On Honouring My Mother: A Belated Eulogy
Image Credit: photo provided by the author.
In Jewish mourning tradition, it is customary for the next of kin to request memorial donations
for a cause important to their loved one. This tangible offering of tzedakah (righteous giving) connects the loved one to the mourners, their family, friends and community in an act of tikkun olam (repairing the world). When my mother died this February past, choosing an organization to honour her memory created an inner whirlpool that still spins inside my heart. Though my mother lived life with unending compassion for others, she had no allegiance to any one organization or faith. Unwilling to consider that she too would leave this earth, she never discussed her wishes. Had she, I know she would have asked me to choose an an organization that helped the disenfranchised or worked towards a cure for multiple myeloma -- the cancer that took her life. However obvious these choices felt, they didn’t touch the part of me that needed touching. As I scanned my heart for alternatives, NEDIC kept surfacing in my thoughts. However, choosing NEDIC to honour my mother’s memory caused a dilemma of conscience. Would I betray her by ‘outing’ her long and closeted struggle with body image and disordered eating?
In many ways, writing on being my mother’s daughter feels less difficult than it was living it. Sitting beside her those last days I remembered how often I wanted her compassion yet how often I struggled to find compassion for her. Now, as she lay frail as a dying rose, her sleep interrupted with lucid yet inaudible murmurs, it finally felt safe to feel my compassion for her. While my mother drew strength from others seeing her as understanding and giving, she was unable to nourish herself physically and emotionally, or accept nourishment from those she loved. As we offered sustenance, she returned it with understated wrath. Reflecting back, I realize that, for her, to accept care meant losing control and succumbing to weakness. From rejecting our gifts to restricting her eating, my mother found ways to keep us at a distance.
Now 6 months later, my pen -- my emotional processing companion -- helps me process why tears raged from my eyes as I sat by her still body. I loved her dearly and always wanted her to be able to receive it, internalize it, not push it away. When I visited her at home in the last weeks before she died, she seemed more able to accept my love. We would sit together in silence watching Turner Classic Movies. By 9:30pm, she would look tired -- unusual for her. I would ask if she wanted me to leave. Torn between wanting sleep and wanting me to stay, she would say "sit a while longer”. I, torn between her need for sleep and our need for each other, would stay. Those last weeks were hard. My mom's decline was vividly before me. Her diminutive body seemed to be slipping away. Small tears in my heart were beginning to form. Past January, she spoke of waiting for spring, often adding "if I am still here". I would whisper, you will be here, you are going to live forever. In my heart she does.
The week after getting up from shiva (the first 7 days of mourning in the Jewish tradition), the emotional journey of closing my mother’s home affirmed my choice to direct gifts in my mother's memory to NEDIC. Discovering recent calorie counts, a bookmarked weight maintenance guide in a beloved Jewish cookbook, purchase dates neatly printed on everything from toilet paper to cereal boxes, and notes found in drawers and boxes confirmed my mother's struggle with anorexia and other obsessive behaviours. Closing her home brought closure both tender and painful as well as a heartache deeper than the heartache of losing her.
In a way, sharing this eulogy for my mother is my way of giving tzedakah. Though I fear this telling would make her unhappy with me, as she so often was, I also feel that she would be supportive if this telling might benefit others. With this in mind, I share this with you. My mother struggled with disordered eating and body image problems until her death at 86. I struggled beside her. Finally we both have peace.
Barbara Sharon Verbian
December 15, 1929 - February 19, 2016
May her memory be a blessing.
Channa is a registered social worker in Ontario and has been practicing psychotherapy since 2001. She has a B.S.W. with honours from Ryerson University and a M.Ed. in Counselling Psychology from the University of Toronto where she completed all but her dissertation in the Ed.D. program. In addition, she is certified in Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy and a teacher-trainee in Mindful Self-Compassion with the University of California San Diego Centre For Mindfulness. As well as having a private psychotherapy practice, Channa has been co-facilitating Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) groups with Dr. Lucinda Sykes at Meditation For Health since 2006.
Prior to this, Channa facilitated a group at Sheena’s Place and practiced individual psychotherapy at The Women and Body Image Project, Women’s College Hospital, a program for women with disordered eating and physical differences. She has additional training in diversity and multicultural practices with an emphasis on inter-racial/inter-religious families, an area she has researched, presented and published on.
Before becoming a therapist, Channa studied painting in New York City and completed a certificate in magazine journalism at Ryerson University.
To contact Channa, please visit her website www.channaverbiantherapist.com/