(M)othering on an Empty Stomach. Memoir by Sandy Bezanson

Version 2

(M)othering on an empty stomach

I have recently become a supporter of Fake News.

Fake news, fake facts, fake time, days, seasons—I am now an ardent supporter of all of these and more. As I walk with my dear mother down the final path of her life, I will support anything that makes her travelling lighter and more meaningful.

Certain common realities no longer hold sway. What does it matter that it is “Tuesday” not Sunday; that she ate the last piece of carrot cake not I; or that she talked to Uncle Jack “only yesterday”—which would make him 129 years old? What does matter is that the 96-year-old skeletal frailty who is my mother can be comfortable, nourished, and know that she is well loved.

I pray to deities that I am no longer sure I believe in for patience and humility. And although I could make a great and fine case about what an honour it is to take care of my mother, as both a mother and a daughter, I tell you it is hard, very hard. Bony hands gripping yours as she pants in terror, “I am not going to make it,” and implores you “don’t leave me,” though you have not been out of her sight for 27 consecutive hours. Or to hear her confide after many confused awakenings that she thought she was dead. This tells only part of the story. The pallor, the tottering steps, the sharp hunger assuaged with such little food, and the inability to eat again for prolonged periods, the confusion, and yes, the temper and sharp words—these are now the realities.

The comfort of intermittent laughter is more real, honest, profound and consequential to me now than the entirety of the world’s news, real and fake.

It has come to me that (M)othering is not just about the beginning and middle of life. The ending of life, though we may dread it as a tragedy or welcome it as a mercy, is also an integral part of (M)othering. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Perhaps more so than tending to a baby or advising a young adult, caring for an ill or aging parent requires tenacity and humour, adaptability and patience, as well as a very great deal of graceful acceptance of the inevitable. Yet the joy of new life and the challenges of young life don’t prepare you for (M)othering your own parent.

I have never really liked sandwiches, and I am now the living embodiment of one, spread very thin between my mother and her concerned grandchildren. Of course family and friends help, but being the point person and always on call is a different thing, though doable. It is the great ephemeral unknowns of existence that patter through my head on sleepless nights, that steal energy, nerve and direction as they leave their footprints and me questioning my own mortality. Caring for your parents puts you next in line to the brink of eternity in a visceral way that cannot be denied. It is too soon for me to don the matriarchal crown I tell myself at 3am, as though the decision was in any way in my hands.

When I think of my mother, I think of her in her youth as a child of the Depression, a vital worker during WWII, and then a young wife and mother in the late 1950s. As soon as awareness came to me, my mum was all, everything—constant, secure, and selfless in her caring for my sisters and me.

My mother, born second last in a brood of nine, was a complete tomboy. Any activity, be it skating, curling, baseball, driving, or shooting, was in her blood from her early days growing up rough and tumble in a small Saskatchewan town. Although we called her Mrs. Clean for her extraordinary housekeeping, I think she was a somewhat reluctant homemaker in the traditional sense. She was not fond of decorating or fancy cooking, though until recently her apple pies would knock your socks off. She planted flowers in any small patch of earth. Mum was naturally musical and could play the mouthorgan, guitar, and organ by ear. She loved a laugh, and wouldn’t suffer fools when playing cards.

She was a devoted grandmother and a rock for us all when we lost my Dad suddenly one night. At 70 years of age she sold the house and moved 2000 miles to be closer to her children, fearlessly setting up a whole new life for herself. With the loss of our wonderful larger than life father (and that is saying a lot as he was six and a half feet tall or two meters in decimal speak), Mum came into her own in ways I had not anticipated. Her (M)othering knowledge and wisdom deepened and poured in and around her children and descendants like golden honey drizzled over freshly baked bread, for the sweet beauty and energy of it—for the very joy of life.

I realize that I have just written the above paragraphs in the past tense. I cannot keep this feeling of ‘passage’ from seeping into everything now.

Someone once said, It is not the darkness I fear, but the dimming of the light. The dimming of everything, the turning of the wheel, the cycle of life, none of those things scare me as they did in my youth. We all must accept death, and after a wonderful life of 96 years there is no cause for complaint. But the diminishing is still difficult to bear witness to.

I have just returned from a hospital visit where I thought my Mum was taking her final tortured breaths. The feel of the rough, bruised skin of her hand is imprinted on mine, and the sounds, looks, smells of the bedside are replaying in my mind. Munch-like in their distressed distortions. And still she survived. Only the touch of family skin to skin, heartbeat to heartbeat linked life to this world. The crest of oblivion winked at us today—not a terrifying spectre, but awesome in its latent profundity.

During all of the frenetic activity going on around us—the giving of blood, adjustment of meds, monitoring of oxygen, taking of blood pressure and counting of pulse—there was only Mum and I holding hands. We were the calm at the center of the hurricane. Through all of the momentum of the building storm, there was the rightness of just Mum and I, holding our hearts together through our hands.

My hand trembles now as I lift her favourite mug to my lips. I blatantly pilfered it for the comfort it affords me. Is it pity I swallow with my tea? Or is it relief, joy, or selfishness that is mixed with the Earl Grey? I cannot tell. Nor does it really matter because many hours after the crisis she was able to mumble my name, and then after a prolonged pause, one other word…love.

Love.

Because love is the essential nature of (M)othering.

In retrospect, my teens seemed to have flown by, and then, and as is the way of all (M)othering, it became time for her to let go of me, as I let go of my child, as it will be time soon again for another type of letting go. I must make the best of my sandwich, though I sometimes have little appetite for it—even when “the final news” comes.

Because that too is the essential nature of (M)othering.

{I have not said a word about Covid yet, which has stolen so much from so many.  I grieve for those families who were not able to comfort their loved ones in person. Thank you to all level of workers who help with the sick and aging; angels all, in a very trying time!}

 

After earning a degree at Queen’s University, Sandy Bezanson lived overseas for a number of years. This allowed her to actively pursue her love of art, history, peoples and places. Living in various locations, sometimes as a visible minority who didn’t speak the language, gave her the opportunity to experience life from a different perspective. She feels this aided her subsequent teaching career, as did being a mother (not to mention being a sister, wife, daughter, friend and occasional wine drinker)!

Sandy returned to North America with a desire to write. She has contributed to Pages of Stories and the forthcoming (M)othering Anthology due to be published in Spring 2022.

You are cordially invited to explore her current project, an historical novel called The Guernsey Diplomat, available later this year.

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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