Mothers and Fathers are the archetypes for all your relationships in some way. Here are some of the lessons I learned from mine, directly and indirectly:
Mother: Non-communicative silence means ‘I don’t care to talk to you, or perhaps I have stopped loving you. You will never know.’ (It was frustrating and sometimes terrifying.)
Father: Use your fists to defend yourself, or your family. (Fists also used on family.)
Mother: Creativity and imagination sometimes come in frantic manic bursts. (Bipolarism, depression.)
Father: Men don’t cry (and when they do, they don’t explain or share the reason.)
Mother: Emotions are scary and uncontrollable. (Little self-knowledge.)
Father: Men don’t accept the blame. Pride can be a defense.
Mother: Love of music can people together in beautiful little moments.
Father: A tough, strong or uncompromising man can still be sweet and gentle to young kids and small animals.
Mother: Grown-ups can still be child-like and silly and fun.
Father: Sometimes you just need quiet time, watching planes land at the airport.
Mother: Sometimes you have to hold your head up again and face the world, even when you feel like your time has passed, and you’ve lost everything.
Father: Honour someone you love by telling stories of their beautiful past moments. These stories show others how you loved them.
I said goodbye to Dad in 1989, just a few months after he attended my graduation from art school. I was by his side a lot of the time in his last weeks, as he gradually coughed himself to death from pneumonia. Whether one remembers him for positive moments or negative ones, it was a hard way to die. I missed saying goodbye to him by about 5 or 10 minutes, so I said goodbye to his beaten-up, bruised old body instead. He was hard to like sometimes, and easy to fear, but I cried like a baby, and soaked his hospital gown in my tears. I was glad he was out from under his suffering.
I said goodbye to Mum in an abstract, and yet very physically way. After 14 years of visiting her in Riverview, and usually having to reintroduce myself to her as her son each time (brain damage from her alcohol poisoning slow-motion suicide attempt in 1977), I just couldn’t bear to visit her very often anymore. I had the curiosity of “I wonder how she is nowadays’ conflicting with the expectation that ‘she still won’t know me’. By the ’90s, she was just a thought that I held on to – a regret I felt – as I looked east towards Port Coquitlam, at the idea of Angela. A warning of her passing came at midnight, March 1st, just as my 29th birthday came. I received a phone call from a nurse at Riverview, saying that my Mother was very sick with a flu that had transformed into pneumonia, and she might not last very long. I told the nurse I would try to come out for a visit, and she said she’d keep me informed. One week later, almost to the hour, I received the phone call saying that Mum had passed. I had never gone up to see her. I just couldn’t do it. The closest I came to contact after that was pouring her ashes into the ground at the Fraserview Cemetary. I brushed clouds of her off my hands, and felt a wave of sorrow and relief for Angela, whom I’d never really known or connected with. She’d lost everything – especially herself – and had suffered so much in her life.
God, how imperfect and flawed and damaged they were. God, how I loved them, and how I still miss them.