It’s a song by Wiz Khalifa: “We can’t talk about family because family’s all that we got. It’s been a long time since you’ve been gone. We’ve come a long way since you you’ve been gone. I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”
The song plays over and over in my mind. Can’t get it out. Wonder if I can play it at my mother’s funeral. Is it appropriate to play an upbeat song at a funeral?
What follows is an imagined eulogy. I keep writing it. She keeps living, though vascular dementia has taken everything but her breath. I started writing her eulogy many years ago; there are many versions. It’s less about being SUPER prepared and/or her having been on the verge of death such that I might need it. It is just an attempt at making sense of having had this parent.
Where you sit is what you see. From where I sit, my mother gave me breath. Then she gave me milk. Then she gave me people. And in between all that, she gave me shit. In all the meanings of that phrase: a hard time, nothing, teasing but not for fun.
My mother’s life was defined by Highs and Lows.
Mental illness eclipsed her long before vascular dementia has slowly shuttered her down. The baudiness of her Highs made me quiver with fury. Stomping around. She and I. Those were some really big fights. Even as a youngster I jammed up against her flamboyancy– senselessly demanding she come down to reality. “Sit next to me,” it seemed I would say to her: “Choose me. You may not have a one-word name like the French author, Colette, (and I know you want me to call you that) but you are Ma, so that is what I will call you.” From the beginning, the lows were always easier. At least she sat put. Street drugs were usually not involved. Alcohol had little effect. There is a how-low-you-can-go, and she got there many times. Thankfully, that low was more her steady state. Thankfully, because it put us in less danger.
Over the last decade and a half, dementia rendered her more and more quiet. Personhood and personality became a receding hairline: close-to-imperceptible until it’s gone. Early stage had her very “in your face” and angry. Combative. The stories I could tell you: bite marks and black eyes and swearing rampages endured by the women who care for her. Late stage is more sad vacancy.
And here I want to address the ever-present question of, “Really?” What most defines me as her daughter is other’s disbelief. Borderline personality mothers are shape shifters, holding themselves up to the light of devotion and purity for others to see. Then privately letting their gigantic sad-rage shadow up, because their child cannot fix them: furious, disgusted and resentful. “How could YOU? You, who I MADE, not complete ME???”
It wasn’t until the quieter years, when there was nothing left to interact with, that I had courage to be curious about my mother. Before then – too scary. I mostly wanted to be able to eulogize her with something other than, “thank goodness that’s over.” So I started searching – not inside her but inside me. Is there a list of gratitudes? What could they be?
Time and again, and ever so surprisingly to my still-sometimes-rage-sad-scared-daughter-with-a-mentally-ill-mother-self, the answer comes back as yes. And on that list is names. Her greatest parenting gift buried in her limitation, she gave me relationships. At the point of her exasperation she did not throw me away; she handed me over.
And so there you have it. For all the reasons she has left me hungry, she has filled me up – with family – cousins – community. And for this I am grateful.
© Gabriella Strecker, 2016