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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged #mourning

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When I was fifteen, I designed a tattoo I wanted to get to commemorate my mom. The word, green, was the name she gave me when her tumour-riddled brain refused to let her access words- including my name. The font was taken from the band that played the first show I ever went to (with my mom), and I incorporated a moon and star- we had always shared a love of the sky. It was meant to symbolize our relationship, and it included symbols of all the most formative things my teenaged brain could comprehend at the time. My dad made me wait until I was 18 to get the design tattooed on me, but he did suggest engraving it on the bench that looked on to her grave. On my eighteenth birthday, he handed me a hundred dollars, I picked up my best friend, and I finally got my green tattoo on my left forearm. Years later, my brother would get the same tattoo, tying him to us even closer than he had been to start of with.

A year and a half later, my dad and I had a huge confrontation that resulted in us barely speaking for years afterward. During this confrontation, he expressed his disapproval of some of my choices, and I told him, through salty, gasp-filled breathes, that I was an adult who was capable of making my own decisions about my life. That same summer, I got my fourth(?) tattoo by a woman who was just learning to tattoo in her apartment for $20. Three birds sitting on a wire on my left wrist, one flying away. Dad, my brother, (still at home), and mom (who left, but is still here). On my right arm, there is one lone bird, soaring. Independence. The birds are facing me- a reminder. I went straight to a concert (The Specials) and danced until I was so drenched in sweat that the bandages on my wrists fell away into the pit and the ink smudged throughout my new tattoos.

It has been eight years since my first tattoo, and my body is now home to seventeen pieces of permanent art. Seventeen stories to illustrate my life so far. Just a couple of days ago, a lovely friend graciously offered to hand-poke one of her drawings into my skin. I looked through her sketchbooks and found a thin evergreen tree with an eye for roots, complete with straight lines extending downward. I instantly felt connected to the naturalness, the resilience, the grounding, the good vibes, the introspection, the connection of this image. I thought for a while about the placement, and after discussing with another close and cherished friend, my initial intuition was confirmed, and I decided on the placement: my left forearm, parallel to my green tattoo, and so that the roots of my new tree, which faces away from me and out into the world, extend towards the lone bird on my wrist wrist.

This series of tattoos wasn’t even meant to be representative of my healing process as I have learned to grieve for my mother while simultaneously standing in my power. But it was. Really, it’s a perfect expression of how when you learn to accept the universe as it is, that’s a step towards ending your own personal suffering. I am so grateful for this process.

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Losing you is a lot to hold.

Sometimes, it feels like I’m losing you all over again. While I mourned for the mother I had as a child, as I grow into an adult, I am realizing that there is a whole other aspect to this loss. I have never mourned for the person I never had the privilege of knowing. My adult self never knew your adult self. My perception of you as a person, through the eyes of a little girl, could not have possibly been accurate or well-rounded, and as I grow, and I see my friends with their children, I know that this is true.

Playing such a heavy role in your care while you were sick skewed my perception even further. I was young enough that I don’t even remember you. I don’t remember how your voice sounds (that drives me crazy). I don’t know if you would have condoned many of the choices I’ve made over the past nine years- I don’t even know if you would have liked the person I’ve grown into.

As I’ve watched many of my friends make choices about boundaries in their adult lives with their parents- and as I’ve made my own choices about the boundaries I have with my living parent- I find myself mourning the loss of that choice. The choice to have a relationship with you.

As I watch my friends have children, and as I think about it abstractly, I mourn the fact that you will never meet any one-day child of mine, you will never be there to support me while I go through the process of bringing a human being into the world or raising them. One thing I remember about you, is that you loved being a mother. I think that I will one day too. I wish we could have shared that.

I wish we could have shared a lot of things.

I wish you could have met my partner. I wish you could have seen me graduate- and told me that I should just go straight to grad school instead of putting it off. I wish you could help me pick out clothes for work (my idea of professional attire isn’t exactly the most well-rounded). I wish you could help me paint my apartment, and try out that new lunch spot with me, and warn me about that friend who you KNEW wouldn’t be worth my energy in the end. I wish you were there to answer all my questions about how long to cook chicken breasts or how to shave my legs without razor burn.

But I didn’t have you around then, and I still don’t now. I have raised myself since I was fourteen years old, and while I felt lost for a long time, I’m found now. I found myself, no one did it for me. I did the work. I cared for myself. I nurtured myself. Not gracefully, but successfully none the less. I have been my own mother.

But I also know that would break your heart, because another thing I remember about you is that you never wanted me to feel lost of alone or that I had to mother myself. So sometimes, when I miss you the most, I wrap myself in the quilt the hospital gave you and I breathe in a decade’s worth of missing the you I’ll never get to know.