My birth mother died this morning.
She had been in failing health for a while.
I don’t know what I am feeling.
I am sad. And I’m sure I will feel more sad at some point.
I’m also grateful, not to replace or ignore the sadness, but as a companion to it. Before Washington State opened their birth records in 2014, I had no way of knowing her name. Since I got my birth certificate, I have met so many wonderful new family members, I met my birth mother, and I was kept in the loop as she was dying. Gratitude is a big part of the solace I feel now.
It is a gift to get to mourn her death in real time, when for many adopted children, the details of the birth family remain hidden, secret knowledge they can’t access.
I knew she didn’t want a relationship with me (and please don’t tell me that she did–I’m not looking for false solace right now), and yet she agreed to meet me, she answered my questions, she let me take a selfie with her.
Despite my somewhat cynical nature, I am, at heart, an optimist. And while she was yet alive, I was able to keep an ember of hope burning that we might develop a different relationship. While she was yet alive, there was at least potential for a relationship, no matter how small that potential was. Now that she has died, part of my sadness is about the inexorable loss of that potential relationship, with gratitude that there was any connection at all.
While there are still questions I would have liked answers to (foremost among them–what was her relationship to my DNA birth father), I’m thankful for all the questions she did answer.
I’m sad she never got to meet my sons, her only grandchildren. They are three remarkable men. I’m grateful I was able to tell her about them, and give her photos of them.
There is so much unfinished with her, and I suppose that is true in any relationship, to some degree. At the same time, i feel a completeness. I was able to meet her, thank her for giving me life and giving me up, tell her what I wanted to tell her, ask her what I wanted to ask.
For me, in some sense, her actual death has caught up to the experience of death I have lived with my whole life. I’ve been grieving having lost her from the minute I was born. Her real death echoes back all the way through my life. I just didn’t know what it was until now.
I’m okay. I had some really good mac and cheese, which has medicinal value when one grieves. I’ve texted with some friends and family. I have more mac and cheese for later. Elliott wants to watch a bad movie tonight.
In his book Consolations, David Whyte writes this about solace. I read it yesterday for my morning video meditation, and it came back to me today when I heard Sophie died.
“To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others. Standing in loss but not overwhelmed by it, we become useful and generous and compassionate and even more amusing companions for others. But solace also asks us very direct and forceful questions. Firstly, how will you bear the inevitable loss that will accompany you? And how will you endure it through the years? And above all, how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you were beginning to understand it, take you away?”
I don’t think there will be a service for her. She didn’t want one and COVID-19 makes it impossible at the moment. Instead, join me in lighting a candle, and giving thanks for the gift of the life of Sophia Marie McDowell Lukaszeski, aged 92, who has passed to life eternal. She was capable, strong, and successful in her career. I am grateful she loved to dance, because that is likely how she met my birth father. Even though being pregnant with me in 1968 surely made her life complicated, I am grateful for her strength that got her through that pregnancy alone. I trust that now she knows she was never alone. I pray for the redemption that heals brokenness, even after death.
Whyte also says this about solace:
“Solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it.”
My longing for Sophie did not come to fruition in a form I can easily recognize, but that’s okay. Thank you for being con-solace, or consolation for me throughout this journey. Your presence in my life is gift. Thank you.