One-hundred-and-six years ago this month, the Titanic went down in the Atlantic Ocean with over two-thousand people on board. A little over seven-hundred survived.
Fifty-four years ago this month, my mother left Maywood Home for Unwed Mothers, in Vancouver BC, where she’d lived during the final weeks of her pregnancy, and entered Vancouver’s Grace Hospital. Only eighteen-years-old, she was left to labor alone for hours, until she eventually birthed a girl. Five days later, her mother collected her from the hospital and took her home, leaving Baby Denise in a hospital bassinet for others to raise.
The significance of these life-altering moments each occurring in April are not lost on me. Especially as April is also the month my stepfather’s maternal grandparents were scheduled to sail on the Titanic. For whatever reason, they didn’t, and they went on to have my grandma, who had my stepdad, who eventually met my mom and helped raise me. I consider myself very fortunate, indeed.
It’s not hard for me to imagine the terror the victims of the Titanic experienced when they realized they weren’t going to survive, were in fact going to die, drowned, or frozen to death, in the middle of the Atlantic. It’s even easier for me to imagine the pain and trauma my mom experienced, a frightened seventeen-year-old shipped away to have a baby in secret, forced to return home months later, arms and womb empty, heart full of grief and shame.
I was seventeen. I have four children. I know what it is to birth a child, be a mother. To feel a part of your soul and heart carved away, forever bonded with that tiny, wriggling life, squalling its little heart out, as a nurse bundles it in flannel. Your child. Your baby. Your blood and bone, heart and soul. And then to have to walk away…
That’s the one thing I know I can’t understand. Can’t truly feel. Not in my marrow the way my Mom did. Sometimes still does.
Every April news abounds about the Titanic. Stories are recounted about the survivors. What ifs are speculated upon. James Cameron’s Titanic replays on televisions across the world. And every April my mother grieves, even if only on the day her daughter was born, for the child she didn’t get to watch grow up. The woman she doesn’t know. We also celebrate.
We celebrate the fact that we’re some of the lucky ones. We were “found”. Mom met her daughter, and granddaughter; my brother and I met our half-sister, and niece. We know their names. They know ours. My sister has our mother’s cheekbones and nose. She and I have the same wrinkled hands. And strong wills.
Like ancestors of Titanic survivors share at least one day in common, my brother and I, and our half-sister, have a mother in common. And though my brother and I don’t see each other often, and we never see our half-sister, no matter what happens, where any of us travel to, or live; who we share our lives with, or don’t; we are each irrevocably, and irredeemably, linked through our DNA. Through one woman, two of us call Mom.
That is the theme of My Dear One, recognition that no matter what steps we take to distance ourselves from certain people, or events, the remedies we try to employ to resolve a dilemma, or secrets we try to hide, we’re indelibly marked by them; we’re shaped by our experiences, and by the people in our lives, or the DNA they share with us before they go. What form that shape takes, and its ability to strengthen—or weaken—our lives, depends on how we choose to view the memories, the people.
My mom ultimately chose to heal. After too many years of self-loathing, and stuffing her pain surrounding the secret pregnancy, and birth—and ultimate relinquishment of—her eldest child, she chose instead to acknowledge her past, her pain, her loss. More importantly, she forgave. She forgave herself, her parents… the system that failed to appreciate the harm inflicted on unwed mothers whose choices–and children–were taken from them.
We don’t get to choose our parents. And we can’t always prevent tragedy. Or control what others do, or make us do, when we’re powerless. But we can, as adults, choose to make the best of bad situations, and to heal and love ourselves, and those we welcome into our lives for as long as they might venture to stay.
Your real security is yourself. You know you can do it, and they can’t ever take that away from you. ~Mae West