Writing about my mother

I wrote and shared my mother’s eulogy, on behalf of my family, three weeks ago today.

I love to write – it’s one of my creative joys, giving me an almost unparalleled sense of achievement and connection to others – yet this was not a simple joy.

It was difficult, and painful, to write a piece which did justice to what my mother meant to me, to my sister, to my brother, to my father. Like all families, we have relationships impacted by personal frailties.  Mum wrestled with depression and an addiction to alcohol throughout much of her mothering, and they both impacted on all three of her children, and my father, in varying ways.

We talked together about the stories we wanted to share with the people who’d travelled from Canada and all over Aotearoa. Family memories that made us laugh, like Mum making up travel songs or singing awful pop songs regardless of audience. Family herstory that made us proud, like Mum’s brilliant mind being so sought after she was invited by her local Canadian university to do a Masters degree in chemistry when that was a fairly unusual event for women. Family stories of being loved and cherished, in all the ways she did that, for all of us.

One of the gifts my mother gave me as a teenager was joy in being sexual. She told us repeatedly how much fun sex could be, and embarrassed us regularly by expressing her delight with and admiration of my father. Her sexual agency, her expression of active and independent female desire, has been deeply formative for me in my own relationships, in my feminism and in the way I’ve approached working to intervene in and prevent gendered violence.

So one of the stories we shared was Mum telling a nurse, in the last days of her life, when she could no longer eat, drink or breathe without assistance, that her heart rate was irregular because he was so handsome.

After Mum’s service, the eulogy I’d written ran through my head for days and days. As a complete piece of writing, over and over again. Remembering all the stories we’d shared. Replaying a collage of memories of my independent, free-spirited and strong-willed, brilliant and beautiful mother.  The stream was both a comfort and a torture. I didn’t want it to stop, yet it was blocking me sleeping and being present.

Usually I find writing about something helps clarify it for me. I often work out how I feel about an issue by arguing it out in text. There have been some parallels for me in writing Mum’s eulogy. Wrestling with all the ways my family wanted to remember Mum, writing it down and sharing it with my family, and then speaking it aloud. I will never forget how it felt, to condense the complexities of a full life, a life so intimately connected to my own, my sister’s, my brother’s, my father’s. I cannot imagine I will find public speaking as challenging, after standing at that podium, breathing deeply with my siblings holding me on either side, willing myself to start speaking about our Mum in front of the people gathered there to remember her.

My grief is so raw, every time I talk about Mum in the present tense, my eyes well up with tears. I’m frightened that when it feels less raw, I’ll be losing memories I’m desperate to keep. I don’t think I had even the slightest comprehension of how painful this was going to be, despite the fact my mother has been unwell for 15 years, and dying for the last 4.

I’m hoping that writing will be a comfort for me in this process. I’m not sure yet how much more I want to write about this, but I know I want to start writing again.

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