Where are you Mother, I mutter as I walk down another row in the cemetery. Are you still hiding from me? I scan the headstones, bending down now and then to brush grass off of one in order to read the inscription. Searching. Still searching.
“How do you feel about seeing your birth mother’s grave?” Gerry had asked as we drove toward Chilliwack, BC.
“I don’t feel one way or the other,” I told him. “It’s just something I feel I need to do.”
A number of months ago I resolved that the next time I was in the vicinity I would stop and visit my birth mother’s grave. Closure. That’s what the goal was. To close the circle that had started fifty-three years ago when she gave birth to me and then gave me away.
It took less than five minutes using my smart phone to find the name of the cemetery where she was buried and set the navigation system to guide us there. Finding the cemetery was easy. Finding my mother would prove to be, predictably, more of a challenge.
My half-brother is buried in the same little cemetery, so as I scan tombstones for the last name Gunther I keep my eyes open for an older one with Mary’s name in addition to a more recent one with the name of my half-brother Merlin–deceased one week after his forty-ninth birthday.
I am startled from my inner thoughts by the voice of my husband.
“Did you find it?” I call out to him. His beckoning gesture tells me he has.
I take a deep breath and begin walking toward him, unsure of how I will react at seeing my birth mother’s headstone and of being near to her in some manner for the first–no, I suppose the second–time in my life.
I approach the headstone tentatively. It is inscribed with the name of my half-brother–a man I spoke to, unsatisfactorily at a surface level, only twice.
“She must be nearby,” I say to Gerry. “She has to be here.”
I step gingerly through the maze of nearby headstones looking for her. Gerry does the same in the opposite direction; divide and conquer the strategy I set us on.
As I walk I feel a lump form in my throat. Where are you? Why do you continue to elude me.
The cemetery is small and it doesn’t take long for both of us to cover the whole thing–our search unsuccessful. We return to the site of my brothers grave and I pull out my smart phone and look closer at the document that lists names and location coordinates of all the graves. For the first time I notice that something looks odd: the location coordinates of my mother’s grave and my brother’s grave are identical.
Maybe the coordinates refer to a general area instead of a specific grave, I speculate as I walk up and down nearby rows scrutinizing names on tombstones I have already seen. A sense of desperation rises from deep within. So close. I’m so very close.
Again Gerry and I meet at my brother’s tombstone.
“They must be buried together,” I say.
I kneel down and begin brushing dust and grass from around my brother’s stone searching for some marker to indicate there are two graves in this spot. I find nothing.
I pull out my phone again and read the location coordinates: 122-05. The same numbers are next to both names. I locate the names on the stones of surrounding graves on the list in an attempt to find a pattern, a clue, something that will help me find my mother.
Finally I have to admit there is nothing else I can do. It is a dead-end. I can phone the church later to get more information, but for the time being I can only assume my brother was laid to rest in the same grave as our mother.
I wanted to find a marker for her grave–some tangible proof of her at this place, some connection. Instead, once again, my attempts to connect–albeit posthumously–with the woman who gave me life are thwarted.
I kneel on the grass next to the grave.
“I’ll just need a minute,” I tell Gerry as I hand him the dog’s leash. He walks away with both dogs and I rest my palms on the grass breathing and observe how I feel.
I feel bitter toward my brother, the only one of the four of us who had her for most of his life. Over protective, I’ve been told, and now it still seems he protects her in death. Anger toward my birth mother. Unpredictably, inexplicably, illogically, I am angry at her once again. Even now, still, I feel abandoned and rejected.
I had wanted to pay my respects to my birth mother. I wanted to express in some way my forgiveness toward her. I wanted to take the gratitude and peace I cultivated about my adoption in recent years and tie a neat bow around it and declare it complete. Finished. Closed. Instead I rise to my feet and walk toward the car feeling raw, vulnerable, and angry.
Gerry wraps me in his arms and pulls me close. I am blessed. I know it. His embrace reminds me that here, today, now, there are those who love me. I try to ignore the pain that has surfaced on this August afternoon and I acknowledge to myself that the scars will likely never completely be healed.
Rejection by one’s mother cause wounds that are too deep to ever fully heal. We do the best we can with the hand dealt to us. We stand tall, we build families of our own, we learn to be grateful and to recognize our blessings. But deep inside, in that place we try to keep safe and away from prying eyes, we still ache for the loss of our first mother’s love.