Some people are complex and confusing. Just when you think you have a measure of who they are you’ll find something out about them that seems out of place or character.
Oddly the death of someone can answer almost as many questions as it poses, as you sift through their personal belongings.
My mother didn’t do regret in my experience, or from what I saw during her life, forgiveness. She harboured resentments like priceless property and took many of them – particularly with regard to my father – with her to the grave.
As I’ve said before I am beginning to come to terms with this, and try to remember my mother more compassionately – to let go of the negative emotions that I feel about her.
Its one of the reasons I’m writing so much. I need to examine it and talk it out with myself.
The last time I saw her in hospital she said she had no regrets to my brother. This wasn’t really a revelation, given that she also never said sorry (certainly not with any sincerity anyway).
She then thought for a moment after this and revised her statement. She actually did have regrets. She regretted that he hadn’t come to see her more. She then added ‘And I regret your brother didn’t come to see me more as well.’
My mother it seemed really didn’t get the idea of regret being something personal, where you feel you’ve made a mistake or failed somehow in your duty to others or yourself.
At the time I was greatly annoyed when I heard her say this. She had a habit of displacing all blame onto others, and this seemed no different.
Time changes perceptions though.
My mom’s vocabulary sometimes let her down, and her written English (although sometimes insightful) was always littered with grammatical errors.
My mother was an artist rather than a writer, and spoke through her drawings and paintings rather than words, which routinely failed her and caused conflict.
While going through her photos I came across several family trees this evening in various states of completion, which not so long ago she had (for reasons of her own) started to compile and send to myself and my brother.
The ‘master’ copy has black and white photos from 1940 or thereabouts with some serious looking people on my mother’s side of the family. Some of them are in military uniform, and they look like there is preparation for war.
There’s a sense in the descriptions that mom is trying to understand where she came from, and why she is who she is.
The passages of text describing her own parents are extensive. They contain no critical comments (of which she made many over the years) and instead she remarks her mother and father were ‘kind to the pet animals that the three children occasionally took home’.
Their treatment of their children however is described only in terms of them working hard and providing food, clothing, ‘necessary’ school uniforms and equipment.
Oddly parental love is never mentioned. Instead terms relating to honesty and reliability are used to describe her father and nothing at all to describe her mother.
Her sense of kin and wanting to belong to where she’s come from is self evident throughout the first third of the binder, but whats missing speaks louder to me than what’s included.
Later in the album photos of her own family begin to overwhelm the narrative, and there are lots of myself and my brother growing up, many of which I don’t ever remember seeing before.
Then, starting around my adolescence, there are massive gaps. My father no longer has dark hair, I become quickly old in the photos, my brother taller with facial hair, and the period in which we all don’t see each other holds little information.
There’s a sense however that she is desperately holding onto every scrap of information about our lives that she can find as I and then later my brother gradually cut off contact. She begins to write what she thinks we are like as if it is fact. She begins to imagine who we are and that becomes her truth.
Mom also begins to refer to me in the past tense underneath a photo from 2008 and says ‘David had various hobbies, which included computer games, driving his car, music, films, with a bit of gardening.’
It’s sad that she knew so little about me. I hate gardening usually and I drive only to get from A to B which is normally only where I listen to music. She’s right about the games and films though. That much is true.
It’s partially my fault she didn’t know me. It takes two to fight and I was to blame as well in some cases.
As I read the album before me I know that it probably wouldn’t be any different if we had the time again, but it still makes me feel bad, wishing things had taken another path.
Its not until I get to the back of it however that I find something that surprises me.
A poem, by Kathleen Gillum:
Maybe mom’s regrets were really just things she was sad about, things that she wished had been different, and didn’t have the power to change any more.
Maybe behind her stumbling vocabulary were feelings, trapped in a painting or drawing that she no longer had the power to bring to life. A piece of imagined art that said – ‘I’m sorry. I wish things had been different, and I loved you both.’