THE DAYS AFTER

12reagan-jp-sub-articleLargeMy next novel, which I began writing last year, opens with this line: ‘On the first day of autumn rain my mother died.’ The line came to me on one of California’s rare stormy days and, because my mother was in her 90s and was in declining health, it’s quite probable that I was influenced by that situation. The novel is not purely a mother-daughter story, nor is the character of the mother modeled after mine. But I did write about the aftermath of this fictional mother’s death, and the emotions buffeting the daughter.

I have to rewrite those parts now. Because I’m on the other side of my mother’s passing and, while there have been no huge emotional surprises, the waters are murkier than I imagined they would be, my emotions are more tangled than I anticipated, the journey of this time following her passing  is more unpredictable.

History moves up behind me sometimes — with stunning clarity. More than it did when my father died, possibly because I didn’t have as volatile or challenging a relationship with him. Different chapters of my life with my mother are so vivid it’s as if a movie screen has dropped down in front of me. Occasionally it feels like time travel, and I’m not sure I like it. What’s also different is that when my father died I was going up to my parents’ house every day to check in on my mother, see how she was holding up. I had to compartmentalize my own feelings, deal with them later, when I wasn’t with her. There is  no one to check up on now, no reason to keep my feelings at bay. I let them wash over me at their own pace.

The mother-daughter dance is a complicated one. As daughters, what our mothers think of us, whether positive or negative, nestles deep beneath the skin. It forms how we think about ourselves. Their opinions whisper in our ears, stare back at us in mirrors. I’m finding that it’s startling and unfamiliar to be without that — to not be bouncing off my mother in some way.

I saw an interview once with Rufus Wainwright who had just lost his mother. He said there was a quote he’d heard once: “Your mother gives birth to you twice — once when you’re born, and again when she dies.” He didn’t say the author of the quote and I’ve been unable to find who authored it. But I’m finding that it’s true. Life is a series of births and deaths, often intertwined. And the best we can do is allow ourselves to go on the journey that life is asking us to take — willingly, with open eyes and hearts, and more than a little faith. Here is another quote, and I do know the author — Anatole France: “We must die to one life before we can enter another.”

20 Responses to THE DAYS AFTER

  1. David Marks says:

    Truly as beautifully intuitive as it is written. I await this book, as you can imagine, Patti.

  2. Rodney Wilson says:

    The journey, the journey, the journey. Thank you for sharing yours.

  3. Paula Bondi Springer says:

    Spot on! ♡

  4. Dave says:

    Beautiful

  5. Chet Rhodes says:

    My heartfelt condolences to you regarding the loss of your mother. I hope you find strength as time goes by, and I am looking forward to reading your next book. Peace be with you, Patti…

  6. Mike O'Toole says:

    I am stuck by your remarks about how often your relationship with your mother was. I have a similar relationship with mine, who is still alive and feisty at 91. I am surprised by how much solace I found in your recent sharing. Thanks, and all the best to you.

  7. David Packer says:

    Thank you, Patti, for your intuitive words-
    The grief journey after a parent dies is a murky one. We wrestle with so many mixed emotions. Be good to yourself and take one day at a time. Grief takes energy and it’s tiring. Your new book will be a joy to read. Take good care!

  8. Dan Black says:

    May the moments ahead of you bring peace, serenity and deep understanding. From the outside looking in you write soulfully.

  9. Your words are so true. Ihad a very volatile relationship with my mother as well, and I truly was born again after her death.
    Thank you Patty. My heart goes out to you for what you are going through right now. Having lost my son to suicide I know how volatile our emotions can be when a loved one dies.
    Please take good care of yourself.

  10. Kathlean Gahagan says:

    Resonant and poignant. Certain people enter ones life when one is open to receiving a lesson of significant import. I believe if I consciously remain open to receive that the gift is divine. You have been such a gift to me Patti. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the first edition.

  11. Tim Daughtry says:

    Very good reflections. As we all watched as your mother was gracefully laid to rest I kept looking at you trying to figure out what was going through your mind at the time. There’s no Dummies Guide to how to respond to someone you love dying or what you should exactly do afterwards. There’s no etiquette book for those of us left behind directing us to appropriate responses. Then for you it must have been especially difficult because you’re so in the limelight. You mentioned having faith in the piece that you wrote and that is so true. Even if you are agnostic I can’t imagine going through the death of someone you love alone. There’s a cliché “we are born into this world alone and we go out alone.” But I think an extension of that would be that those of us left behind are also suddenly very alone.

  12. MartinFrancis says:

    Beautiful essay – thank you!

  13. Lance Lukenbill says:

    Oh these things that reach into the very depths of our souls for all eternity.

  14. Erika Griesemer says:

    Very heartfelt. My condolences to you and your family on the loss of your mother.

  15. Mrs. Claus says:

    My condolences to you for anything left unresolved. Some time ago, after the death of my mother, someone said to me, “your mom left because everything IS resolved. What is left is only questions which don’t require answers. You will answer them yourself when the time is right and you will move forward to being the woman your beautiful mother knew you would be. Not the one she chose for you while she was alive but the one she trained you for in her life and in her death. Remember, now that she is not with you in physical form she has greater understanding of all that was to be.

    Every person brings joy to my life…some when they arrive, some when they leave. Hold on to the joy of their place, not the anger and sadness that is left behind.

  16. Ilene Lynch says:

    Patti;
    I watched you at both of your parents funerals. Many of us have had difficulties with our parents-but we will only find real peace when we forgive them.I thought you looked very much at peace at her funeral.Keep thinking of the loving moments you had with her-forget the others-trying to analyze your relationship would not bring you great joy. She is gone now -bask in the good memories. I wonder what my three children would say when I leave this earth. I hope they would pay me the tribute I heard you say and did at her funeral. Accept my condolences.

  17. Nancicooper says:

    I’ve had the same problems with my parents my whole life. Somehow society wants to blame me… UNGRATEFUL CHILD. I cried when you talked about seeing them on the beach (at the funeral) “like an island with just the two of them”. That’s how my parents were they never had room in their hearts for their children…it was like being raised an orphan, provided with food and clothing and at 18 their obligation was over. My mother was not nice to me, neither caring or predictable, and because of this I have very little trust in people especially women. I have tried and tried my father just died and I went to her and apologized for anything I’ve ever done to hurt her since birth – can we forgive and move forward ?? She told me she can’t forgive me – ice in her eyes. Thank you for writing the book, it has helped me immensely to know I am not alone and I am not crazy.

  18. Maureen says:

    Even though we have never met, I feel a certain kinship with how you have navigated your relationship with your mother before and after her passing. My mother will be gone three years next month but I feel her loss every day. And it’s not like we had a perfect relationship – we had our battles; yet we were very close especially as I grew older and she grew older. I look forward to reading your next book.

  19. Philip Cochran says:

    Dear Ms Davis your post was very beautiful regarsing the death of your Mother and also your Father. The quote “we must die to one world to enter another” touched me deeply as did the quote about being born twice. I wish you peace and happiness and my this world treat you with the respect you deserve. I was always a proud supporter of your Father. Like yourself I love my parents but we haven’t always had the type of relationship that I thought we should have. I always understood your differences with your parents and understood your side of things. Let us be thankful that time and age has a way of healing broken relationships. May God continue too bless and love you.

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