Originally published Wednesday, 12 March 2014.
So, I’ve already proclaimed my excitement and delight about the upcoming release of Lisa-Jo Baker’s new book, Surprised by Motherhood.
And Lord-willing, at the end of this month, a full (and glowing) review that I’ve written will appear over at Ungrind Webzine. In my review, I will tell you that Lisa-Jo gets it. This motherhood thing? She absolutely gets it, in all of its glorious chaos. I’ll tell you about how she had me choked up with emotion and laughing out loud, practically in the same breath.
But today, I want to focus on one aspect of the book which struck a particularly tender chord that is still resonating today, weeks after I finished this fabulous book.
Though I’ve yet to meet Lisa-Jo Baker in person, we have much in common. We both write, not only for the love of writing, but for the need to get the words out. We’ve both lived in Michigan. We both have two boys and a girl. We both have Tswana relatives. She knows all about stywe pap and hadidas and boerboels and vetkoek. She dunks rusks in Five Roses and eats peppermint crisp pudding.
But more than the South Africanisms I’ve come to appreciate about her, there is one commonality that, in my mind, trumps all the others:
We both lost our mothers to cancer.
We both watched our moms outwardly waste away and get ushered into eternity via a hospice bed.
I first felt that ‘heart sister’ connection to Lisa-Jo when I read her blog post in October 2013 called, ‘The one where I’m a motherless daughter.’
In her post, she writes, “Losing a mother doesn’t happen in a moment. It takes years to realize what’s gone …. You can wake up one day and discover you’re 39 and all you want for your birthday is your mom.”
“And anyone who’s lost a mother – whether she was emotionally unavailable or left or died like mine did – they know that the ache never goes away. Some days it’s hardly noticeable and others it comes roaring back at the most unexpected moments.”
They know that the ache never goes away. It never goes away, and as Lisa-Jo points out, “Grief comes in strange getups.” I wrote about that, in my Open Letter to Grief, about how grief is cyclical, like the moon — ever-present, waxing and waning. Cyclical, like water, stored up in dense clouds of grey, then pelting down in violent precipitation, then standing, idly in puddles at our feet — but always there.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Surprised by Motherhood brought out those heart-ties and soul-sighs that go hand-in-hand with a motherless daughter and are exhaled, silently but powerfully with every breath.
One quote that really got me was when Lisa-Jo tells of a movie she watched growing up, and says, “I watch that movie now and can braille my way back into the world that included a mother.”
And I swallowed hard with a knot in my throat when I read of Lisa-Jo and her dad, learning to live in the after, and eventually, “Both of us learning to look at the hole where my mom had been and not keep falling into it.”
And I nodded from the depths when she wrote, “And I grieved for the people who were separated from us by a chasm of normalcy.” Because how else can it be described?
And I sighed and understood when she said, “And I ran away to America and to college and to a place where I could be more than just the daughter of a dead mother.”
Because that’s kind of why I can’t go back to my mom’s church — the church that grew me and raised me and shaped me and married me and buried her. Because her presence is still there, I can see her singing on the stage and sitting in the pew, and chatting away in the foyer and making copies of the prayer letter in the office. And they still love me there, but I’m still “the daughter of a dead mother” there. And sometimes I want to be, just to know that she is remembered, to acknowledge the hole and the hurt that remains, and sometimes I cringe from it, from the label of ‘victim’ that clings to the double-sided sticker of grief.
In her book, Lisa-Jo writes this:
“But the summer we were supposed to redecorate my bedroom teenage-girl style, she ended up moving permanently into a hospital room before we could put up the wallpaper border of delicate pink flowers we’d picked out.”
Lisa-Jo, those delicate pink flowers now border the cover of your first book, and I have no doubt that your mother — who ‘always wanted to write a book,’ as your dedication reveals — would be glowing and dancing with a mother’s pride.
Thank you for penning this song.