A missing piece of my mother's story and trying to find the words to say thank you
This old post was still in draft. A post I wanted to have up in Celebration and honor of my mother
July, 2019: This is the 8th city we've traveled to since returning from Costa Rica in early June. New York City, Durham, Floyd, Va, Asheville, Wilmington, Charlotte, Atlanta and now Oakland/San Francisco. Despite the busy-ness of the city, being in San Francisco is surprisingly grounding. It is the first city I have absolutely nothing I have to do in. At least that I can see. Though it is in moments like these, when I have no agenda, that I find the universe surprises me the most as I give it the most space for the magic to come in.
My mother's passing was and continues to be a very surreal process. As I sit here looking at her photos and watching the few videos that exist of her, she looks like a ghost that makes me wonder if she has always been a ghost. If it is even real. If she was real. If this is real. Questioning my own reality.
I still feel her but in a different way. Like an expansive seeing all angel that hovers over my existence. Meanwhile, the universe is consistently reminding me through sounds, symbols and circumstances that she is very much here and probably supporting me in other ways I can't fully know or perhaps understand. A promise she made to me before she passed. It's fun, touching and beautiful to experience. Each time taking a moment to say, "Hey, Mom. I hear you. How are you? Thanks for reminding me you're there. That no one ever truly goes away. I love you."
I don't feel sad, angry, joyous, numb or any other emotion I can really put my conscious finger on. I don't miss her because she feels more here now then I have felt since I was five.
I just feel quiet. Present. At peace. Curious what happens now as I sit in a space that feels like, as my mother would say, "I know nothing."
So many people keep telling me I am in shock and just don't realize it. Perhaps. I don't know. I am still in awe of how beautiful, powerful, tender and poetically profound her passing was. She was so comfortable. So unconsciously present. A profoundly loving mother until the end. Writing the last few bars of her symphony while her greatest instrument, her heart, laid quietly under her chest. All the other instruments revolving around her conscious pause that perhaps carried more volume than any note she ever played. A symphony that all of you were, knowingly or unknowingly, a part of for which I want to thank you.
Your notes of well wishes, prayers, love and support played an incredible underscore that provided a foundation that my family was able to consistently lean on reminding us that we were and are not alone. You reminded her that she was not alone.
My mother was a conditioned hermit by habit. A natural extrovert who kept herself, and often her heart, hidden in the cage and solace of her bedroom for much of her life. All patterns I recently learned about that tether back to her childhood. In grade school, she was often picked on or beaten up by children and hide in her room in the attic from the aggressive hands and violent words of her father. Consequently, she did not have many friends and found it difficult to trust others. As amazing as her mother was, she was not able to protect her from her father, which I believe created a lot of resentment. I know my mother felt very alone, but I also know that's what was comfortable. It is what she knew.
There were very few people that really knew her. In the last 30 years, I can count them on one hand and even then, I wonder. She would use writing as a medium to express herself having written 1000s of pages of words that shaped the unexpressed pain, fear, and joy of her heart that she would never share. Words I wish I could have heard so she could finally have the opportunity to be seen and heard. So I could have heard her heart again.
Several times a day, while she was in hospice, I sat by her bedside and read to her aloud everyone's name and comment to which my mother would often respond affirmatively and affectionately with subtle shifts of breath, moans, and movements beneath her closed eyelids. Actions over the course of the day were few and far between as she had to reserve her precious energy for only the things that were most important - primarily breathing. That's how precious it was. A testament to how much it meant to her. Hearing hundreds of messages of love, prayer, and support brought her still body alive and tears to my eyes. In the last moments of her life, all of you helped my mother be seen as she never has before and remember how connected and supportive our world truly can be. I wish there were words that do it justice. There just aren't. I just hope that all of you can feel the sincerity of my heart when I say thank you and hope that is enough. Only a few people came to visit her while she was in hospice giving everyone's words even more value. They were the few that she let into her soul. That mattered to her. The space was very quiet providing everyone with a lot of time to listen, reconnect and get to know one another again for the first time. My mother included. To love again.
My mother and I had a very close spiritual bond despite our physical and emotional distance. It was not until two years ago that I even began to realize just how tapped in she really was. Like Yoda disguising himself as a loving complaining custodian who cleaned at night and stayed in the closet watching television during the day all the while kind of forgetting she is Yoda.
Seeing her now I can see how much more of what I have created in my life personally and professionally has been deeply connected to my relationship with my mother and the family dynamic. Much more than I ever imagined. Psychologically this is a no-brainer, but with what I knew about my family it just didn't fit before. I just didn't know the real story. Like twins separated at birth, I can see now that I truly was my mother's son. In a way fighting for her freedom as I developed the skills designed to help free her from her past. Yet she was one of the only people I felt like I was never able to help. It is strange to have so many skills and yet feel so helpless. Perhaps discovering too late that it is not the skills, but rather the heart that heals.
An invisible co-creative process has been guiding and influencing my life emotionally with resonance and love. How much was her and how much was me I'll never know, but either way it got us here and for that I am grateful. I used to be embarrassed by my mother. I used to say that my mother was always teaching me what not to do. I see that she was also showing me what to do. I just couldn't hear that part because I was too busy judging the other. I can see now that she truly was an incredible single mother, who her entire life just wanted me to come home and always knew what I needed even when I did not and didn't think she did either. To understand it I had to understand her past and her parents.
My mother divorced my father when I was 3. That's when my mother started medicating herself with alcohol to help her survive and operate on an emotional and, consequentially, physical level. Cigarettes were already in the mix with two packs a day. It was normal in her generation. She and her mother used to smoke together after school to help them deal with her father (my grandfather) who was violently abusive on a variety of levels. Her father had been in the war having survived three sunken warships and having sunk even more. He had seen a lot of violent death in friend and foe. Not something I can even pretend to understand.
My grandmother, Helen, a very devout catholic and incredibly sweet woman, had always been a nurturer. To feed that maternal instinct and passion she owned a bed and breakfast in Vermont and worked with elderly home-care for the greater part of her life. A soft-spoken loving woman, she always wanted a family and loved helping others.
During WWII my grandmother Helen fell deeply in love with a sailor whose name I do not know, but he too wanted a family. They had plans of marrying after the war and having children together until one day she received notice that he had been killed at sea. It crushed her. Twenty-two years ago she told me this tale as she slowly pointed to the only thing she had left in connection with him. A broken heart and a plate that sat quietly on her wall that he had given to her just before he left. On a rebound, she met and married Joseph, my grandfather, who did not want children. So they naturally had three. In 1947, my mother Connie Jo Booth was born on Long Island. The first of three.
Ultimately my mother's drinking and smoking pushed me away when I was young. Rather I chose to push myself away. Until I was five, my mother was my everything. That was when I started to protect myself. So I buried myself in sports. Eventually, running, cycling and tennis became my ultimate passions, obsessions, and diversions. I couldn't understand why alcohol and cigarettes were so important to her. Why it seemed more important then Kristin and I, but then again I didn't understand that it was also helping her be able to do what she was doing. To survive. Keeping her safe. It was the only life raft she knew. I can see now that she truly was doing the best that she could and that in itself was amazing.
What was so painful for me growing up was that I blamed the alcohol and smoking for covering up a part of her heart that I missed. A part that I was longing to see again. I wanted to feel it again no matter what it looked like. For decades I couldn't understand why she would keep her heart hidden from us. Her truth. I didn't understand what she was going through. Subconsciously, I thought it was me.
I just wanted her to have permission to express herself, to be heard and to live again so she could write a new story free from the tethers of her father's abuse. A story full of play, wonder, imagination, and limitless possibility. For her to again believe in the possibility of every and anything. To give herself permission to once again ask herself what she wants to do with this precious life if she could do anything. Once again remembering how truly remarkable, powerful and beautiful she really was. The silent bond and love that we had never went away no matter where I was or how many times I would leave. and it still hasn't.
Two years ago, we again grew very close, when I went home to help take care of her for four months. It was a very special time. A time when so many hidden stories that kept us apart had space to come to the surface, be expressed, heard and re-written.
She still feels like she is here. I am unable to tell if I have moved through the 'grieving process' and come to a space of peace or something else. Or perhaps a mix of the two. Time will tell. In the meantime, I am just grateful.
A few weeks before my mother's health quickly declined she had a 'date' with her best friend Tisha. An angel who had come into her life this past year. Tisha was hired to be mom's speech therapist, but what it felt like really happened was God found a way to get one of Mom's long lost best friends back into her life again. They were beautifully kindred spirits together; girlfriends of the best kind. Tisha was my mother's biggest fan and always went way above and beyond her job description. She is all heart and made my mom feel her's. Alive, valued, beautiful and important. She played with her in ways that we had forgotten my mother could. So on that day, after Mom showered, Tisha did her makeup, helped her pick out jewelry and get her dressed up. It was something my mom always loved to do. When they finished Tisha looked at her and said, “Connie you look so beautiful and sexy, get in that chair and strike some poses Diva! I’m going to take some photo shots!” and she did. My mother rarely allowed people to take photos of her, but for Tisha, she would do anything. So she sat there, in one of her favorite wing-back chairs, and graciously shared the extraordinary beauty and joy that was her, with the camera. Beautiful, innocent, regal and honest. They are some of the only images that I believe truly capture her heart. Thank you, Tisha, for helping my mother remember how special, beautiful and amazing she truly was and capturing such a priceless moment for myself and the world to see. To remember her by. You are a Godsend and an angel. May everyone be blessed enough to have someone like you in their lives.