In the Silence With My Mom

My mother has been dead for almost eighteen years yet I still think about her all the time. But how I think and feel about her has changed because in death, I feel like I’ve gained more of an understanding of her life and how she lived.

Growing up, especially after I began writing, I felt like I was more like my dad. Why? Because I was creative and inquisitive like him. Yet as I look back, I realize I was more like my mother than I ever realized. I was shy and quiet like she was, reserved until she felt comfortable enough to let her guard down.

My dad always said my mother had grace under pressure and how he loved that about her. I’m going to say that grace under pressure isn’t always a good thing. For her, it was the way she learned to be from very early in her childhood in how to deal with things. She never told me a lot about growing up but what I did learn made me understand why she was one to fight like hell to keep it together. It was why when she got sick I made it clear to her that when it was just the two of us she could let down her guard and bitch, rant, and rave about her illness and the shit that came with it.

My mother would be one to say she had no real imagination or creativity. That wasn’t the case because although she didn’t write or do anything creative like that she had imagination in her own way. She loved to read, watch movies, and listen to music. And she loved art and beauty and nature, too. But she was not encouraged at all growing up to be imaginative and curious. In fact, she once said to me about her childhood: “God forbid you had an original thought in your head.”

To rise up from that and not turn inward as hard as her mother did (my grandmother was an extremely conservative woman), was a gift my mother gave to the world. My mother’s opinions were more practical than anything, something I have a great respect for. For example, she didn’t object to two people living together per se, but just felt that marriage gave people more rights if a situation like that went down the toilet. She also used to say, if they’ve done it to someone else what makes you think they won’t do it to you? She’d follow that with, because people like that very rarely, if ever, change. Also, when I started working she told me two things: the walls have ears, and don’t go fishing in the company pond.

In the early 1980’s, my mom went through what she termed her ‘rebellious period’. It was mild by any means of comparison: going to a movie by herself, going out drinking with co-workers, listening to Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ album (which I traded her for with an Air Supply tape- though she’d come and borrow the Prince album all the time), reading books about gay people (she grew up super-conservative Catholic so she told me this was seriously-forbidden territory to her). Looking back, I wonder just how much shit she got for this. Probably a ton but I was glad she took me along for the ride because we began to talk one-on-one very honestly about a lot of issues. It was good preparation for what was to come later.

But as I write about breaking my own silence, I think about my mother’s silence. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, all she ever heard was that she had to be strong and fight the damn disease twenty-four/seven. But what no one told her was there would be motherfucking assholes who would say some seriously fucked-up insensitive shit that she would have to suffer in silence with because of her job or something else being on the line. It was why I was so damned determined to give her a space to vent and rip it all to hell. And trust me, we ripped it all to hell together on many, many occasions. I told her the day that we couldn’t talk like this was the day we would be at the end. Three days before my mother died, a tumor in her brain took away her ability to speak.

As I get into my story of breaking my silence, I’m beginning to realize how much of a part she has in it. How much her own story mirrors mine in many ways. And it’s a good feeling. Because despite all these years without her, this is proof she’s still with me. It’s proof that we never forget those who go before us. This is what I will tell anyone who has lost loved ones, or who may ask how you would deal with that loss if it hasn’t happened to them yet.

Grief isn’t silent. And no matter how much time passes, the stories are still there, just waiting to be told.

Writing Through Grief

Many years ago, before my mother died, I heard I was too comfortable talking about death.

I wasn’t comfortable at all. I just learned to talk about it because I knew it was going to happen. There was no comfort in talking about it or what would have to be done when it came. In fact, the first time my mother and father sat down with me to talk about their deaths and what would need to be done… I got up and walked out of the room. They never held that against me but for many years, I felt enormous shame and guilt that I had done that. I was maybe twenty-one or twenty-two years old (I’m a bit hazy on the exact time frame), just a scared kid really and they knew that. But I knew I was being asked to put my fears aside and prepare for what was coming and I had to learn how to control my emotions and focus on the tasks at hand.

But there was no comfort in that and hearing that hurt me deeply. I tried to write it off as thoughtless bullshit or casual cruelty. But there is no justification for either one. Whether you’re thrust into the grieving process by sudden death or slowly pulled into it by a long, slow march to death, there is never any comfort in death. Yes, death takes away suffering from the person who died, but it leaves those behind with pain that only eases over time.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be writing about my grief. In October of this year it will be eighteen years since my mother died, and it’s been nine years since my father died. Both died after long and protracted illnesses I was there for every step of the way. Yet I was not given the opportunity to talk about my feelings while they were alive as I felt like people couldn’t handle what I was going through, or didn’t want to deal with me and my feelings. So I boxed those feelings up and put them away. Over the last couple of years, I opened those boxes and went through everything I put into them.

Writing about my grief is my grief-into-purpose moment. So many of us are grieving right now: for our loved ones who’ve gone before us, for those we’re watching on that final journey, for those we know who share our pain, and for a world that is changing, and for the fear and violence in our world now.

I have heard accusations in the past that I was trying to be a martyr for talking about my feelings, or that I was being a martyr for not talking about them at all. It was like if I tried to say something, I was only doing it for martyrdom. But if I said nothing I was also doing that for martyrdom.

I have never, ever, been comfortable with attention on myself. I experienced a lot of humiliation and pain whenever I did seek attention when I was young, so much so that I tried to run and hide and only step onto a stage in my imagination. Again, maybe it was just thoughtless bullshit and casual cruelty but there is no justification for either one. I want to say this to anyone who thinks a quiet person breaks their silence for attention or worse, some sort of martyrdom: no, that’s not what’s it about at all.

I think it’s good to see and hear people talking about grief and loss. It’s good to see it move past funerals and graveside services. It’s good that people are saying I understand your pain because I have felt pain, too. And most of all, I’m glad there is a man who is inspiring people to work for a better world by saying we have to turn grief into purpose (Joe Biden, 2020).

Cruelty to me is an absence of emotion, and not acceptable in any way, shape, or form. I will not absolve it, and my way of forgiveness for it is to describe it like this: forgiveness is when I remove razor-sharp talons from my heart and soul, wash the blood off, clean and stitch my wound close, then put a bandage over it. In time, I will learn to let go of the pain, and to know that I don’t have to let myself be hurt like that again.

Grief is not a razor-sharp talon in my flesh. It’s a shock to the heart, a body-blow that knocks the wind out of you. But you can recover from that, stand up straight, and breathe through the pain. And you learn to breathe again by feeling your emotions, and putting them into words. You don’t really breathe, or live in silence. Grief does not need to be silent, not in your mind, your heart, or your soul. Words and memories will always be there, even if you box them up and put them away.

When you’re ready, you’ll open those boxes and go through everything. And you’ll find the words for your feelings. And you’ll have a shield against cruelty, against those who would harm you for speaking your truth, and your feelings. I choose to write about my grief, and to break my silence over it.

My Moon Shot

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

In 2009, on the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I remember watching a lot of coverage of that event and listening to my dad’s stories about seeing it happen live and thinking one thing: I want my own moon shot.

At the time I was working at what was then my highest-paying job and also the most stressful. It was also just a few months after my dad’s stroke and he was staying with me though he sure as hell didn’t want to (we eventually worked out a way to get him back to his place until he passed on). I wanted to quit that job and do anything but sit at a desk for eight hours a day answering the phones. But I also knew I was stressed-out and exhausted and not thinking straight, too. So I told myself to stay where I was then see where I was at a year from now. A year later, I reached the same conclusion: I had to get out of there. And I did in October 2010.

Five and a half years later, in May 2016, I walked away from my last call-center job. This time I did it for my health as two disks in my lower back were in critical danger of blowing out. In the four years since, I’ve lost a lot of material things but gained knowledge about myself that more than makes up for the material things that were just piling up in my life (and my apartment).

What I’ve gained in the last four years is a lot of knowledge about myself and why I have thought and felt the way I do. But as I sit down to launch this website-blog, I realize what I’ve learned the most and have begun to truly accept is that I am so much stronger and capable of so much more than I ever realized, or believed in about myself.

Because all my life I’ve felt weak and fragile, and dumber than dog shit. Those thoughts came from being told ‘no’ much more often than I was ever told ‘yes’. And a lot of that was from people who said they had my best intentions and just didn’t want to see me fail, or fall on my ass. But here’s the thing, those people with good intentions hadn’t done what I was going to do so they were coming from a position of complete ignorance. I won’t ever try to figure out why people took one look at me and decided I was fragile and weak and dumb-as-shit in some cases.

Yet many years ago, when my world came crashing down around me I was the last one left standing. And I didn’t remain standing out of stubborn pride like I’ve been told so damn many times.

I remained standing and kept my shit together because I was terrified if I let go I would shatter into a million pieces and never be able to put them all back together. I did break and crack many times throughout my life, but I forged those broken pieces of myself back together with the strongest and shiniest metals I could find.

Five years ago, a thought came into my mind changed me and my life forever: everyone else is just as full of shit as I am, but I’m not a bad person either.

This thought was followed about three years later by one that helped me reconcile my past once and for all: I was where I needed to be.

And about a year after that reconciliation, I began to throw off huge weights of shame and guilt I should never have taken on in the first place.

Most of all, I’ve faced my deepest, darkest, and most painful fear with this thought: no one can take my work, my hopes and dreams, and the life I want to live away from me. Many years ago, I thought people could take everything I wanted from me and force me into exile through lies and well-intentioned disapproval at any attempt of mine at forging some kind of life for myself.

I know now I’ve been an exile all my life and probably will be until the day I die. And I’ve survived that lonely exile with my hopes and dreams along with my stories and my words in my head.

In the coming days, weeks, and months you’ll be seeing my words and stories here presented in many different ways. You’ll be learning the stories behind what I’ve written here today along with many others, both in non-fiction and fictional form. In addition to sharing my stories and my words, I will also be doing to my absolute best to share this with as many people as I can along with working my ass off to earn money from it, too. I hope you find things here you like, that put a smile on your face, or help you in some way and give you hope. Because no matter how hard the world has tried to beat me down, I’ve never lost hope.

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