You know, my Mom has always been a great one for folk wisdom. And one of the sayings she was always fond of is this: you have to take the good with the bad. Which I always thought was backwards. Didn’t she mean that although life was generally good, you had to accept that some bad things will happen? That you had to be prepared to swallow a little bit of bitter mixed in with all that was sweet? I didn’t let it bother me too much, though. I just put it down to artistic licence or idiomatic evolution or whatever. The point is: I grasped the meaning. I thought.
Today my Mom, my beautiful, kind, generous, loving and just overall amazing Mom is ill. Very ill. And I’ve come across Canada to Toronto to help my Dad and my sisters care for her. I’m happy to do it. In fact, I consider it a privilege.
During my time here so far, I’ve had many opportunities for reflection, and when I pause to look back on the last three weeks what stands out most for me are moments. Moments of darkness and light, good and bad: snapshots distilled from time’s ebb.
In the good moments, the light moments, I relish being with my Mom and Dad, my sisters, brothers-in-law and my nephew and nieces. I recall unexpected quips from my Mom in her hospital bed that set the rest of us to laughing in stitches. I remember them and smile. But in the dark moments, when I allow my mind to wander forward along time’s inevitable thread I see a future without my Mom and I know despair.
In the good moments, I soak up the pleasure of being in this city that I love and miss so
very much. This city of trees and parks and sparkling blue waters. Of vibrant neighbourhoods and
brilliant skylines. I walk the city streets and feel the pulse of life in the subterranean rumbling of the subway, the flow of pedestrians at crosswalks, the screech of gulls high in the air. But in the bad moments, I think about my daughters, living their lives at home without me: the missed soccer games, choir recitals and possibly even a sixth birthday party – and I weep. I think about my husband and his mother, playing Mommy to them in my absence: talking to teachers, arranging playdates, kissing owies – and yes, even cleaning up barf at 4:00 a.m.; and I feel…gratitude. Immense gratitude. But for their efforts, I would not be able to be here for my own Mother. But it’s a very bittersweet gratitude; a gratitude mixed with envy – and love. A new emotion, I think.
A quiet moment to reflect on the city view from Princess Margaret Hospital.
In light and carefree moments, perhaps while gazing at a sleeping baby in my arms, I can let go enough to escape my own thoughts, and I sense myself moving like a fallen leaf on the river of time, simply passing through the landscape, carried along by a gentle current. In dark moments, I thrash and kick against time’s turbid and inexorable flow: drowning, panicking, gasping for air.
And when I lie awake in the still, quiet hours of the night listening to my Mother’s breathing I accept that life is duality. Exhaling and Inhaling. Darkness and Light. Like yin and yang, neither can exist without the other, and only together can the whole be realized. In the end, I know, it’s like my Mom always used to say: you have to take the good with the bad. And I understand, finally, that the saying wasn’t ever backwards at all.