Going back and driving on the right

I started this on my trip to Ireland with my mom two months ago.

Sitting with my mother on a bench at Sandycove yesterday I felt the weight of years passed and also the moment, this moment with her. She has been my best friend and my worst enemy, cheering me on during the darkest days, making hurtful remarks when I was feeling too happy, reminding me of my clay feet when I was trying to soar but then remembering to say something so kind and loving that no one else would be able to equal. And here we are. Driving through awful traffic while she murmurs helpful suggestions that addle my jet-lagged brain even further and then offering anything to help.
I suggested this trip knowing it would not be easy to squire my strong-willed 90 year old mother around Dublin and environs but I also knew it would be in its own way, perfect.

Her mother was hateful, legendary but mean, mean as cat piss as my mother would say. She threw frozen washcloths in my face when I was little, separated from my parents who'd gone to Mexico with my oldest sister for too long. And she was mean to my mother who produced beautiful Thanksgiving dinners and was snubbed for it, never paid attention to my mother's incredible talent as an architect. She told me the whole family was going straight to hell, when I was eight and traumatized by my father's drinking, my sister's scoliosis and my parent's brawling. Yet, she served as a brilliant nurse in WWI in France, bombed in the Dardanelles, brave and unflinchingly a comfort to hundreds of dying young men and later to multiples of women having babies in Boston, suffering from postpartum depression.

Today is two days after Thanksgiving 2015.

Recently I finally read Travelling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I loved it. She can be a little corny but her emphasis on love and forgiveness is needed badly these days. Today I received an email from someone who was very close to my sister Catherine at college, someone I never spoke to who knew our family and its shattering after Catherine was killed. Her voice is lovely but also reminded me vividly of the days, weeks, months and years after Catherine disappeared and I was lost. At 26 I wasn't prepared for the complexity of grief and the way one thing seemed to cascade into another until I wondered whether I would ever wake up without the feeling that something was terribly wrong and I didn't want to open my eyes. Her son waited for his mother to come home while I searched in dark places for an answer to my prayers.

This morning, reading the memories of my sister from her college friend I felt a long forgotten panic. I remembered going to her house and finding clothes she had stolen from me and denied, sitting down in those same clothes sobbing that she could have anything I owned if she would only come back. Cleaning her kitchen and seeing the notes she wrote on the wall by the phone. Recognising that life is so incredibly fragile, short and often wasted in fear, recriminations and shame. Being reminded of that sadness has reminded me how happy I am to be alive, how much I love my friends, my mother, my sister, my niece and nephews, my ex-husband, my dear husband and son. I love life. I hope for peace and healing, for an end to the terror and the shame of violence. But this Thanksgiving I will happily embrace this moment. It's all I have.


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