Yesterday was Mother's Day. I spent the morning at the cemetery, visiting my mother's grave. That still feels weird to say.
She passed in February, and the headstone still hasn't been installed yet. There's a barren patch of earth with a few tenacious blades of grass fighting their way to cover the nakedness.
The day promised to be a scorcher; already at sun was beginning to blister on the back of my neck. It was disorienting to stand there and realize that what physically remained of her was buried beneath me. The thought sapped the energy from my bones.
On the way home I was lost in thought, asking myself, "What do I believe about death?" Having rejected the belief system of my parents, there are still areas in which I have no comforting ideology to deal with things like loss and possible life after death.
In the short drive home I didn't come up with any philosophy to comfort me through my grief. But I did arrive at something almost as good: gratitude.
My mother and I had a contentious relationship from the moment I stepped in to adolescence. Despite a childhood promise that I would never rebel, I rose up in forceful retaliation against my mother as soon as I was a teenager. While perhaps some of it was the natural course many of us take, much of it came from a primal need inside of me to self-identify outside of the confines of my parents' world.
It has taken me years of distance and forgiveness to be able to begin to have clarity on our relationship, but I have begun to realize that each weapon I wielded to free myself was given to me by my mother. Knowingly or not, she gave me the tools that I needed to free my mind and begin to forge my own life outside of the control of the cult she had brought me up within.
Though when I was young, many of our conversations turned into her sermonizing, there were often hidden little gems that I would pluck out and cherish, polishing them until they gleamed like beacons:
I would hear stories of how the leadership in the church would try to assign her a "mission," but her gut told her that something else was more important. She would fight until she had her own way and that, she would say, was how she ended up getting her undergraduate degree in Hawaii while many other members had given up their education to fundraise for the church.
"Trust your gut," she would say.
"Choose your own beliefs, or someone else will," she warned.
Once she even ventured to say that, as long as I was happy, she would support me even if I joined another faith.
I've often wondered how that strength and independence of mind got lost in her. Were these moments little insights into a suppressed inner-wise self that was fighting to get out within her?
Though she gave me the tools for self-direction and thought freedom, she fought when I finally chose to act upon those things. And while there is so much healing to do in that aftermath, I have to maintain a deep and profound gratitude that through all of the control and the noise that her faith created to try to drown out thought, she was able to whisper to me, "Go, and be free."
For that, even in the dark emptiness of loss, I am profoundly grateful. From that gift, I have been able to create all of the beauty in my life.
The rest of Mother's Day I spent creating this photograph for her. While I was thinking of what to name it, the word "womb" kept coming up. I researched the definition of womb and saw that it was assigned synonyms like "void," "nothingness" and "emptiness."
In death we fear the potential void. The unknown stretches out before us like a yawning chasm. But we are told that in birth we faced those same fears as we were welcomed into this world.
From emptiness we came into being. That gives me hope for all of the beauty we can create, even from the darkest of places.