It’s been over ten years since I’ve left home alone. First came marriage, so I had a built-in travel companion. Then came children, medical trauma, pregnancy, death, and birth.
Leaving home sounded fabulous, but there was never enough room to do it. I wanted to do it well, so I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to waste it.
I’m not saying it was a good idea, but it was how it happened for me. It took a long time to make space so I could nurture one of my deepest desires.
Writing has always been something I’ve leaned into, between nap times, babies, meals, while standing in the kitchen tapping away on my phone.
I have struggled with mixing motherhood and creativity after loss. There’s a desire in me to hole away and write, push myself, explore all the colours of creativity that understandably fade as I mother young children and heal from trauma.
But I don’t want to miss being present and I don’t want to write when I’m tired.
Blending duty and devotion has baffled me. Can it be done? I want to be intentional and awake, like I always promised myself I would after our lives changed drastically.
My would be 7-year-old daughter is dead, entombed in a hand turned wooden urn in our master bedroom. She’s been dead for four years. Maybe I didn’t want to leave home by myself because it was easier to stay, to keep my hands busy with two boys, to know myself only as mother.
If I left my children, if only for five days, was I telling myself it was okay to move forward? To pursue a dream apart from motherhood? To take off the grieving cap and sit in my new reality?
I bought a plane ticket, and I booked a hotel. No refunds, and no travel insurance. If someone puked, I hoped to God I’d be spared.
I arrived early for check-in. The room was too big for just me. The silence inside it made me feel jittery. I haven’t been in a hotel room since I was 20 years old, staying outside of Buda Castle in the winter.
I traveled around the world before children, and yet being alone made me feel fake, a little clumsy even.
I slipped off my sandals and turned on a well-loved playlist. Then I danced a little, bare feet twisting into the carpet, feeling delirious with freedom and loneliness.
Music is my safe space. It makes me woozy with nostalgia. It takes me into the blank places where there’s room to wonder.
So I wondered, why was I here? Who was I to take time off from my world? Did I really want to do this?
Needless to say, I heard my self-doubt and felt the edges of my guilt and it was jarring.
Where was my self-compassion?
I opened the patio door, stared out at the blue blaze of sky and shook off the doubts. I started a new book on the couch, swung my ankles in circles to the music. I unpacked my brown paper grocery bags.
I stocked my hotel room fridge with my favourites: fresh, black Californian figs, fizzy rosé, wild honey swirled with cinnamon, and thin, brown bread for toast in the morning.
I went to California to write. I jumped at the last minute opportunity to sit in a circle with other writers for a craft-based workshop on writing through child loss.
Not only was it located in the sparkling desert of Palm Springs, a mere 2-and-a-half-hour flight away, but it was with other bereaved mothers. Bereaved mothers who wanted to tell stories.
Our teacher was a feisty, ginger-haired author, also intimate with the obscurity of mother grief. It was a sacred time. I felt like I was cushioned in a magical world, free to explore the corners of my mind.
We did hard work. We all laughed a lot, and only cried a little.
I kept my phone face down and read in between sessions and late night dinners. I felt like I owed myself some space to disconnect.
However, after the three-day workshop was over, I went to Target because the tension of being solo after such intimate conversations with new friends made me feel rubbed raw. The quiet time in my hotel room was no longer romantic. It was plain lonesome.
I bought toys, some T-shirt’s for my kids, wanting to dress their small bodies, wash their hair. I was disappointed and regretted it the moment I arrived. Here I am again, ignoring my sacred space under tinny, yellow retail lighting.
On my way home, the elderly Uber driver played ‘La Vie En Rose.’ That song made me cry in his immaculate, beige backseat.
Even as he slammed on the brakes, narrowly missing the rear end of a car in front of us, I continued staring out the window, reliving the last few days. My bag of LEGO and summer hats slipped to the floor.
I was unmoved, lulled into melancholy, a state I find distracting and enticing. The days of community and writing that I longed for had evaporated too quickly. I listed the names of all of our dead children and drew lines to their mother’s names. Matching.
We poured our hearts out to each other. We wrote about it together, but not for the first time. We were instantly connected because we know the same kind of grief.
I share often about my daughter, Florence, but it always affects me deeply when I bring her into a brand new world she hasn’t been before. I cry every time someone sees her face on my phone for the first time.
Look at her curly hair. Oh mama, she’s so beautiful! Oh my God, her hands are so dainty. She is lovely. She has magical eyes.
She is dead.
I cry because they will never know her and I want her to live, to jump from my screen and sit beside me. Yes, she is so beautiful and she’s right here!
I knew I was leaving bits of my daughter behind in the desert again. That’s how it is. I left a small memory of her there the year after she died.
I spent that Christmas vacation sipping Prosecco, reading “Blue Nights” by Joan Didion in the hot tub, soaking up insignificant shards of winter sun. At least that’s how I like to remember it. Nostalgia is a funny thing. I probably went to Target, too.
It feels impossible at times, to make meaningful space for myself. I so often struggle with burnout since caring for her for three years and in the aftermath. It’s far too easy to run errands when I’m alone. Bad habits run rampant: phones, Instagram, fallow boredom.
This trip taught me something. I am more than mother.
I am more than mother with dead child.
I am more than mother with two living boys.
I’m a child myself, a student, a bud. Mothering a medically fragile child and then meeting the demands of a new kind of mothering formed me into an unrecognizable shape.
I didn’t know better at those moments of rupture, but I was living a life that seemed to be happening to me.
Motherhood can do that.
Anxiety, grief and numbness became companions of mine in a world that loves a happy but burnt out mother.
Mothers can be awfully lonely creatures, you know.
I saw the shape of my heart in the desert, and I was filled with wonder. I don’t need to reinvent myself anymore. I don’t need to strive to change the way I see my life. The colour of my lens are what make me me.
The world is always going to appear a little broken, a little off. I’m skeptical of dreaming but I’m trying. I feel panicked when my kids get really sick. I still believe that God listens. The mundane days of motherhood are taken for granted, even though I told myself I would never do that.
And, I’m learning to make space for nurturing myself, my creativity in the middle of it all. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be done.
Perhaps no one else understands why I cried to ‘La Vie En Rose’ in the back of an Uber by myself after three, long days of writing around a communal table.
But if you do, come say hello, friend.