The chunked onions sizzled as they lay nestled in their oiled pan.
I always looked forward to the familiar of onion
They were the basis of so many meals my mom used to make
Spaghetti, Tacos, Cabbage Rolls, Goulash, Chili.....
There were always chopped onion.
The 80's felt foreign from so many of the times of traded stories around my grandparents' farm table as I was a young kid. I didn't have the same farm and chore traditions to look towards in the 80's but I had my mom's tupper-ware knife cut onions.
I remember she used to use a small plastic handle paring knife, gripped in her petite, strong, weathered fingers and hand.
I would always gather around her waist wondering what was to come, thankful for the nourishment to be laid out.
Sometimes she would turn and look my way, acknowledging my loaded presence and other times she would shoo me away knowing what all busy and harried mothers knew.
It's not lost on me as I stand in my 2018 kitchen, over a similar pan of sauteing onions that they are a thread. The time that it takes to prepare an onion requires the skin layers be pulled away and discarded. The meat of the onion is revealed as the outer layers are discarded. As my mom sits snugg in her cloistered couch seat, living life after an aneurysm induced traumatic brain injury, it's hard not to wonder, how I and the world have discarded her.
The fact is that as I cooked the onions over tonight's stove. I missed my mom. I don't question whether she misses me to. But I can't pick up the phone and call her and expect to meet in the middle. Yes, the phone connection will be full and our voices can be carried - but her life has shrunk so much since her ruptured aneurysm and I have not known how to accept and connect with it. She does her 100% best to live into all that she does, and in my most self compassionate place, I do too. And yet, I live with the reality that my mom often has little left to offer because she has to work so incredibly hard just to show up in the world as differently abled.
Ever since 2003, her life has been hard. My mom went from living straight forward expectation to uncertain, faulty terrain, in the matter of leaky minutes. It wasn't just hard on her, though one could most justifiably argue that she has lost the most, but it has also been hard on all those around who have loved and lived with her. Brain injury is the stealth disabler, that knocks a one two punch. It sets survivors up for not only the initial loss of function that had been so confidently previously held, but it also steals their ability to effectively interact with the world in all of the ways previously expected and intended. And it adds the stipulation of blindness. Blindness on the part of the survivor, as the TBI's disabling consequences are often sporadically placed in a survivors experience and blindness on the part of the survivor's community, as the disabilities often lay behind in gray matter, and are not present to the naked eye.
I have lived like most others of my time, assuming that will and practice and physical form were all that I needed to assess and see about another as I lived through interacting with them. "If a person was going to be clumsy, or forgetful, inactive or mean, it was because they intended to," I thought. I had no reason to suspect that her brain might have more to do with it. So when my mom began to act in ways that I did expect or didn't want after her TBI, I assumed that the reason lay on me or lay on her. I had little other context to place this in.... and so I did what any other confused, perfectionistic, daughter would do, I pulled back.
Not consciously, not even necessarily purposefully, but with each moment that I filled my time, my sense of my mom became about a void to fill than a person to be experienced. I didn't understand who she was anymore and I didn't know if I could be who she needed me to be. Scratch that, I did know who she needed me to be and I wasn't that person. So l lingered in limbo.
And now I linger in limbo over the skillet of onions, reminded that the food that so strongly tied me to her and the best moments of her in my childhood, of her labored love, is also reminding me of the discarded nature that I've fallen into as I have lived with a mom with a traumatic brain injury. If will or choice had anything to do with the state and nature of our relationship, I am certain things would be different. But often, gray matter plays the trump card on experience and we are left to live through what is.
I don't question one ounce of how much my mom loved me then and loves me now, but I also don't deny the vacuum that is present in my life as the traumatic brain injury led so much of her and her life away. To this day, she paints as broad a smile as she can stretch across the video screen to communicate to us how much joy she finds in me. Even though her ability to navigate a conversation can often be hijacked by confusion and cluttered cognitive processing, she still persists. Too often, if even once, I have let the confused and cluttered be my permission slip to slip away. This is what is so cruel about family illness and disability. The loss is not a straight forward punch, but a cascading spray of bullets that take out a range of family and life's precious necessities and gifts.
I'm thankful for the chance to stand over the skillet of onions, to have a chance to think and remember and miss my mom - miss the mom that she was, miss the mom that she is, and miss the mom I had wished her to be. Even in the space of those unmet expectations, I have a sense of love that I know was grounded in and from her. The order that her daily onion laced suppers offered as a labor of love through my childhood, give me both the gift of the memories of her and I then and the gift of having known that love so that I have the gift of missing it now.
Maybe I have not discarded my mom. Maybe we are both in the process of reorienting our relationship and life around a new, differently abled normal. Maybe what has been discarded is the expectations of the past forms of showing and sharing love so that we can now be open to the differently abled ways that we show and share love. Can I do differently as I pursue me relationship with my mom? yes. But can I also stand in the peace of knowing that the pain of missing what was is a reminder that it's spirit of love is always, ever present with me, yes.
Melinda is a recovering "normal" seeker, who is often distracted by unexpected moments of nature's beauty or questioning children