My mother died last week at 1:52 a.m. Monday morning from complications caused by breast cancer which had metastasized to her liver, kidneys, and bone marrow. I had to power through the ensuing week of relatives, visits to the funeral home we chose, and the planning of the memorial (which was very beautiful and took place at Kingwood Center, a place anyone in Ohio should check out), and now that I have finally been able to return home to my altar and my friends, the real grieving process can begin. During this entire week and a day, I have come to realize that every single aspect of my life, interests and magical practice have been influenced by my mother and the things that were important to her. A pretty obvious conclusion to most people, seeing as she was the person who birthed and raised me; however, my relationship with my mother for about a decade had been filled with conflict and pain. When she was first diagnosed with stage four breast cancer nine years ago, she lost all hope-without any supportive family members and a daughter (me) just entering into the first stages of puberty, and a partner who drank from morning ‘til night, she had no idea how to cope with this sudden death sentence. At the time her doctors estimated that she had a year to live, though thankfully she had much more time than that; she went off the deep end financially, emotionally, and socially. She began spending too much, mostly on jewelry that I now realize she wanted in order to give something to me in the end, but also on weed-I just learned two nights ago that she had been smoking an ounce or more of weed a month for the entire nine years, until four or so months ago when her health suddenly took a turn for the worst. Medical expenses not covered by her insurance were staggering-and before her diagnosis she had taken a year of mental leave from work, unpaid, which we now know was directly linked to the cancer and should have been paid, predictably returning her to that dreaded childhood state of poverty from which she had run for most of her life.
Luckily, she had a partner who, though addicted to alcohol and carting around quite a bit of baggage of his own, was willing to support her financially no matter what, and even took out a loan to prevent her from losing her house. All of this mounting tension was incomprehensible to me as a ten year old who had until then enjoyed an eccentric though undeniably middle-class upbringing made up of Harry Potter, fairy worship, and trips to the zoo. My mother had always struggled with anger management due to her horrific experiences as a child, but this was just a regular parental flaw until she began taking chemo. Anyone who has dealt with cancer directly or indirectly knows what this word means. Our relationship deteriorated rapidly. She had raised me to be an extremely liberal and outspoken individual yet under the influence of all that weed and chemo she began to believe that God was punishing her for doing so-she herself was raised until the age of sixteen or so as a strict, hellfire & brimstone Baptist. I have a lot of regret for how I reacted to her problems at that time but luckily had the time to begin to make up for it. Long story short, we were very distant and guarded with one another for many years, for most of my growing-up process, in fact, and just as things were returning to normalcy after her cancer had gone into remission, I began recording an album with a twenty year old guitarist who had aspirations toward producing who pretty much seduced me (I was fifteen, sixteen, at this time) and actively encouraged my vendetta against my mother. She had told me to my face around this time that during her initial cancer-panic she had spent all of my college savings, afterall. Incidentally, it was right when he and I began seeing each other that I picked up my long-abandoned habit of self mutilation….
Anyway, I was sixteen, knee deep in denial of my obvious lesbianism, and dating a twenty one year old, and dealing with a mother irrevocably changed by everything she had gone through. What little healing we had reached was paralyzed by my absurd commitment to this guy, who had recently lost his father and probably should have realized that fucking a sixteen year old with similar awareness of losing a parent wasn’t the best idea. Of course, over the next three years I opened up to her again, spurred by the discovery of sex and feminism, and we did spend the majority of that time happily gossiping/arguing over the many nuances of gender and politics. We never did reach the ideal mother-daughter relationship rightfully enjoyed by the majority of American women. In January, four months into living on my own for the first time, we were almost in reach of it; by then, she was already very sick. At first I was told that she had a year or even, optimistically, three years left on this earth. Reluctant to break my first lease, I was determined to remain in my new location 90 minutes away for the remaining five months, and defaulted to visiting as often as possible which amounted to 1-3 times a week. Occasionally, a week went by without visiting.
I cannot stress how much I wish that someone had at some point in those nine years sat down with me and explained the general rules of cancer. Despite frequent access to the internet (hence this cute little tumblr account), I had no desire to do the research on my own. I preferred living with the delusion that my mother would live forever and that we had plenty of time to make up for what was lost during my “entry into womanhood,” a.k.a. my teenage years. I know like I know that the earth is round my mother’s favorite things: gardening, animals, children, cooking, painting, poetry, and Poe. What I had forgotten while she went through treatment, were the specifics. Her favorite colors were warm yellow and orange, met with cool green. What were the flowers she liked? What were her favorite gemstones? What poem would she want printed in her memorial handout? I had no clue. Others had to remind me.
Now left alone for the first time in a week, having spent the day in preparation for the months to come, I have realized that the specific magickal objects that I depend upon the most, are the things I can remember my mother introducing me to a decade or more ago, when I was a child. Hazy and subject to misinterpretation as childhood memories often are, the ones I pull out of my own depths astonish me; I am my mother’s child, despite that I am gay, despite my commitment to witchery, and despite the barrier fostered between us for such a long time. Before taking chemotherapy, she was an outspoken supporter of many wonderful things, like environmentalism and worker’s rights. She also supported gay rights, the right to freedom of religion, and the rights of women. Confronted with a daughter with a hankering for black clothing, suicide, and sexy ladies, battling cancer, she submitted to that enormous pressure called Midwestern Christian Society, and concluded that her disease was a punishment from God, and that her responsibility from thereon-out was to turn me into a nice young lady….
This is something that I will never be. I am incapable of being so. How I came to these conclusions would require another 1000 or so words, so I’ll abstain from any explanation. It is now abundantly clear that my two main passions, writing & witchcraft, were gifts from my mother. I also inherited from her a talent for painting, and due to the universal qualities of this art, we were able to connect through this for much longer than the prior. Now as I make plans for a new pendulum board, it is difficult even to chose a stone, because I have realized that all of the stones that I rely on were those given to me by my mother! I owe everything I have to be proud of to her and anything I achieve belongs to her. Everybody I know or will know hears so much about her-her memory remains alive. From all this I have decided to build a new altar devoted to her. Until now I have only kept one, but I feel as though I am ready to manage several. Things are already changing so much and she is not here to see it happen. Nevertheless, I will always have thunderstorms, turquoise, novels, and a million other things to remain connected with her, so that at least in my own reality the two of us may continue to grow together.