Mourning my mother through her father
a portrait of ancestral grief
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers. [1 Kings 19:4]
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Today is the 20th anniversary of my mother's death. I woke up choking back tears from a dream where I was trying to prevent my grandfather's death by feeding him the most expensive cannolis I could find in his hospital room. He was flickering between his body and flowers until all that remained of him was a bouquet on a chair.
Every anniversary of my mom's death, just like every mother's day, brings up feelings of loss. Not for her specifically, but for a mother experience. It's complicated because I h*ted her. She was super mean. I was fourteen when she died and couldn't see beyond her faults and trauma and so the resounding emotion from her death was relief and a confusion and shame about that relief. And so I've spent a lot of years trying to unpack and rectify all this, to understand her and her behavior. The story I tell myself is that she inherited a lot of unresolved trauma and grief from her father, who had an extremely difficult life. Lowlights include losing his sister in a house-fire as a child and being a prisoner of war in WWII twice. The essence of him was hard - as if a shell calcified around his heart and prevented the expression of love. This cracked when my mom died, his second child to bury, after his wife.
My mother called my grandfather everyday, just liked she'd called her mom everyday, to check up on him. Without fixing details, I automatically picked up this duty and continued it diligently until he died 15 months later. During this time, we got to know each other in a kind-of adult way that transcended our grandfather and granddaughter dynamic. I think we mostly talked about school, Seinfeld and his lunch outings and grocery trips with his cousin. I looked forward to the calls and felt almost privileged to be on the receiving end of warmth and interest from an individual who terrified me as a child. His death crushed me. It was like losing him and my mom all over again - in retrospect, her entire immediate family actually. In a way, it was like losing half of myself, or what I consider the stable part of my then still-forming identity.
And so every time I grieve him, I'm grieving her, who was half of him. And hard like him. Whose death made him soft enough to connect to, in a way I wasn't able to experience with her. So I had 15 months of loving my mother, through him, after she died. Interesting, right? And then losing him, who was half of her, and she was half of me, means I am also very much grieving the half of myself that died with her, and him. This was / has been my embodied introduction into the Law of One through personal experience. Really, there is no separation! And that's just with physical bodies.
And so the takeaway here is that family grief is some complex sh*t! And indicative of no one ever really dying. We truly keep living through others. And the way in which we do this largely depends on how much responsibility we (want to) take for the karmic load we inherited. I am so grateful to be of the first generation to have access to therapy and tools to unwind these traumatic patterns so they're completely cleared from the earth and my bloodline. I don't have to be mean to kids I'll probably never have lol! Or to myself or anyone else, understanding the importance of having an open rather than a calcified heart!
And so, unlike Elijah in the opening bible passage, we are not subject to living out the same trauma dramas as our parents. We can choose to heal. Thank God!
Related - if you're interested on how to grieve properly, to start becoming clear of your own ancestral patterns and baggage, her is a great talk by writer / shaman / artist, Martín Prechtel: