Grieving the Loss of My Mother and Uncle I have been trying to come to terms with this reality, now five years past and yet ever present in memory. She and her brother, my uncle, died suddenly in a highway automobile accident one December evening, and to this day we still do not clearly know what transpired exactly. The day after the accident, I collected my mother’s purse from the police officer who was at the scene. Small shards of windshield glass were wedged in the crevices. Held up to the setting sun, they caught the sunlight in a display that was simultaneously devastating and beautiful. I held on to these shards as though they would somehow help bring me closer to where my mother and uncle died.
Part of my grief was that I nor any of our close relatives were there with them when they died, to have held them in their passing. The location where the incident happened was a multi-lane highway, a place where I could not linger, and a roadside memorial was not my family’s way. I would not want a marker there anyway; no, nothing to hold them to that non-place of concrete, metal, debris, and death. For me, at least, my mother and uncle returned to the heartbeat of the world.
A few years later when we were ready, my two brothers and I kayaked out onto Ouentironk—an old Huron name meaning “Beautiful Water,” colonially known as Lake Simcoe—where we grew up, and released her ashes. We linked our kayaks together and took turns letting go. Letting her go there felt right. She loved that lake, that Beautiful Water who we lived beside, walked along daily, and swam in with almost ritual significance for health, joy, and a deeper connection to the world around us.
The lake, the land, and wildlife were good to us; we were fortunate. In times of grief and distress, going to see a particular tree in the yard and going down to the lake led to experiences I can only describe as sacred in their healing power. Numerous experiences with some members of the neighbouring wildlife community also contributed a sense of the sacred—of the interconnectedness, the healing gentleness—in that place.
To my knowledge, there is no word in English for the feeling of sorting through, holding, or opening the possessions of a deceased or lost loved one. This is especially so for items one wouldn’t otherwise be handling, like a diary or jewellery. Grief is present, to be sure; but, what more, specifically what is it to this experience? It feels as if you are holding a shadow. The strangeness of it—how possible it all seems.
Amalia C Moir
I lack any adequate term to describe what I felt when I returned home after seeing to my mother and uncle’s bodies in the Hamilton area. I walked outside, barefoot as I always did and climbed the Norway spruce I always did since childhood and clung to its trunk. Sitting there like that, clinging to the tree, I could feel it sway in the wind. I could see my house, my mother’s garden, the Lake, and the two roads that bordered the property. I imagined the spruce’s roots going deep into the soil, and imagined something of my own being gripping the earth and holding fast in the wind. I thought, if one listens carefully enough, one can hear the beating heart of the earth in the rhythms of the land, water, and sky; the cycles of life, death, and new life; the sounds of memory and imagination at play with the senses of the here and now where one is… It is to this beat that I lay my mother and uncle to rest. And so I can see and touch them wheresoever I go.
This place, my childhood home, taught me about connection, love, and diversity. The trees I remember well: eastern white pines, eastern white cedars, North American beech, Norway spruce, sugar and silver maples, paper and yellow birches, eastern hemlock, basswood, wild apples, white ash, ironwood, and weeping and white willows were our arboreal neighbours. Canadian geese would routinely fly over the house as they moved from the lake to the Black River and vice versa. The dawn chorus was spectacular; an avian collective rejoicing in the light of each new day. This was where I connected with the heartbeat of the world—through these beings, sights, sounds, relations.
Upon every visit to the lake, I always felt the need/desire to touch the lake with my bare hand; my way of saying “hello” and “thank you.” My thoughts/feelings of love and gratitude overlap and I try to think of all the plants and animals that live there. At first, my husband kindly teased me when he asked if I would do “matha tekna” (bow of respect and blessings) when we visited Lake Simcoe, and—without having realized previously—I thought and said, “Yes, I do—I am.” I never thought about it before, but feel that, when I crouch down and touch the Lake with my bare hand or hands, it is my way of greeting it, reflecting, and meditating on gratitude to the place and all those who dwelt/dwell there. I touch the Lake and say or think, “Hello. I have come to see you. Thank you,” and “Hello, Mah…”.
The lake is a living being and a kind of living monument for me; it and the land are alive and yet a spectral geography of my childhood and loss as well as all the wonderful things that have happened since the accident. All that has passed on comes to life through memory of and in that place. It is an affective landscape full of the spectral that is yet still alive in me and my family, in all the beings that still live there, and in personal and shared memories of my mother and that place. Life, as it always has, carries on, even in the presence of absences.