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My heart has been heavy this week. I thought the goblins and ghouls that sneak into my thoughts more easily near the full moon were poking me into this ‘hot loneliness’. Then, at the Chill and Still yoga class, I quieted down enough to understand it was Mother Loss, awakened by Mother’s Day. June marks fourteen years since my mother passed on to her next realm. I had not been thinking about her, which is why I missed the deeper source of my grief and malaise.
Instead, my thoughts had been on two friends and mothers who passed away within months of my father’s death in 1996. This remembrance was sparked by seeing two rose bushes I planted, one for each, in full bloom. I carefully cut some sprigs to mix in a bouquet — honoring them and mi Mamy Isabel, who doted on her rosas.
Meg died first, the cancer that had stalked her for a few years finally snaking into her brain one month after attending my father’s funeral. She had desired motherhood for many years and finally adopted Natalie, who was about seven years old, a rambunctious girl who must be in her early forties now. I hope she has the same spirited approach to life that stretched Meg’s reticent personality to its limits and beyond. Natalie lost two moms and I wonder if she feels the heaviness I do around this time of year. Meg sent me a card many years ago with a quote by Adrienne Rich that nestles in one of my drawer:
An honorable human relationship – that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.
These words she gifted me have set a high bar in my life and I don’t regret that. I am even more honored she read these words and thought of me. It gave value to a word used too easily and with no thought of its amazing power. Love is a verb and this quote has reminded me of that through the years thanks to Meg. She is nodding quietly at this, a slight smile playing on her face. She was one of very few white friends over the years who did not decide one day, with no dialogue or clear explanation, to unfriend me before that became a thing on FaceBook. She went that hard way with me.
Willa was a force of power and grace who I met at Alameda County Child Protective Services. Her nails were long and her heart was as wide as the Pacific Ocean. After losing her first husband, she had found love again and her son joined an older daughter. Willa died because of the elitism system of health care when the Richmond Kaiser “standby” emergency room was not equipped to deal with her life-threatening illness, a classic case of structural racism. This poem emerged while in my MFA program.
Willa, Willa, Willa
You died too young
left your children too young
your oldest daughter an orphan
her father a Jonestown casualty
what can she use for hope now
what can help her know justice
when her father drinks cyanide for breakfast
on an island he flew to for community
when her mother’s heartbeat fluttered one last time
en route to a second hospital
the hospital she first drove to
had shut its emergency room down
greedy, racist economics killed you, Willa
heart that overflowed in kindness
black body that could not hold the pain
that ate your nerves as you drove that night
drained your adrenals down to empty
you could have lived
to tuck your children into bed
could have laughed that deep joy into the world
for days and weeks and years
if the world loved your people
you are with me when I wear shades indoors
when I grow my fingernails long
your spirit hovered as I watched my babies grow
beyond the age of your son at your death
past your daughter’s age at your death
you are in me when I rail against hate and ignorance
that deprives black and brown women of dignity and health care
Willa, Willa, Willa
Your name means desire and protection
May your strength rain down upon us all
These three mothers made an indelible mark on my soul and on my mothering. My mother never used the word ‘love’, but that did not stop me from learning what I could from how she tended her garden and embracing love, amor, y cariño in my mothering. I take no day for granted with my twins, and am committed to doing justice to the complexity of motherhood.