Friday, September 09, 2022

September 8th, 2022: Missing Mom again is OK. Grief is part of Loving [Updated]

 This was a note I wrote on Facebook, but I think it deserves commemoration on my blog, too. It's not the first time I've written about mom on my blog (her eulogy is here, and my Jesa post, which is still one of my favorite blog posts that I've ever written, is here, and if you want to know more about Jesa -- korea's ritual to honor those who are gone, and the ancestors in particular, you can read about it here, or from Ask A Korean! here.)

Story: When mom wanted to finish a roll of film, she would walk into a room and say “hey everybody” and snap a picture of them all looking over with dull “whaa?” expressions, until the roll was full. Consistently bad, uninteresting pictures. This day, she had a roll of film, and started doing that, and me, Deb and Dan said, “no, Mom. Let US fill out the roll” and took a series of photos that are, to this day, some of my favorite pictures of the youngest three siblings.

September 8, 2005, was the day my mom left this earth. If any of you has ever spent some time with me and come away thinking I'm gentle, or caring, or a good listener, that I'm warm and affectionate, or encouraging, or good with kids, then you have met my mother as well, one step removed. If you have not thought those things, I take the blame entirely upon myself, because that is the kind of person she showed me to be, and I guess I failed to live up to that.

Most of these pictures are of mom. The one of me sitting in a tree was taken by her, and it has a story. 

Rob alone, sittin' in a tree... story below.

See, for all her good qualities, mom was a spectacularly bad gift-giver. She just never got the hang of figuring out what other people would like, so she mostly got other people the thing SHE would have liked to get as a gift.

This led to a nadir one Christmas that involved some tears and a quick save through our family's very very weird sense of humor, but at that point mom kind of threw her hands up, and instead of trying to surprise us, she made a plan to take us each shopping on our birthdays: bring us to the mall or wherever, and let us pick out the thing we wanted or needed. This worked much better in general than trying to surprise us and disappointing us instead.

Near the end of my university years, she moved up a level: the best thing she could offer, really, was her time and her company. Mom was a wonderful person to be with, no matter what you were doing, so the last few birthdays I had with her, she figured out that the very best gift she could give me was to take me out to spend some dedicated time with her. She'd take us out to a play, or something we wanted to do or see. The picture of me in the tree was from one of those excursions. She picked me up at university and drove me into Vancouver, where we had tickets to see a play (Amadeus). Before the curtain opened, we hung out in Stanley Park, probably Vancouver's best landmark, and she'd brought a camera, so we snapped a few pictures, that being one of them, and one of my favorite photos of myself from that time, because of the day when she took it, which was a lovely day from top to bottom.

We saw the play, and then we went for dinner, and I had lobster for the first time in my life... Mom hadn't asked Dad for permission to eat such fancy stuff -- I suggested lobster almost as a joke, airily saying, "You know I've never had lobster!" with the subtext, "How ridiculous, suggesting such an expensive meal! Can you imagine if Dad, who makes the responsible money choices, heard us suggesting such fripperies?" (Dad ran the family checkbook), so she agreed to do it with a conspiratorial smile. The lobster was wonderful, and the feeling of mild transgression with your mom was another layer of fun on the entire day. 

(We did get busted: mom paid for part of the meal with cash to hide how large the bill was, but Dad noticed a disproportionately large tip when he was balancing the checkbook, and mom 'fessed up. He couldn't do anything anyway: that money was already spent!)

Mom was the best at making people feel loved. The absolute best. Nobody's perfect, but that is the thing that stays with me all these years afterwards.

Grief is the mirror image of the love you had for someone: some loves never end, some people leave impacts on us that linger for our entire lives, whether they're still around or not, and where mom's love made me a better, kinder, more balanced or confident or generous person, each of those spots is a little hollow, a knot in the wood, where sorrow gathers now that she's gone.

But that's OK. It's normal, it's appropriate, I'll even say it's *proper* that such an important person in my life is still grieved, all these years later. She absolutely deserves the occasional tear or sob, the occasional melancholy 'wish you were here' dream (I had a dream where I introduced her to my son once), the occasional nostalgic thumb-through of the photo album. That's just the mirror image of the love and goodness she brought to my life, and ultimately, my life is richer and fuller both for the good things she gave me, and for the ways grieving her made me softer, more gentle, more empathetic, and better at showing my special people I love them while they are still around for me to appreciate them.

Miss you mom!


Mom with her oldest grandchild. She had a special relationship with him, and one of the hardest parts of losing her is that she never got to be a special Oma for my kid, or a special mom-in-law for my wife. My step-mom, Nana, is wonderful, and a blessing in all our lives, to be clear. I'm thankful for everything about her because she's just awesome. But I'm still sad Juniorseyo never met his Oma. It's hard, but those can both be true.

Mom and dad, at their 25th anniversary party. This is how Mom looks in my memory. A little soft, in just the right spots to give transcendent hugs.

Mom with Dad, in her last year. Losing weight because of stomach cancer. Fuck cancer.

Update: My sister Deb shared the post I wrote, which I've copied above, and added a few thoughts of her own, which were just lovely. I've had a few really nice responses and reflections from a few of the people who loved mom -- including one of her best friends, and a few cousins and relatives whose lives were touched by Mom's love, and I'm really grateful for them, too. How wonderful is it that seventeen years after someone died, they can still bring people together? That is just such a perfectly Mom thing to do.

So, with permission, here's what my sister Deb wrote.

[My brother wrote this linked post:] This is a beautifully crafted piece about my mom. My brother describes both her and the loss of her so perfectly.

One of my favourite memories of my mom was ALSO an excursion rather than a gift (I had a dream once where she NAILED Christmas. Every gift was perfect...I woke up laughing, realizing it had to be a dream because in real life that never happened!! 🤣🤣🤣)

My mom and I went walking one day up and down the walkway at White Rock. We did the beach on the way down, and the shops and restaurants on the way up.

We stopped for dinner and shared a Bellini, my first restaurant bought alcohol and still my favourite drink when I'm in the mood for a drink.

At the end of the day we had dessert (crème brûlée) and watched the sun set and rabbits frolic from a rooftop patio. It wasn't fancy, we didn't solve the world's problems, but we were together and I knew there was nowhere else mom would have wanted to be that day than spending time with me.

Mom loved unconditionally, laughed with her whole body and held onto the special moments and memories that were given to her in time shared.

I miss her on the good days and the hard days. 

I don't wallow in sadness, I don't have a deep unforgiving ache, but Rob puts it very well, deep love leaves a deep hollow and I do have moments where I just wish that hollow could be filled.

That dream where mom gave great gifts? I woke up laughing, but also, I got in a few more great mom hugs during that dream, and I'm glad I remembered those when I woke up too. 

17 years feels like forever and so fast all at the same time. Love you, mom.


I'm so grateful to my sister for sharing this. I never heard this story, nor about her (hilarious) dream where mom got every Christmas present right... but it's so great any time you get a few more mom hugs, even if they're in a dream. I love the line that "I knew there was nowhere else mom would have wanted to be that day than spending time with me." --one thing that was always great about mom is the way that when she was with you, she was with you -- she was fully present and focused on the person she was with. She died before the first smartphone appeared on the market, but I think she would have hated them more than anybody, because they cause people to be only half-present, half-looking at the phone, and mom was never less than 100% present for someone.

and I'm also grateful for my sister mentioning that mom laughed with her whole body -- things got silly in our house sometimes, and mom was a little small, and a little round, and when she really laughed hard, it looked like she'd roll right onto her back: a rock backwards so that her (so very short) legs were off the ground as she rocked back in her seat, accompanied with a welt-worthy thigh slap, and a full-throated belly-laugh that could be heard from outside the house. Oh, it was fun to try to get her to laugh like that.

Thanks again to every last person who saw and responded to my little FB tribute to mom, or who comments here. Grief doesn't have a time limit, and neither does love, and if this cluster of paragraphs can encourage someone to make a phone call or send a note to remind someone that they're loved, that'll be a perfect fit with mom's legacy, so go on and do that, and somebody new will get a chance to meet my mom, a few steps removed!

Love Rob

Speaking of grief, today, the 17th anniversary of mom's death, was also the day Queen Elizabeth II went to meet her maker. The whole English speaking world is sad on the day I'm remembering mom... Queen Elizabeth was my favorite royal by a long-shot, and carried a great deal of the English royal family's legitimacy on her strong shoulders. I wonder what will happen next, but QEII was awesome, and I'll miss her being around holding the entire rest of the royal family back from being sucked completely into a black hole of scandal.