My mother-in-law died, and we held a memorial.
I did a thing that, even 2 or 3yrs ago i might not have done nearly so well. I met a family obligation appropriately, with maturity and i think, grace. I was present, not just in the body, but right there in the face, for almost the entire time. I didn’t use anything in order to cope, and i was genuine and sincere. There was a moment when i could feel myself sliiiidiiiing… But i knew it immediately because i was practising mindfulness, so i was able to recognise that i was pulling out of the face. The words that were coming out of my mouth were things i wouldn’t say. I reined it in by excusing myself from the conversation and the group that was chatting.
I wasn’t too nice, too friendly, or too funny. I shed a few tears, but the deep grief is for me to express privately, and it’s not ready yet.
I shared a few words with those who’d gathered there, about what she meant to me, and i was there for all of them. I hadn’t felt that way since the first time i sang a solo in church. I don’t think i’ve done anything like that after high school. I was a karaoke hostess for a couple of years in my late 30s, but i’m not sure >>i<< ever sang a single song. I sang at my grandfather’s funeral, and i think that’s the last time i did anything in front of an audience sober. Until i stood there, in front of those people who’d come to mark her passing.
Growing up i loved public speaking and performing, and i was good at it.
I’ve spent some time grieving the life i might have had if i’d been allowed to pursue it, or even just been supported when i did things on my own. My mother was concerned with me only insofar as i was a source of positive attention and income for her. She wasn’t much good at encouragement beyond urging me to join something. I think she wanted me out of her hair, so she’d push me to participate in after school activities. The problems came when she was called upon to help, like bake something for the tea, or drive me to swim meets, or be there when i was given an award.
The church choirs and the school plays were the worst. I always got noticed. The teachers and congregants always sought her out to share how impressed they were with my talent. She was approached by people a couple of times who wanted to represent me, saying i could get commercials and jingles and little bit parts were available – even in a city like mine. I loved performing. I loved entertaining people. I loved just speaking in front of people, whether it was a poem i’d written, a scripture in church, or just a book report in class. I’d get excited, but i never got stage fright. I don’t know why those things never panned out for sure, but Mom definitely had something to do with it. Whether it was jealousy, envy, laziness, or she liked the way she had things set up already, i just don’t know. What i can say for sure is that she was certainly lazy, a flaw that only grew more pronounced over the years. Also, when dealing with my past as an adult, i looked back and saw that she’d been markedly nastier and more violent after a school or church performance.
At the end of all the angsty feels, i chose to see it as a dodged bullet – my various mental diagnoses left untreated in the entertainment field may well have made me more infamous than successful, if i’d managed any success at all.
That’s what grownups do, yes? Or maybe i’ll call them “growers”, as in, those who grow. Not just up, or out, but in and down and through and deep and beyond. People who have the kind of life that looks good to me seem to, anyway. Those who find happiness and satisfaction in their day-to-day, and if there’s none to be found, then they look harder, look forward, look upward, look anywhere, knowing it’s there somewhere, or at least believing in its possibility. Those folks. There’s no particular character trait or personal voodoo woo-vibe they got goin’ on. The only thing i’ve found that they have in common is the way i feel when i’m around them. It’s simple, clean, fresh, pure, real, fundamental and beautiful and… And that’s all i can tell you. What exactly the quality is i don’t know, but i know that i like it. I know that i want to be around people who have it, and i know i want some of it for myself. Not theirs, though. I wanna make my own.
My mother took a possible future from me. I cannot say whether it was accidentally or on purpose, and that part truly, no longer matters to me. The thing that matters is that i’m mad at her for it. I resent her for emotionally hobbling me. And i mourn my lost opportunities. All those doors, from the ones i walked by at her bidding, to the ones she quietly clicked closed when i wasn’t looking, to the ones that must now remain locked. Sometimes i’m still sad about it, and nothing i’ve overcome or accomplished has changed that. Today i may be a queen, but my parent still gave me away for pride and the king only wanted me for wealth and i can’t really make straw into gold, i’m just clever and lucky.
It may appear that i’ve strayed wildly from my initial paragraphs. How did i get from eulogising my dear mother-in-law to Rumpelstiltskin?
I’ll tell you – i’m not exactly sure, but it feels organic as fuck.
I was standing there in front of those gathered, wondering if my legs might give out, sniffling in punctuation, but i was looking up and making eye contact. I knew what i was saying and i was there and invested in communicating what she meant to me and how i felt about her.
One day i’ll tell you about my brief career as a karaoke hostess, but for now let it be enough that i was in full-blown mania, and my multiplicity was out. of. control. I took the job because it appealed to my need for attention and excitement and drama and some of my Bit N’ Pieces still wanted to sing and dance and play dress-up and flirtyflirtflirt with eeeeverybody!
The thing is, i had crippling stage fright. I simply could not sing without a drink or 10 in me. I’ll analyse it/break it down another time, but for now just get this, okay?
I never had stage fright as a child and now it was ALL i had. I drank the stage fright away, but i also drank me away – that was someone else singing.
And i think the same thing would have happened had i tried out for a play or took a public speaking engagement.
But i stood there fully present in my body, communicating my thoughts and feelings to a group of people that mattered to me. We were all there for Mum, and so i cared about every person there, and it was important to me to share my love for her and my grief at her passing. And i believe i was able to do so.
Since then i’ve been trying to write about it, but i kept putting it back in my unfinished folder, because i knew it was missing something. I hadn’t found my voice to tell you the story yet.
I have, now.
My mother took away my voice. She silenced me to the point where my brain made other people to speak for me. And while her death set me free, it took me decades to find which voice was truly, most essentially and basically, mine.
My mother-in-law gave me the beauty and marvel and magic that is a mother/daughter relationship. She gave me a safe and nurturing place to say things that daughters say to their mothers – and she always responded to me with a mother’s love, in a mother’s voice.
I wanted to convey to the people in that church, just how powerful and beautiful her gifts to me were, and i think i did, a little.
But now i see that she gave me one more gift, even in death. Her love of me inspired such love in return, that i was able ditch the stage fright. No need for liquid courage, no help from the Peanut Gallery.
I stood in front of a group of people and told them something i wanted them to know.
And they heard me and they felt it and they got it.
She helped me get back something that my mother took away.
Thank you, Mum.
I miss you.
I love you.