“Three Years Later” by Elizabeth Blue

I am slowly going through Elizabeth’s writing, wanting to share more here, as I know she wanted to share her work with the world. It’s a way for me to know that she was real, that she existed, to keep her spirit fed and nurtured, though it’s also painful for me. This one she wrote for a Kino High School assignment, a “reflective essay”. She wrote about her grandmother, my mother. They were very close and she was one of the few people who Elizabeth trusted and relied on for support. She was 16 when she wrote this, always insightful and thoughtful, and in a phase of irritation with most of the adults in her life, including her grandmother…

Three Years Later  

by Elizabeth (Meagher) Blue

2006

“I did not go back to work until three years later.”

She looks across the table at me, starkly, her eyes lock mine.  It is as if she is trying to communicate something bigger to me than language can possess.

Needingly, my eyes grab hers, searching, almost pulling, trying to lock her into some journey I am set on undertaking.  I am searching, trying to find the time and space between the words, between the stories.  The time and the space  between the work and the cooking and the raising the children and the caring for the husband and the surviving,  I am trying to see what the time and space between the hours were like and I guess I am trying to lift the veils, trying to see what life was like for her.

Our eyes locked across the table as people around us talk and eat — I think how we are trying to find each other.  The genetic thread through which we are somehow linked, I think we are trying to know each other and communicate a feeling of tribal humanity.  To know a connection deeper, more substantional than words, something we can feel, as all I feel now is the cold scraping of metal chairs as we slide back and forth gesturing to each other through our posture.  Perhaps if we gesture enough we might accumulate at least a sense of knowing one another’s bodies.

Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, Jane Hans, Julianna Meagher

Julianna, Jane/Grandma, Elizabeth, NY, 2011

Mother of my Mother, womb of my womb and we are trying to see each other as people.  Unconditionally, what we are trying to recognize is a bond of love and the connections we associate with it.  I am trying to see how her love is my love, her flesh is my flesh, her life is my life, that I am her and she is me.  I am trying to see emotion and connection stronger than a cut umbilical cord.

This is my Grandmother and for perhaps the first time I am trying to see her as a person as she tells me how my Grandfather, the love of her life, entered university at junior year at the age of 15.  I am trying to see her when I ask, “Why did you love him?”

She laughs.

“I really don’t know.”  She is sweeping crumbs from the table with her hand into a neat little pile.  “Why does anybody fall in love?”  She laughs again.  “I don’t know if I had ever been in love before.  I had an older boyfriend before him, when I was in high school and he was in college.  He was a very passionate man, in the end however he turned out to be much too childish.  But Bobby, your Grandfather, I just fell in love with him.”  She gazes out a window thoughtfully and I  note that this may be the softest I’ve ever seen her.  She did really love him, and there was not question.

“He was very smart,” I prompt her wanting to know more than how smart he was.  I want to know things like how did he feel when you rested against him under his arm?  How did he take his tea, with milk like you? with sugar? Both? Neither like me?  Did he read the paper everyday?  What did he sound like when he laughed?  What kind of people did he like best?  How would he have loved me?   I don’t want to know how smart he was, I want to know about his humanity.  I want to know him as a person, as I want to learn about her as a person, maybe I want to learn her enough for the both of them.  I want a Grandfather with stories of youth grown old.  I don’t want to hear how smart he was.

“Oh yes very smart.  Probably the smartest person I have ever met.”  She ticks off his on-paper accomplishments, “University of Chicago, graduated in two years with honors.  He was on the tennis, football and riflery teams.  After he wanted to go to law school but no one would take him because he was so young, so he went to Dartmouth for a masters in business instead.  After that he wanted to become a lawyer still so he went to Harvard and graduated top of his class.”

I look her in the eye, nodding, not wanting to miss a beat.  I wonder what she is trying to communicate by repeating all this information I already know, and I think it has something to do with legacy.

Elizabeth Blue,

Jane/Grandma and Elizabeth Blue, Sedona, 1/12

Somewhere between the years I know they met in Italy when they both spent a summer abroad, somewhere between the years my Grandmother fell in love for perhaps the first time.  Somewhere between the years she became a wife and he became a husband, somewhere between the years he became a lawyer, she became a college graduate and took a job working under the head of the African studies department at Boston University.  Somewhere between the years my mother’s life began and somewhere between the years his illness became much worse.

Sitting here looking at my Grandmother, with her, I eat my chocolate cake and she finishes her salad and I observe how different we are.

She possesses a certain quickness to her small body, at 67 she does not look her age and prides herself on getting carded for a senior discount.  She is, as usual, dressed in black with perhaps a bit of gray trim showing for her socks or sweater.  This constant state of dress makes me wonder if she ever truly stopped mourning my Grandfather.  Her hair, short and silver gray, clings close to her head.  Her eyes are green gray hazel and narrow when confused or pretending to be.  (I have learned to look away when she does this or find myself babbling to try to answer an unspoken question which she can always back out of.)

She is always doing something — a quality I find increasingly annoying as we spend more and more time together.  Though over time I realize that it is not so much this constant need to do something which bothers me, as much as her constant need to try to make me be always doing something.  This nagging at the back of my mind which she vocalized telling me that I am unworthy of rest, that there is always more to do, more to see and not constantly doing or seeing such things equates laziness.  A most abominishal quality.

She reminds me of the quick short black lines she loves in art so — quick, definite, to the point.  Always suggesting movement.  Never resting for a minute’s peace of ‘look where we are, how wonderful, how  glorious, how blessed we are to experience this!’  But constantly wanting to see what is just around the corner of a bendy pass.  (I begin to wonder if this is not a defense technique always wanting to see what might be coming.)  After a while I find it intolerable to walk or do almost anything with her.

If when I think of her I think of quick, sharp, black, lines, when I think of myself I think of drapery, of rich soft velvety antique sofas.  Of meandering circles, or pearls hanging from ivory carved light fixtures.  I think of green fields and white lace dresses under the shade of willow trees having tea parties on bone china with scones and biscuits, soft butter and sweet jam.  I think of a soft buddha, monks in red dress bowing to a  deity 30 times their size.  And I don’t know how to relate to her lines of movement.

This is why I am trying to see the connection through love.  Trying to see how we are both human, both women, both feel.

I try to imagine what it was like for her when he died.  All I’ve ever heard her say specifically was overwhelming.  He left her with my mother at age three and the second baby which she so desperately felt she needed — my aunt, not yet walking.  I try to imagine and try to imagine and yet what repeats in my head is, “I didn’t go back to work until three years later.”  This woman who is constant lines of movement to me was unable to go out in the world doing and seeing things until three years later.  Her passion for life was put to rest alongside grief for my Grandfathers death.  She gave herself over to the wolves, to the children, to the taking care of the remains of a life so hopefully started.  She of quick lines gave over — sacrificed — her womanhood, her interests, her movement to live to stay alive and to survive.  And I wonder, if  perhaps this is not the legacy she has meant to pass on.  Whisper in the wind, “I did not go back to work until three years later, but you, young one, can.”

Elizabeth Blue, lymphoma

Elizabeth and Jane/Grandma, Tucson, during her recurrence of lymphoma, 7/12

elizabeth blue

Jane/Grandma and Elizabeth Blue, Tucson, at home in hospice. 7/12

Summer Squash – poem by Elizabeth Blue

Summer Squash

by Elizabeth Blue, 9/1/08, age 18
(a class assignment)

The Seed, Elizabeth Blue, poetry,

The Seed, by Paweł Jońca

When the sun grows
full and ripe in the morning sky.
When the cracked Earth
begins to soften and thaw.
It is then that I shall emerge from the hard shell of my birth
My pod.
My seed.

It is then that I shall uncoil.
It is then that I shall meet you.
You who nurtured and birthed me into existence.You who kept me warm and hidden.
I shall meet you, Soil above your surface.
I shall meet you, Earth where I had not expected —
on the line where ground meets sky.

It is then that I shall meet you, Mother.
In the thin and vaguely described space
where the strength of my stocks
defies the firm and assured pull of your gravity.

In this place of balance I shall meet you
not as your baby
not as your seed
not as your spawn.

I shall meet you as me.
As I am grown.
From you but not of you.
Rooted in your strength
strong in my growth.

It is here I shall meet you Mother
As you.
As me.

Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, umbrella, rain

Elizabeth at about 3 years old

Elizabeth Blue ©, 2008

The Shadow Side of Love

I’m crying before I even start to type. I’ve been avoiding this blog for months, knowing this post needs to be written and holding off as long as possible. It’s hard to write about the difficult aspects of my relationship with my first-born daughter Elizabeth, and yet I feel compelled to paint a full picture, to give greater context for our unconditionally loving relationship at the end of her life. Even more, to show that this spirit who is now so loving and who assists so many from the other side, had many facets and was incredibly complex. Ours was a mother/daughter relationship that encompassed unconditional love, hate, compassion, need, affection, and a deep soul connection unique to us.

Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall,  Lucia Maya,

Elizabeth Blue and Lucia Maya, when she was in remission and I was crying tears of gratitude. April, 2012 (photo by Jade Beall)

Of all the people I love, she was the most challenging in my day-to-day life.  I miss her so deeply, I would give almost anything for her to be here, to be hearing about her new job, new relationship, her friends, her dreams…. And here is the “forbidden thought” (as my teacher Brugh Joy would say) – I don’t miss being pulled into her drama, into the tension that she wore like a cloak, that arose with each decision, each new beginning. I don’t miss being part of her angst.

Any of you who knew Elizabeth, either in person, or learning about her through our writing, knows that she was not all angelic. She was an incredibly wise, loving, loyal, girl and woman, and she also carried a lot of shadow, darker aspects that are less accepted. She could be fierce, mean, arrogant, “bratty”, self-centered, and hurtful. (Of course, I can be all of that as well!) Always mature for her age, from about age 9 to about 13, she was in full teenage angry-rebellious-needy-push away-pull me close mode. At age 21, when diagnosed with cancer, she and I were only about 3 years into a still-developing, sweet, mutually supportive, lovely relationship.  I had imagined that our relationship would continue to grow, deepen and soften, with less tension, and greater forgiveness. And it has, just not how I envisioned it…

Traveling to visit my younger daughter recently, I was reminded of a time when I was flying with both my girls, and Elizabeth was around 11 or 12. She was so sassy, so mean, so stubborn and hard-headed, so disgusted with me (and me with her). I remember seeing a mother with her teenage daughter across the aisle, and I still remember how sweet they were together, talking like friends, kind and appearing to enjoy each other! I longed for that, and at the time it seemed like a far-off fantasy that I could barely imagine.

Elizabeth Blue, punk rock, blue hair,

Elizabeth Blue at 13

I am well aware that I gave her some good reasons to be angry with me. In many ways, her anger and rebellion came from wanting to be closer to me, wanting me to herself, wanting all of my attention.  Somehow, at the same time that she was needing me more than ever, I was experiencing my own time of learning independence and exploring my own wilder side for the first time.  I was not a wild teenager. I was a very responsible, good student, good friend, then good wife and mother. After my divorce in my mid-thirties, I finally wanted to play, and wanted time on my own, separate from my kids. This was a fairly abrupt change for them, as I’d been a happy, devoted, stay-at-home mom up til then.  My world started to broaden, my priorities shifted, and they knew it and understandably, resented it.

From a very young age, Elizabeth did not want to share me – first with her dad, then with her younger sister, and especially when I fell in love with my new partner after I was divorced. This created an extremely challenging triangle, between me, Zelie and Elizabeth.  On the one hand, Elizabeth adored and admired Zelie, at least in the early years. But anytime I appeared to choose Zelie over Elizabeth, whether it was in a decision about discipline, rules around the house, or just when she felt left out (which was often), she was devastated and angry. Then, she’d become “bratty” (her word), manipulative, argumentative, disrespectful…

There were a couple of sweet years when she just wanted to hang out with us. This was in her early teens, just before and after we moved to Tucson and she had left behind the intense punk rock scene of the Bay Area.  She had shifted into a deeply spiritual aspect of herself, and was lovely to be with. She was writing gorgeous poetry, attending spiritual workshops, working at creating a new persona, and enjoying Tucson.

Then everything changed. Partway through our first year in Tucson, she decided she had to move back to Berkeley to live with her father, sister and new step-mother. She felt lonely and afraid she couldn’t fit in. After months of debate, she convinced us all, and we made arrangements for her to move back – I helped her apply and she was accepted at a new school, her dad rearranged their home for her, etc… About 3 weeks before she was to leave, she changed her mind. She had finally made friends and realized she wanted to stay in Tucson. She had always been able to talk (and manipulate) me into pretty much anything – she could always wear me down. I was terrible at setting limits, especially with her.

This time I said no. There was so much tension in the household, I was in a place of fear, and I couldn’t handle it. I listened to my head, rather than my heart, and told her that she had made this commitment, all of us had worked hard to set this up for her, and she had to follow through. She was furious, enraged and desperate to change my mind. She felt I was choosing Zelie over her, betraying her, and was devastated. For a variety of reasons, it was the one time I didn’t listen to my heart with Elizabeth, and it’s the only decision with her I deeply regret. I still can’t write or talk about it without crying.

She was miserable, calling me almost every day, talking of depression and begging to come home. By the end of the first semester I relented and Zelie agreed. Though in the big picture I do trust that everything happens as it is meant to, and I can see good reasons why this needed to happen, it was very damaging to our relationship.  It took years for her to trust me again, and some part of her hardened from that time. This protection around her heart only really started to soften after her cancer diagnosis, and finally released in the months when she knew she was dying.

Jade Beall, Elizabeth Blue, Lucia Maya,

Elizabeth Blue and Lucia Maya, April, 2012 (photo by Jade Beall)

Elizabeth and I had one of the deepest soul connections I can imagine. When I look at photos of her now, I feel like a part of my soul left with her. I hear that many mothers feel this when their child dies, so perhaps this is simply part of this process. I hear often how much she looked like me, and I can see some resemblance in photos, but she had a kind of beauty that I used to long for. And yet, it feels like we were 2 sides of the same coin, that we made a whole in some way, and now I’m missing some part of myself. It’s very hard to put into words, but I imagine many of you can feel what I’m describing.

I mourn the years that feel like they were lost, before she died. If I’d known she would leave her body at age 22, that’s one thing I would have done differently. I know she forgave me, but I still haven’t completely forgiven myself. I am working on it, with her help and guidance. Being able to share it helps to bring healing as well.

 

Praying ~ Mary Oliver

elizabeth blue, bird tattoo,PRAYING

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

~from Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry, “Thirst” (Beacon Press, 2006).

Thank you to my wonderful mother for sending this at the perfect time. I’m mostly without words these days, while I’m resting and recuperating from my move and all that was involved. I expect they’ll be back soon, and Elizabeth will have more to say too…