Listen with Mother

It was part of my early childhood, that radio programme which enquired “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” My mother would have been around, no doubt, the hand that turned on the wireless, but not with in any meaningful sense.

Our relationship was difficult, principally because of her undiagnosed but severe mental illness. It was so difficult, in fact, that it seemed a necessary act of self-preservation to cease all contact with her at the age of 23. This remained the case until her death, news of which prompted an exultant uprush of relief.

Only recently, in the last few weeks in fact, has it occurred to me that this person who provoked so much fear and distress would themselves have been suffering, and suffering terribly. Such is the power of the entrenched personal narrative, I suppose.

Slowly and very carefully I have been practicing tonglen with my mother. Feeling towards that hurt at the heart of her, the loneliness, confusion and prison of pain. It is searing in the hearing.

And I, who was never allowed to touch, or be touched by, her in life have held her in my arms, rocked her and stroked her cheek and her hair. We are so alike. Her pain is my pain. Which, since I appeared to her as a physical manifestation of everything that was unwanted and, frankly, evil, should come as little surprise.

We are so alike. We are utterly inseparable. And, absolutely astonishingly, I discovered that I love her.