Letters to the Ones We Love (On Valentine’s day and not so special days in mid-July)

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend and there’s lots of love around.  Personally, I find this holiday to be a mix of the annoying (overpriced 7-course meals, hetero-normative displays everywhere, so much sugar) and beautiful (my students all saying why they love and appreciate each other, excuses to take time for yourself with the person you love, and really delicious 7-course meals).  But, my mom always taught me to cling to the best of things, so I’m sending out love and holding close to the love I’m given.

My motivation to write a book about my mother came from reading the journals I had written the summer I was home in Fargo taking care of her as she was dying.  Throughout those 3 months my partner Brandon supported me over the phone from Philadelphia.  It was also during that time that we decided to have a ceremony that would include my mom.  Not a wedding, but a day when we could share our love with each other and our families.  It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. The pictures from our “Celebration of Love and Family” (as we chose to call it) are gems of my mom’s happiest moments 12 days before she died.

Celebrating love together
Celebrating love together

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  The piece of journal writing I’m sharing today is from a not so special day when I needed support and Brandon was there for me.  He continues to be a person that I am so happy to be with while we break and rebuild.

My mom knew that I would be okay because I had you.  It is a part of what made her passing easier.  She loved you because you’re awesome, but also because she trusted you to see that I was well taken care of.  You love me in a way that she always did–with gentleness, blind (but you try to see my flaws too) optimism, and abounding support.

This Valentine’s Day I remember my mother who taught me I deserved to be loved, and think of Brandon who helped keep me together when my world broke.  This love is something I hope for everyone sharing in my writing today.  May you find someone to hold hands with as you live, as you break, and as you walk into the dark.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Love to you all.

——————————————–

July 16th, 2014

 

Hey Brandon,

I’m writing to you while you’re so far away in Philly tonight.

It’s unexpected to see so many good things coming out of tragedies, but, I guess I’ve always thought that. It’s peculiar, but having to face death makes the richness of life come alive. Things that weren’t important, really aren’t important and of course the things that are you hug and hold dear.  I’m thinking often about what I actually want to do with this life because I’m so very aware of its limits.  

It means a lot that you’re willing to be here with me, emotionally.  I mean, I think it’s the right thing to do, but I’m sure it’s not easy.  You get to do all the support and none of the actual experience sharing.  You brighten up my family though, just with a phone call.  It’s funny how much they love you, how much they’ve taken you in to be one of us.  I’m pretty sure they think you’re the ultimate partner for me (and that’s probably a good thing).

Sometimes, when I think about how hard all this is, and that there will be a time when it gets even harder, I just imagine myself in your arms. It’s like I know I will be okay, because when I break you’ll just hold me together.  

It’s hard to be away from you, but this time it doesn’t feel hard for the same reasons.  I don’t feel a lessening of our relationship, even though the distance is real.  I’ve never questioned once while I’m here whether we should really be together. It’s nice to know I want to belong with someone.  It’s nice to know we can argue about something and we’ll both really listen to the each other.  It’s not nice to not feel you…that distance of skin is tangible.  It just makes me feel tired and like I’d really like to kiss you soon. 

I’m so thankful that I’m here.  

This past month I’ve started to accept the fact that I’m going to loose my mom.  That it’s going to hurt like hell, and I’m going to miss her everyday, but somehow I I will be okay.  

She was a lot happier today.  I think that’s where I want to turn my energy–not into trying to make her live forever, but in trying to make her life the best while I can. We are all going to have to die, so isn’t it best to go into the dark holding the hands of people you love.

I love you. You’re the best to share life with.

Betsy

Brandon, my mother, and I during our Celebration of Love and Family
Brandon, my mother, and I during our Celebration of Love and Family

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

The Two Home Syndrome

Sometimes I tell people I have two homes:  one, a city, and the other, a family.  I never wanted to move back to Fargo; it makes me feel like my mind is in a box and I should marry my high school sweetheart and settle down with 2 and a half kids.  To my mother, it is a happy place, a place full of friends and love and smiles.

 

My mother moved to Fargo with her family in the 8th grade from Deerlodge Montana. She talked with me about how she made a small group of girlfriends that would laugh and be silly with each other; inciting the reprimand of a few teachers more than once (I did that too!).  She kept these same girlfriends through high school and even into college, as she stayed in Fargo to double major in Early Childhood Development and Chiropractic at NDSU, living at her parents’ place for the most of it.  It wasn’t until she was 22 that she left the city in order to attend Northwestern Chiropractic College in Minneapolis.

And then, my parents moved back here; a newly married couple wanting to start their dual practice.  It made perfect sense to move back to this quieter community, buy the practice and the house from her dad, and start the set up of a little family, a little office, and a little home.

Although she thought of other places (my dad tells me at age 26 she dreamed of moving to the breathe-taking Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), Fargo always made sense to my mother.  Even if she was not one to follow rules or social expectations, she was one to follow her heart. In Fargo she would raise a family and know her kids would be safe, she could find a church and develop a relationship with a spiritual community, she would know the grocery stores, shopping malls, cheapest places to find wine, and would never have to go too far to find a friend (or make a friend) to laugh with.

Even though she did entertain how grand it would be to move out of the house that also held her late childhood, once we were born I never heard her consider leaving the city.  It is as if they had an unmentioned bond with no need to challenge its worth.

So, when I moved away and didn’t come back…I know it was hard for my mother.  When something is hard for the mother you respect and adore than that something is hard for you too.  I don’t think we ever truly understood the love that each one of us had for our cities. Each time my mother would visit me in Philadelphia (5 times all together?) I could hear her straining to be positive, always picking out the nice things she could say, before something she didn’t like would slip out.  To her, Philadelphia was rude, dirty, big, and scary.  She loved the trees and really genuinely tried to see the rocks as gems, but sometimes people just don’t like the same things.  She wanted her quiet, friendly Fargo; I wanted my rude, authentic Philly.

 

That’s where I found myself in the summer of 2014 as I visited my home in Philadelphia but missed my home, my mother, in Fargo:  home and homesick–permanently torn in alternative directions.

But it should be easier for me now, because I’ve grown used to the tension.  No matter where I go she will never be there, but also now she always will.

 

Home with no more far away.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)  –E. E. Cummings

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