Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Healing the Mother Wound.
It’s July 14, 2020 8:45 pm. I just made a joke with my mother in Kreyòl before telling her to drink some water. I am holding her accountable for her health and part of me just wants to nurture her at times. I think this time with my mother is one of the silver linings of quarantine.
I remember my sophomore year of college I had an assignment called the Mother Project for my Women’s Text(iles) course. The project asked me to explore who my mother was and how her life as a woman impacted me. I chose to write a journal entry called “A Journal for my Mother and I”, paint an abstract geometric painting that showcased her color palette, and wrote a short poem in Kreyòl. Prior to completing the project I immediately felt stuck because there was a disconnect between my mother and I due to our generational gap, upbringings, and other blockages between us. So I asked myself how can I show up for our relationship during my time in college? In addition to the healing that came out of this project, distance from my childhood home gave me perspective, patience, and grace to begin to come to terms with my parents who I now see as human beings with flaws and unresolved trauma.
During this time I began to see the manifestations of my mother’s physical, emotional, and mental state which was a direct reflection of her own health issues. It was hard for me to see someone that I love go through pain and suffer. The state of her health encouraged me to speak more Kreyòl with her at all times. I became more assertive when asking her about what she ate, did she take her walk, did she drink water, and always ended our conversations with an “I love you” which she would hesitantly respond to. These questions became my way of mothering her. Asking her questions, encouraging her to walk, reminding her to breathe, encouraging her to say I love you more, and asking how she felt made me see the soft and resilient soul who is endlessly seeking peace and laughter from those around her.
Below was what our conversation consisted of back in 2018 while I was in college.
Koman ou ye? Ou byen? Èske ou manje? Kisa ou manje? Kisa ou ap fè kounye a? Èske ou pral dòmi? I Love You!
How are you? You good? Did you eat? What did you eat? What are you doing right now? Are you going to sleep? Mwen renmen w!
Although the sound of saying “Mwen renmen w” is unknown to both of us, its meaning is not lost between us. I grew up hearing and saying “I Love You!” in English. I didn’t grow up hearing and saying “Mwen renmen w”. I wonder why that is…
At the time, I felt these were the only questions I could articulate to ask her because we never really went into depth about our own feelings, thoughts, and opinions with each other. There wasn’t much space for that between us. I accepted that, challenged it, and I am still healing. We’re growing together, just in our own quirky, comedic, and Haitian way.
The assignment was therapeutic. I painted abstract geometric shapes based on colors that I would see my mother wearing growing up. It was reflective of a modest Haitian woman who did not want to stand out anymore but still wanted to be a “bèl fanm”. Nothing too bright. Some nudes here and there.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry of the Mother Project:
I couldn’t reach her past, anecdotes that told me how she grew up in Haiti, and the goals she had for herself growing up. I physically knew my mother my whole life but I didn’t know her. She never felt the need to share or open up; she was accustomed to locking up all her memories, her words, and her feelings. Over the years I watched her get smaller, less talkative, less mobile and only stare into space as if she’s in her own world. When I visit she stares into my face and smiles, she seems more present and alive when I’m with her and if I happen to move to a different room in the house she would follow. She doesn’t want to be alone and I can tell through her need to be around me, her eagerness if I need help with anything, and simply how she stares at me at the table when I’m eating food.
Over the years her pain manifested into my pain through my body being stiff, never relaxed, always taking everything so seriously, having trouble opening up to people, and bottling up emotions up until they exploded into a silent cry. Looking back now at those times where I cried alone over my mother not understanding me, not defending me in an argument, and not comforting me when I needed it the most draws me into pensive sadness not because her love and care wasn’t enough at the time but I didn’t know how to appreciate all that she could give to me.
I cried during this project to the point where I was fighting with my tears during my professor's office hours. Yes, she was a Black woman. I was seen and heard by her wholeheartedly. Those tears represented my inner child who wanted to be nurtured more, played with more, understood more, and have that quintessential mother and daughter relationship that was seen in black television sitcoms. The Mother Project also reminded me that my parents, especially my mom showed me love the way she knew it to be. She is human. She is hurting. She is healing from a past life I know nothing about.
As I am sitting across from her in the kitchen, I am glad I can allow myself to be her accountability partner on occasion, telling her to get up by saying “leve, leve, leve”, walk around the house, and drink more water. I see she wants me around more whether it's sitting in the kitchen with her for 30 mins in silence. Recently, I see her smile and laugh more at my jokes. I see her listen to me when I tell her it is time to walk and do her foot exercises. I see her yearn for my presence as she sits in the kitchen by herself. I am learning how to support her without being codependent. Most importantly, I see her wanting to be alive.
One of the moments that brought me joy during this quarantine was guiding my mother through a few deep breaths in and out.
She is open and willing to be here for herself and I see her.
How has the mother figure in your life impacted the person you are now?
In what ways have you learned to mother yourself?
What do you need from yourself and/or the relationship with your mother figure to bring about healing?