Why I Write About My Mother Dying (and Other Imponderables)

Someone once remarked to me that my topics here on the Naked Notebook could be considered “depressing.”  Frankly, this observation surprised me.  Exploring themes of grief and loss, as I have been doing lately since the death of my mother, has never seemed depressing to me at all.

But the comment got me wondering: why do I write on these topics?  What compels me, Where earth meets sky and in betweenwhen I take pen in hand, to tell of my mother’s death?  To write of how, in dying, she was somehow larger than when she was living?

Then I remembered.  I don’t really write my posts at all.  They write themselves.  That’s how I know the notebook is truly “naked.”  My posts are the truth.  Maybe not the whole truth, but nothing but the truth, all the same.  It’s like I’m a windchime, and words are the wind.  I make a pretty sound from time to time, but it’s really the wind that’s doing it.  I’m just hanging there, waiting.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the whole “depressing” thing, anyway.  It’s entirely likely that my subject matter is not responsible for that perception at all.  The Naked Notebook’s monochromatic color scheme alone could be to blame.  I didn’t choose it to be funereal and macabre.  It’s just that I’ve always been drawn to darkness.  When I was 5, black was my favorite color.  I even insisted on black gravel in my fish bowl.   A photo in black and white, to me, instantly looks at least 20 percent more artistic than its color counterpart.  That’s just how I am.

Blacks, grays, they’re edgy.  I’ve always loved edginess.  In music, in art, and in people.  Things that walk the line between dark and light.  Because that’s what we’re all doing, every day.

Anyway, enough of this pseudo-philosophical crap.  I’m talking about my blog.  Specifically, whether the Dead Mother Posts, as I so irreverently refer to them, are depressing.  I certainly don’t think so.  I’m not feeling depressed when I write them.  I may be feeling acute, maybe even melancholy at times.  But that’s the richness of life, isn’t it?  Deep feelings, both good and bad.  It’s not all sunshine and roses, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Yeah.  I figured you had.

I would never have believed I’d be quoting reality TV’s Dr. Drew Pinsky, but he said something on an episode of Celebrity Rehab (everyone needs a guilty pleasure, right?) that stuck with me.  He said that he’d always considered people who were capable of deep emotion to be strong, not weak.  (He was talking to Heidi Fleiss at the time, so he was, no doubt, really reaching deep into his proverbial bag of tricks.)

Never mind the source; I love the sentiment.  I, too, admire people who do not shy away from the difficult, the poignant, the acute.  I don’t mean wallowing…I mean possessing a willingness to go there, to learn the lessons, to be with the experience.  Whatever that experience may be.  It’s not negative – that’s a value judgment.  It just is.

So here I am, mining the depths, holding my breath, diving down.  Coming back up to the surface, humbled but stronger.

My readers, you get it.  You have been supportive, receptive, empathetic.  You don’t flinch in the face of deep emotion.  You, too, are strong in all the ways that matter.  And I appreciate you more than you know.

My husband, who does not consider himself a writer, said it better than anyone:  A death is as astonishing as a birth, he said.  How very, very true that is.  Astonishing.  I’ve witnessed an astonishing experience.  And I’m writing about it.

My mom herself explored these ideas.  She devoted much of her adult life to the study of grief and loss.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, her emphasis was complicated grief.  I feel I am honoring her by learning all I can from her illness and death.  My grief isn’t complicated – at least I don’t think it is – but it’s mine.

That I ruminate on those experiences isn’t an expression of sadness…it’s an appreciation for the complexity of being human.  It’s not about having a happy life or a sad life.  It’s about having a full life.

So if there is a reason for the Dead Mother Posts, I suppose it is one of self-discovery, of honoring the moment.  I haven’t written these posts to depress my readers or to marinate in misery and self-pity.  An eternal optimist, I’ve never been good at any of those things.  But I am a contemplative person, and I want to give this time in my life its due.

After years of rejecting the idea, lately I’ve come to embrace the fact that I am, at least in part, my mother’s daughter.  She would be pleased that I’m taking the time – and making the space, here in the Naked Notebook – to work through things in my own way.  She’d like the Dead Mother Posts.  I’m just sure of it.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Write About My Mother Dying (and Other Imponderables)

  1. Jennifer,
    Seldom have I ever seen such a direct, and assertive, piece of writing that goes directly to the heart of the matter for allowing oneself to experience the true experience of grief. I applaud you loudly and will share this with all of the women I’m connected with through Tapestries of Hope, our non-profit in NJ that supports women grieving their mom’s death. Your response that yours is a normal rumination on a life-changing event serves as inspiration to so many who, as they’re grieving, get the oh too frequent observation from well-meaning friends and family, that its carrying on too long, or they’re too focused on the grief. How refreshing to read what you wrote!

    I will, in the future, be quoting what your husband said about birth/death. Six months prior to my mom’s death, one of my younger brothers died, and I was with him, and had the thought at the time that the sounds of it were very similar to the sounds of birthing, and that there was a sacredness in witnessing his death, and, subsequently, my mom’s. It took me years to define my experience of being with him, until I read a book and realized that what had happened to me was similar to a near-death experience, but not my own.

    Writing honestly and “naked-ly” is, I believe, one of the most powerful tools any of us who have gone through loss can use in our road towards healing.

    I’ll continue reading your blog, celebrating your experience of your mom, and loving your “ode to life”. Thank you for this.

    Alison,
    daughter of Betty Catharine

    PS. If you’d like to check out our website for Tapestries of Hope, you can find it at http://www.tapestriesofhope.org. We have a “moms’ gallery” and a calendar where I list all of the moms birth dates and death anniversaries. What makes the website beautiful to me, other than its support and content, is that my own daughter designed it!

    • Hi, Alison – Thank you, thank you. Your words buoy me up and remind me why I write…and share what I’ve written. Our writing is, as you say, a “powerful tool.” I’ve visited you website, and it’s splendid. What a wonderful resource. Moms are so special. Blessings to you.

  2. Allison..I believe my mothers death has been the most life changing event in my life..I felt closer to her in the last six months of her time on earth..than I did our entire relationship..which was 38 years of my life. Blessed to really share each moment in truth and sincere mother -daughter love. I gather my strength for all lifes difficulties from her legacy of faith, I gather my joy of the oceans endlessness,the vastness of a sunrise,sunset from the beauty of her soul.. within all of lifes journeys ..she is within my heart..she whispers..Persevere dear child..until I hold you again….

  3. Jennifer, You BET she’d like the Dead Mother posts! Where else but at these profound crossroads do we have the opportunity to dig deep and grapple with the big questions surrounding why we are here and who we really are? Of course you already know this, but there is nothing depressing about your Naked Notebook. On the contrary, It is a celebration of what flows through you. Carry on, we’re all gaining from it.

    • I’m so glad you are reading my posts – and that you feel that way, Karin! Yep, I’m grappling! For better or for worse. It warms my heart, as it would Mom’s, that you and I are still in one another’s “circles.”

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