I stand before you today a grieving daughter. I hope that the formality of my reading my words does not detract from the intent of my heart. My emotions are raw. I am raw. And I did not want this moment, the one moment I have to speak about my mom, to be overshadowed by such grief that the message of her life would be lost.
I am my mother’s only child, who herself was the only child, also born to a mother who was the only child. I come from a multi-generational lineage of strong matriarchal ties. This experience of being the only child, the only daughter, is an experience my mom and I shared, even as we had very different childhood experiences. While I broke the pattern in birthing three children, I too have only one biological daughter. My own daughter, wise beyond her 21 years, shared such truth when she said, “My mother was my first country, the first place I ever lived.” Indeed it is so between mothers and their children.
I have many fond memories from childhood- singing our hearts out in the car together to Neil Diamond, Bette Midler, and oh those Eagles! We both loved The Eagles. Mom took me to plays, and ballets, and museums. I learned to appreciate art, culture, and diversity. She sang Moon River to me as she would brush my hair when I was no taller than her thighs. She introduced me to Kahlil Gibran. She taught me how to eat artichokes, and pomegranates. I remember going to work with mom when she worked at the Tennis Club, and I would play with my Barbies by the pond, while I would silently observe her in action. As a little girl I was so impressed with her effortless ability to be an adult. She was so independent- a spirit which runs through all the women in my little family. I remember hikes up Tahquitz Canyon, to the waterfall. And the pet store. My mom started her own pet store. She seemed so fearless to me through my nine year old eyes. I saw her get bit by snakes many times, but she didn’t even flinch. She would calmly pull the fangs out of her hand, put the snake back in its tank, and do it again the next day. I remember the Bob’s Big Boy down the street, how mom would give me money to walk down to get myself a cherry coke, back in the day when a cherry coke meant grenadine splashed into a glass of coke. I would bring back lunch for her and I and we would sit amongst the animals in the pet store and eat. To this day I walk in front of a fish tank and can name the type of nearly every fish in it.
I remember some hard times too. Life was not easy for either one of us during those years of my childhood, and we both moved forward with deep wounds. The mother-daughter relationship, in my experience, remains the most complicated of all familial relationships. I painfully watched my mom struggle with her relationship with her own mother, whom I also deeply love. But she never gave up. Many times she would withdraw herself, whether it was from me or my grandmother, but she would always return and try again. As would I. Those heart strings are not easily unwound. But I have to be honest- there were many times I felt that for all of our efforts, we just couldn’t seem to connect to one another in the ways either one of us hoped for.
Most of the experiences mom and I shared in common were the difficult ones- having conflicted relationships with our mothers, the loneliness of being only children, losing our dads, domestic violence in past relationships. Another thing we had in common is breast cancer. Long before mom’s own diagnosis I was scheduled for yet another major surgery. Facing a very poor prognosis, and going under anesthesia for something like the 6th time, not sure I was going to survive, I decided to get a blue butterfly tattoo on my feet so that when I woke up from the anesthesia I could see the symbol of hope peaking out from the hospital bed sheets. In support and solidarity, mom too later went and got a blue butterfly tattoo. The past 12 months mom had mailed me more cards of encouragement than she had in her entire life. They sit, signed in her handwriting, in a pile on my craft table. These little morsels of connection didn’t escape me. But these things, these ways she showed her love, they were overshadowed by a sadness, a sense of loss in relationship. Even when we were struggling towards a healthy relationship, the wounds seemed to keep us at arm’s length. I grieve because when I look at pictures of mom, in my conscious mind I see a woman I barely knew. I knew a lot about her- her likes, her dislikes, her talents, and maybe even some of her regrets, but I don’t believe I truly knew her in the ways I always longed to. But death ends a life, not a relationship. Without doubt I will continue to be in relationship with mom not just in this life, but in our soul states beyond these bodies. I move forward with hope of discovery and healing in my relationship with my mom as I look to eternity with full faith that I will know her more fully than I ever could on this earth.
Mom believed in reincarnation. While I don’t know the full extent of her specific spiritual beliefs, I do know that mom grew up in a Christian home, and that her strongest desire while she was in high school was to be a missionary. She told me these things. Over the years she let go of some of that zeal she had for Christianity as she embraced spirituality over religion. I know she believed in reincarnation because of some of the things she shared with me over the years. This shouldn’t concern us. My mom is so much more than she believed. She is more than she accomplished. She is more than her dreams, more than what she knew or didn’t know, and more than what she believed or didn’t believe. All of those things are mere facets of the personality, the creative expression of who mom truly is as a uniquely created soul with inherent value and worth. We all return to the Creative Source, no matter what we believe. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching myself the past few years, and I have come to understand that if one truly believes in multiple incarnations they also generally believe that we have soul families- groups of souls that often incarnate together, in different roles, and who make agreements about how they will help one another to accomplish the soul’s goals for the lifetime before they incarnate. I don’t know if mom believed this. But I do know that people who do also believe that often members of soul families agree to serve close, but less than favorable roles in one another’s lives for the purpose of helping one another to achieve the goals of their soul growth. Whether mom is a member of my soul family, I cannot be sure. But there are some things I am sure about.
Mom’s struggle was my struggle. And I can say today that my mother shapes who I am, who I am becoming, which in turn shapes who my own daughter continues to become. Eckhart Tolle said, “You are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold. That is how important you are!” Mom is important. In that very divine sense, my mom played perhaps one of the most crucial roles in my life, even as it felt at times like we were not even in the same family. So as painful as my relationship with mom has been at times, I value her life, her soul. Through her I have learned empathy, forgiveness, steadfastness, transparency of self, unconditional love, and am still working on things like self-love, acceptance, and optimism. I have learned and am still learning to be a better mother to my own daughter, and a better grandmother to my granddaughter than I would have without my mom in my life. Many people spend their entire lives and do not awaken to their purpose in their lives, to the work they are called to do while here. My mom has been the single most powerful agent in compelling me towards my own awakening.
As is so evident in all the photos throughout mom’s life, the past 30 years she had enjoyed many experiences and was genuinely happy in marriage. She shared an obvious deep love and commitment with my second dad, and for that I am grateful. While mom and I didn’t always connect, she connected deeply with animals, and had a great love for her many dogs throughout the years. In a book called Guardians of Being we are reminded of dogs, “What is it that people find so enchanting in animals? Their essence- their being- is not covered up by the mind, as it is in most humans. And whenever you feel that essence in another, you also feel it in yourself. The dog is still in the natural state, and you easily can see that because you have problems and your dog doesn’t. And while your happy moments may be rare, your dog celebrates life continuously.” Perhaps one of the reasons mom connected so with dogs is because she too celebrated life continuously. While the past couple years were shadowed by significant health problems, mom seemed to remain optimistic towards the future. She was excited to be closing in on her longtime dream of retiring with her soul mate in Panama. So it can be hard to find comfort in her sudden and unexpected transition, because death hardly seems a relief when life is good. But death is the Great Healer. It reunites us with our Creator, with the souls of our human family who have already passed in this lifetime, and perhaps the souls in our soul family beyond the family we have known in this life. But the death transition also frees us of the physical pain in our earthly bodies, and cleanses us of all the gunk of the ego- all those psychological structures and distortions that we often stumble on in our minds. I know that mom can see me now, with absolute clarity, and can see the love I held in my heart for her, eternal, divine, and radiating out into all eternity. Indeed, it is the only connection we have that rises above the constructs that kept us from connecting more fully on this earth. I know that all the things that kept us separate have been healed for her, as I continue on my journey of healing. And so, today, it is her life that I celebrate. All of it. Even the end.