ELIZA'S CROSS CANADA LOVE TOUR
It is my last day in Manitoba, and ostensibly the final day of my “love tour”. While I have continued to write a lot on this trip, I haven’t posted as much as I thought I would. At first this was because I started having a lot of fun and became more interested in the events of my travels than I was in describing them. Then when my Aunt passed away at the beginning of July I felt like I was back to square one emotionally and had no desire to share anything I was feeling with anybody. I hardly wanted to share it with myself. I was devastated for my aunt (I still am) and my family for having to go through this all again so soon. I also felt discouraged to be experiencing, what felt like, backward motion on my journey through grief after I had slowly started to feel better as I was traveling.
In many was, in this past month, I have felt the lowest that I have in the past six months. Everything that I had lost was finally catching up with me and I was no longer able to run. I hadn’t felt like I was running before; I was crying, trying to process and feeling my feelings and speaking what I felt out loud, but I was also in all new environments. I was not being confronted by any visceral memories of my mom. My trip felt like a fresh start and that was what I thought I needed to feel like I could be a human instead of a walking pile of grief. I had had very little expectations for my trip going into it, other than to let it be whatever it was going to be. To my surprise, what it started to be was amazing and while I was traveling I began to feel like I was developing a kind of narrative for my new life and finding the new version of myself that I was going to emerge as out of all this trauma. In short I was fooling myself into thinking that I had arrived at some sort of sustainable clarity.
I had gained clarity, but like they are called “moments of clarity” because they are just that “moments”. At my aunt's funeral the bottom fell out of my beautiful dream and I was right back where I started; grieving the loss of yet another mother figure and wondering how I was supposed to deal with all of this again. I couldn’t fly away on another adventure this time, in fact the adventure was quickly coming to an end and the reality of regular life without my mom, and now without my aunt too, was about to begin.
Emotionally I felt spent, but practically I had some strategies for forward motion which mostly consisted of putting one foot in front of the other. I put a sort of schedule in place to keep myself occupied, bike rides, and visits with family and meals with my grandpa. I have tried to take in the rest, and appreciate this past month by allowing myself to relax into this time where very little is expected of me, because I knew that soon that would soon change. Slowly, and not without many low moments, a way forward has begun to present itself. Now on the day I am returning to Toronto, I feel flickers of excitement again, and at least somewhat ready for another beginning.
Yesterday Morning I went for one last walk out on the prairie, the same road I walked every day for five months while my Mom was in the hospital, it is the road that kept me sane. This road is where I let myself cry the most, because no one was ever around to hear it. Crying loudly on the open prairie is an activity I would recommend to everyone. It is highly cathartic and pleasingly dramatic (especially on a windy day). On this particular walk I was crying while listening to Chelsea handler's new book (Audio book) “Life Will Be The Death Of Me...And You Too” which is comprised of a lot of grief content, which is right up my alley lately. Chelsea details her therapy sessions where she realizes how the loss of her brother at a young age has still affected her so many years later in ways she never noticed before. #relatable. There is also a chapter specifically chronicling the loss of her mother to cancer (oh boy) and in that chapter she speaks about how she found herself feeling closer to her mom after she passed away. I’m paraphrasing of course, but she said that although in life they hadn’t always understood each other, suddenly, after she died, she felt her mom more acutely as a sort of warm presence watching over her. I was already crying but this hit me right to my core, I doubled over as if I had been punched in the stomach.
That is not how I feel.
I don’t feel closer to her since she died, and the only thing I feel acutely is her absence. I remember my mom speaking of her brother that way after he passed away, that she felt like they were suddenly closer, but neither my sibling nor I have described that same sensation. Some of her final words to us were about how she would send us signs, but I haven’t seen them. In fact, every time I think something might be a sign from her, It only reminds me she is gone and I feel worse. She was such a presence in my life, through her energy yes, but also tangibly, through touch and talk and laughter, so having her as energy or a concept only is a loss. I cried and cried and cried because in that moment I realized it had been so difficult to find the ways in which she may still be here when I am completely consumed by the ways she is not.
I stopped and looked out on the prairie.
Call it a sign, a voice inside my head, or divine intervention but I felt the sudden urge to listen.
I took out the headphones.
Next, I felt compelled to walk forward, down into the ditch, closer to the field full of canola flowers. As I was walking, I began to feel a little joy as I remembered how gleefully my mom would have walked through this tall grass, how much she enjoyed interacting with nature and how she always let us do the same. She never worried, when we were kids, if we would get dirty or procure a couple scrapes, she always encouraged us to run through the field, and jump in the leaves and play in the snow .
A few more steps and now I was at the bottom of the ditch, low enough that yellow canola flowers were all I could see.They were vibrant and bright and taking a second to witness them filled my heart up a little more. As I climbed out of the ditch to observe them closer I thought to myself “maybe mom told me to listen to lead me here just to notice the flowers”.
Once I was on the other side of the ditch, standing right next to the flowers now, I saw it, a beautiful, white butterfly.
Butterflies appeared to me through words and imagery time and time again in the year before my mom died. Before I found out she was sick, I had anointed 2018 a “butterfly year”. The transformation I had been expecting was not one that involved death, but even still, I had come to think my prediction may have been right. We were all changed forever by the events of that year, never able to return to who we were before, just as a caterpillar is changed forever once it leaves the cocoon. No choice but to fly.
Since my mom passed away I have been quietly associating butterflies to her, only to find out recently that my cousins and uncle had been told specifically by my aunt that butterflies would be the signs to look out for from my aunt once she had passed. To my knowledge I hadn’t told my aunt about the butterfly connection to my mom and yet it was what she chose for herself and separately we had both come to the same conclusion.
Here I was, standing on the prairie, and the more I expanded my vision the more butterflies I saw. They were everywhere. They had been there the whole time I had been walking of course, I just hadn’t seen them because I wasn’t paying attention. I can't say if this moment was sent to me by my mom (or my aunt for that matter) and personally I don’t believe she conjured the butterflies through of any sort magic, but she is, without a doubt, the reason that I saw them. That moment never would have happened without my mom, and to me the message was clear: I don’t need to look for signs, I don’t need to try to find my mom, I just need to pay attention to exactly where I am and she will be there.
That moment with the butterflies provided me with a lovely epiphany. I don't notice my mom all the time for the same reason that fish don't notice water; because she is everywhere. I haven't felt her presence more clearly since she died because she had always been equally present in my life, that has never changed, the only change has been the loss, so that is what I noticed.
Everywhere and always
Over the past 7 months, everytime that I have cried over the pages of my journal searching for answers, pleading to the air, pathetically asking "where are you? Why did you have to leave?" all I hear is “I am here”. Over and over I hear her voice, full of gentle kindness saying "I'm here, I am right here with you, I am always right here". I don’t hear it with my ears but I know it in my bones. Her presence hasn’t gone anywhere, but I do have to take time to notice her, and that requires more work on my part. Sometimes it feels easier not to look for her and to instead let myself feel like she is gone and only gone. Sometimes it is easier to feel abandoned, easier not to notice the ways she continues to show up in my life because to notice how she is here, is also to notice how she is not.
She is not here in any of the ways I had thought she would be, and we can’t do any of the things that we used to do together, or all of the things I had hope that we someday would.
We won’t laugh together, chatting on a car ride, inevitably sitting in the car for an extra hour to chat more after arriving home at the end of the day.
She won't ever brag about me to anyone again and I won’t meet that person only to have them say "I think I met you mom earlier?". I won't laugh knowing that they definitely met my mom earlier and she is probably making another new friend as we speak.
I won't be able to support her dreams for the future and she won't be able to proofread what I'm writing right now.
She won't ever ask me to send her my newest songs and she won't ever hear them.
She won't meet who I marry (If I get married) and she won’t ever hold my children (If I have any).
We won't eat a veggie burger on a patio discussing the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy.
I won't be able to take her as my date to a special event and watch her charm the pants off everyone in the room.
I will never get to take her to Australia with me.
She won't be able to call me or text me or attempt a failed facetime.
I will never hear her voice, consoling me or encouraging me or just telling me something new that she has never said before.
I won’t see her cry.
I won’t see her angry.
I won't hear her laugh.
I won’t watch her fill with joy and jump into action.
I will never be able to hug her or smell her or see her again and the list of things that are lost could go on forever.
My grief counselor talked about finding a way to re-integrate your loved one into your life in a new way and although I understood the concept intellectually, any “new way” felt empty compared to the old way. Everything felt empty because of the never-ending list of the things I had lost. Things I thought we would do together, things we could have experienced, things I thought my life would be when my mom was still in it.
But standing on the prairie yesterday morning I began to feel something new. Not only did I notice the butterflies, but I also noticed that the list of things was just that. A list of things. It was not her. And if there is a list of the things that have been lost since she died, there is also a list of the ways she is still in my world and always will be.
She was with me on every step of this trip because I wouldn't have taken it if it wasn't for her.
She was in every conversation I had, and even though she won’t brag about me, I got to brag about her to all her friends and hear them do the same.
I found her picture in the hallway of her university and I saw backstage at the theatre where her and my dad first met.
I stood where she had stood in multiple provinces all across Canada and I told everyone I met about her and how she would have loved this grand adventure I was having.
She is in the way I talk and what I choose to talk about.
She in my laugh and my smile and quite frankly my whole face.
I have her feet and her hands and as I age they will look like hers more and more.
She is in my words and my creativity.
She is in my gentleness and my enthusiasm my kindness and my determination.
She is in my sibling and the love we have for each other.
She is in all the creative works she left behind many of which were written specifically for my sibling and I.
She is why I write, why I sing, and why I notice canola flowers on the side of the road.
She is why I want to hug every tree I see.
We love vegetables and we don't eat meat.
We are more interested in picking up rocks to feel their history than learning about that rock from a book.
We want to feel the wind and the water and the hot and the cold and exist in nature as much as we can.
We want to walk for hours, especially if it's sunny, but even if its raining.
We dance in the rain.
We smile at new faces and don't treat them like strangers, even if they are, and we see the good in people even when you have to look closely.
We love people, and we give them the benefit of the doubt.
I say “we” because now everything I do we do together. My mom is "right here" always, in the fibre of my being and if I keep paying attention she will continue to show up for me in new ways that I can add to my new list. Everything I have experienced on this trip, she has too, because she hasn't gone anywhere. If anything she has just gone everywhere.
I haven’t found a permanent clarity, I never will, grief is forever and it would be silly to try to “get over it” or to think that I had figured anything out. Even still, at least in that moment on the prairie, and this moment heading home after my beautiful “love tour” I feel like I have stopped looking for signs from my mom. I don’t need to. She isn’t in any one sign or with me in any one moment, she is simply with me.
She is everywhere that I am, always.
Lets face it, not even death could keep my mom away from me, not now, not ever.