our contact was sporadic, but meaningful when it happened.  I'm glad I made the decision for her to meet my son and husband over the Christmas season last year.  Since I've had contact with her, I have not forgotten her birthday, Easter, Christmas or Mother's Day.  I always sent a card with pictures.

I knew a couple of weeks ago that she was in the hospital in Elliot Lake and I made a plan with her youngest daughter to call one night so I could speak to her.  I chickened out at the last minute because I didn't know what to say.  I knew she wasn't doing well, and conversation never came easy to us.  I also knew that she was bedridden but the medical staff wanted to start rehab with her the following week.  So I thought I had time.  Time to make a plan and make it up to see her before the snow started falling in the north. I'd hoped to go up before the end of November for a quick visit just to see her again, and at least let her know by my visit that I did indeed care.

I got a Facebook message from her granddaughter on Tuesday afternoon, and a phone call from her youngest daughter that same night telling me that things were quite dire and she wasn't expected to live much longer.  I was shocked.  I had no idea that things were that bad.  By morning I had received a message from another daughter begging me to go up and see her.  I just couldn't.  And I know they may not be able to understand this but I wanted to remember her the way she was the last time I saw her.  And I would have been a stranger intruding on an extremely private family moment.  For many of the family  members by her bedside  it would have been the first time they would have met me.

Once she passed yesterday afternoon, I had already made the decision that I couldn't attend her funeral.  Again, I would be seeing much of her family for the first time and I would have felt overwhelmed and exposed.  My birth mother and I had a private relationship.  She kept me a secret until we made contact in the winter of 2010.  Not even her children or siblings knew I existed.  I know she would understand my need to honour and mourn her privately.  She's being buried on the reserve and I will go up at a later time to say goodbye to her.

She was a woman who had a hard life and had to make tough decisions and sacrifices for all of her children.  My heart breaks for her family and for myself.  She was taken from everyone too soon. There were questions I still had that only she could answer.  Those questions will remain unanswered.  My mother told me that my birth mother gave me up because she had no other options at that time and she wanted me to have a good life.  She was a single mother with six children (seven counting me) and just couldn't manage one more at that time.  When I was made a Crown Ward at six months, my birth mother came to court and my mother actually let her take me for an hour and spend time alone with me.  I asked how she knew she would bring me back and my mother said, "because she loved you and she wanted what was best for you".

I'm thankful that I got the opportunity to meet her.  I'm thankful I gave her the opportunity to meet my son.  I'm thankful that she made the sacrifices she did for me.  I'm thankful I have pictures from her past to remember her by.  And I'm thankful for the new memories that we created together. She will continue to live on in my heart...a place I've held for her my entire life.