“Familiar” – a documentary short by Anna Thorsen

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One year ago, my daughter proposed a project. I am so happy I agreed. It was a powerful and transformative experience.

Familiar is a short documentary about my Swedish mother, Karin Thorsen. Her story is told through the letters she wrote to her best friends from 1968-2001.

This project was my daughter’s Grad Film for Langara’s Documentary Film Production course.

Director: Anna Thorsen
Executive Producer: Annat Kennet and Langara College
Writer/Editor: Anna Thorsen
Cinematographer: Anna Thorsen
Lighting/Sound: Anna Thorsen
Original Score: Julian Bowers
Research Support: Katarina Thorsen
Translator: Katarina Thorsen

To watch, go to: FAMILIAR

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Thank you Anna for this transformative experience.

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60 years ago my mother became a mother. (Karin Kristina Orwald 1936 – 2008)

Decades are significant.

60 years ago my mother became a mother.

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My older brother born Summer 1958

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50 years ago we moved to Canada from Sweden.

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Leaving Grums, Sweden, October 31, 1968

50 years ago, my mother started to write letters home to Sweden.

 

 

30 years ago, my mother’s second grandchild was born.

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My son born January 1988

10 years ago, I had my ear to my mother’s chest and listened as her heart slowed down and then stop.  My brother held her face and guided her through.  Surrounded by family. Her final exhale liberated her soul and I felt right then she flew straight down to San Francisco to be with my daughter who flew home ta few days later.

10 years.

On this day, I am lucky enough to work from home and simply be in my space in peace and joy.  I did what I learned so well from mamma- I cleaned the bathroom, did the dishes, mopped the floors (making sure to go behind the furniture).

I ate food so iconically mamma- pannkaka and cookies and egg.

Drank coffee.  And bit into an apple.

The apple is significant.

Mamma’s full name is Karin Kristina Orwald (Thorsen).

The Emigrant Saga Series by Wilhelm Moberg has so many parallels to mamma’s journey.  And the main character, Kristina, is wrapped in the metaphor her beloved apple tree at home in Sweden and on her death bed holds a ripe apple from her tree in Minnesota.

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The Apple Tree, by Roar Thorsen, 2010

I remember that final year, when I mopped mom’s floors and she lay on her bed and we laughed and shared stories and talked about Pinesol.

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Karin Summer 2008

I love you, Mamma.

This post is dedicated to my cousin, Dan Orwald, who passed away suddenly last week.

My aunt Siv with my Cousin Annika, Dan in the middle and Mamma holding my older brother, Christmas 1958.

Mamma- a portrait.

“If You Forget Me”

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists:
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Pablo Neruda

Karin Thorsen  Sept. 17, 1936 – Nov. 8, 2008

It is hard to imagine that it is ten years since she passed.  I wanted to write a letter to my mother on her birthday.  The letter became a portrait, inspired from a photo my father took during their honeymoon.  I chose to surround Mamma with her favorites: daisies, lily of the valley and chantarelles.

The third letter home. November 18, 1968

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Previous posts:

Package of letters to Sweden

A letter home. November 1, 1968

Dream. Letters. Thought and Memory.

Writing exercise.

The Second Letter.

As these translations focus on the letters from my mother to her best friends in Sweden, I will not be including letters from my Dad (this project is for mom, Drawn Together  was for Dad).  I will however include some interesting bits and pieces from Dad’s letters that give insight into mom and home life.

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Mom’s third letter, dated Monday November 18, 1968 

[Note: my nickname in my family is Nina]

Thank you for two very interesting letters the other day,  I both cried and laughed when I read them.  Cried when I read that Eivor is starting to bring in money, which led to, amongst other things, us heading out on the weekend in search of a larger apartment.  It is true that it is quite nice here, but a little awkward.  You enter the living room onto wall-to-wall carpeting and that is a pain, you understand, as you know our angels.

At least we found a townhouse with access to a swimming pool.  Super fancy, 4 large bedrooms, combined living room and dining room, gorgeous kitchen with a dishwasher.  Two washing machines and two dryers in the basement.  Beautiful colours on the inside and a whole new neighborhood.  

We have a view of the mountains even here.  One of the bedrooms is downstairs and three up with thick, luxurious wall-to-wall carpets, with hardwood in the living room (which I am so grateful for).  There is even a front hall when you enter.  It will be much nicer for hosting and having guests as there are two floors.  We are making our decision in the morning.  

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Otherwise things are moving along well.  I miss you all.  (strangely)

Last Saturday we were invited to an English family.  He works at Sandwell.  They live close by in an absolutely adorable log cabin, with a wood stove made of rough granite.  It turns out they are real tough people.  Every year they do a road trip with boat and tent (they are in their 60’s) to Alaska and the Rocky Mountains.  On the last trip, they were out in the wilderness the whole holiday.  They didn’t see any humans, except maybe for natives and farmers.  It takes about 8 hours to drive to the Rocky Mountains from here to a place called Williams Lake.  It is supposed to be a great place.  

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He showed us slides and you, Rolf, would have cried if you saw the trout they caught every day.  There are several small cottages built in the wilderness for any visitors– anyone can use them.  They would repeatedly run into moose and bears.  Anders will go crazy with anticipation before we get there.  But there is no point to going there until the Spring as it is really cold up there in the winter.  It is better head South in the winter.  In two days we can be in Florida.

It +10ºC here today.   Girls are still wearing ankle socks.  But not Nina.  She has to wear leotards.  But it rains a lot here during the winter.  Last Saturday, we took the kids up the gondola.  Maybe Roar already wrote about that.  He bought a book and mailed it to you (as temptation), but it was not sent by air mail so it will probably take awhile before it arrives.  I haven’t received photos from Åke yet– maybe these were also sent by boat.  

It is going really well for the kids at school.  Nina goes 9-1 and Anders goes to 3.  There is no bad day for grade 1.  I am surprised.  And they really go hard.  Nina has to write long essays.  She has such a great accent.  It helps when they have start so young.  Sometimes she is grumpy when she comes home for lunch, but after she has eaten, she is satisfied and happy again.  

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I can’t believe this is true– girls are not allowed to wear pants at school.  Luckily, it does not get that cold here.  I think it is a bit more strict here, and they don’t have the same approach.  Vern’s two young girls are already reading fluently.  I can’t believe it is true.  Nina (and I) hope that she will be able to be in the same class as Ann-Christine in a few years.  That’s the story I use when Nina doesn’t want to go to school. 

This coming Friday, we are going to the boss for dinner.  Blah!  I am not allowed to wear my long pants according to Roar.  Otherwise he doesn’t dare to go.  The old bag called me the other day.  I thought it was Fru Koppel.  I have never heard anything more close.  She is Danish and has lived in Stockholm for six years (stewardess), so she speaks Swedish.  She is supposed to be really attractive (gross).  But she actually sounded rather fun.  Everyone is pretty much a bunch of old bags and bitches otherwise, I think.  

Yeah, I guess one will survive this as well.  There is so much to arrange, and one can’t catch up.  Just imagine how much we will have time to do this summer when we come.  We won’t need many clothes.  Just money for the trip.  The rest we can take care of.  By the way, what the hell did Eivor receive from Roar through the window?  Luckily it wasn’t at the door.  

On Saturday, we are going to Vern for dinner because the kids are going to the ice rink to skate.  Vern is the same.  He must be so clever.  He has built a large house with three storeys.  His kids are girls ages 15 and 14, boys ages 12 and 10, and twin girls ages 6 and a half.  Sheila is really nice but not exactly a party gal.  Everyone seems so damn well-behaved here.  Lucky for me, Roar spoke to the neighbor the other day and I asked if he was cool.  Roar then said, “not as cool as Rolf.”  (Which I agree with)  Roar was quiet for a bit and then said, “and the broad wasn’t as perky as Eivor Carlson either.”  And somehow that was followed by me saying, “and that I am very thankful for.”  It just came out of me.  I am going to ensure things are relaxed and calm for awhile so I don’t have to chase Roar, etc.  

But I miss other types of exchanges of course.  Who knows, maybe a moose hunting family will show up this summer.  NOTE!  But not without the kids.  If I have to pay for them, I will.  

I am writing myself to death.  My fingers hurt.  Roar is also writing letters.  

I must tell you, we had some problems the other day.  They aired Bonanza, Laredo and High Chaparall on three different channels at the same time the other day.  This drove Anders crazy.  One channel is just cartoons.  Batman and the sort.  The boss’s wife told me I should watch TV as much as possible to learn English, but I actually just write letters.  

Say hello to Gunhild, with best wishes on the baptism.  The same happened with Katarina, if you remember.  The ceremony lasted an hour and Stake had dementia but there was just six of us, so it worked out anyhow.  

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Now I can’t write anymore.  I will write another day.  Please write back or I will die an old man.  I play Sven Ingvars every day and long for home.  But time passes quite quickly.  Pan and Pia [the dogs] are welcome to sneak around outside our house some night.  I will let you know when Rolf should give Moritz arsenic in a few years.  Or Max could have snuck it into the coffee.  I assume Rolf can buy it cheap.

Karin

PS.  Excuse the handwriting.  I have written to Dad, Helga, Ulla-Britt, Sivan as well.

EXCERPT: Dad’s letter dated November 17, 1968

… There is a hell of a difference between Gruvöns Sågverk where one was only an errand boy to Moritz.  If I only get over this initial uncertain time, it will be an astounding school in which one learns to become the boss.  Hope this will be of value when we return to Sweden in the future.  

Well, I will end it here– will write more later.  Please write again soon, it is so nice to hear from you both.  I am starting to get over that difficult day when we left you– but I will never forget it.  

Heartfelt greetings. – Roar

The second letter. November 5, 1968.

Why when I close my eyes and think about myself at a young age do I find myself immediately at the age of 6?  What makes me go back to that little girl?  That time?

These days I feel tears well up easily.  Not of sadness, but of fullness.  Today I walked home from the bus stop the long way via the heron nests.  I stopped, breathing in the scent of blossoms, looking up at the springtime activity as the birds were busy showing off for each other, building nests.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all– my heart full, knowing that I am ready.  That tonight I would finally commit to translating mom’s letters here in this sacred space of mine, my blog.

I don’t write this blog for anyone but myself.  It is a depository.  A way to journal.  I only write it for me.  Sharing it in the ether gives me perspective.  I get a chance to step back.  To process.  So this is the place for me to translate the letters.

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Sweden before we left for Canada

It is November, 1968.

My mom is 32 , the same age my daughter is now, and she is writing letters home to her best friends in Sweden.  Newly arrived to Canada.  And I am 6.  And she is writing letters.  And I have those letters in a pile here.  I have had them since December 2013.  I have only read the first one.

Previous posts:

Package of letters to Sweden

A letter home. November 1, 1968

Dream. Letters. Thought and Memory.

Writing exercise.

From what I see, as I sift through them, is that they are positive reflections of a young mother sitting at the kitchen table, likely children in bed, or at school, scratching out a connection to her best friends back home.  So why have I left the package untouched in my bookshelf on top of my father’s drawings all this time?  Me- the person that voraciously sifts through historical documents?

What is it that makes me well up in tears as I make this commitment now to go through the letters?  What is it I am grieving?  Remembering?

That young woman at the kitchen table, writing to her best friends.  The words flowing out of her mind, onto paper, into envelope, into mailbox, over the ocean, into her friends’ hand, 45 years later back into envelope, back across the ocean, into my hands.

And so…

Mom’s first letter to her friends was written the day after we arrived in Canada (we arrived October 31, 1968).  Today’s letter was written a few days later.

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Vancouver 5/11-68

Hi!

I was so damn mad- the freezer has mould, so I have stood with my head in it all day scrubbing.  [We had that freezer until 2004].  I guess I didn’t wipe it dry properly and it has been developing mould for 5 weeks.  Now, at least, it is ship-shape.  We have now furnished and decorated the house and as usual every corner is full.  It actually turned out really well.  I am so mad at this wall-to-wall carpeting they have here.  They get dirty just by looking at them.  

If you only knew how gorgeous it is to lie on the bed and look out the bedroom window.  All the mountaintops were totally white this morning.  The restaurant [at the top of Grouse Mountain] is always all lit up.  The gondola is not far from here.  There is also  park not far from here with mysterious totems for the kids and a suspension bridge that swings too darn much.

There are quite lovely things all over the place here.  It is funny that in the house next door there is a two year old girl named Nickolina.  Fredrik’s head is spinning [our friends’ son in Sweden, also 2 at the time, is named Niklas].  Fredrik, by the way, is still saying “damn” whenever something happens.  He throws the toothbrush in the toilet every morning and looks at me and there comes the long drawn out “daaaaaaamn.”  I am not buying anymore toothbrushes until he stops that.  

The meat here is so cheap and juice of all sorts cost just a few cents per can.  Other than that, things are pretty much the same.  Please say hello to everyone at the grocery store, by the way.  I bet there is loss of revenue now that I am not shopping there for hundreds of dollars every month.  

How is Rolf doing without me?  Hope he doesn’t fall out too badly.  Roar is connecting a lamp today and is swearing as nothing fits and he is saying, “What a stupid country.”  You know how he gets when he is going to do something.  

Have any bills arrived?  Please let me know if funds are needed.  (Of course, I mean not regarding you!)  It is a long weekend here, so Roar has three days off.  I guess we will head home to [?] if you don’t invite us on Saturday?  How goes the pyramid scheme?

Do you know that we have 11 channels here to choose from every evening?  We are up to our necks with TV but I have to say there are some beautiful movies.  They run from 10 in the morning to 5-6 AM the next day.  

A response is requested within the next three years, otherwise it is too late.

Karin

PS.  Kiss the kids.  Would give a million dollars to look after them while you are at the gym.

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In Canada, early 1969

Dream. Letters. Thought and Memory.

I had a terrible dream last night.

In the dream, I haven’t been home to visit my parents for four years.  In the dream, they are still living at the house on Braemar (the one we moved into in 1977, the one before they downsized in 2004).  In the dream, they are both as sick as they were before they died.  My dad after his stroke, unwinding with bladder cancer.  My mom shrinking from pancreatic cancer.  I haven’t been home for 4 years and the realization happens as I am sitting in my car (which I don’t have anymore).  In the dream, I choke on panic and try to open the car door, but it so heavy as if pushing against water.  I finally get out and start running up Lonsdale… but it is like wading through mud and I am screaming at the top of my lungs but there is no sound.  I keep calculating in my head obsessively- it’s been 9 years and 4 months since mom passed away.  It’s been 5 years and 4 months since Dad died.  It’s been 15 years since we moved from the Sunshine Coast…  I keep lining up all the pets that have passed, calculating, calculating.  The crushing panic of not having visited mom and dad is drowning me…

I woke soaked in sweat.

I sit here now at the kitchen table…

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… staring at a package of letters.

I received the package in Dec 2013.

Recall:

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The first letter written 50 years ago this year:

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And I have managed to only get through one since receiving them.  For though the letters are likely optimistic, I know my mother’s pain.  And I am preparing, now that it is 9 years and 4 months since mom passed away.  It’s been 5 years and 4 months since Dad died.  It’s been 15 years since we moved from the Sunshine Coast… 50 years since we first moved here from Sweden, 40 years since we came back… preparing to finally to process my grief about mom by translating those letters.  My relationship with my mom was extraordinary and complicated.

As I start to work through the pile at last, I feel the (re)connection to my heritage.  The THOUGHTS and MEMORIES contained in those letters, in my DNA, are now ready to surface.

Huginn (THOUGHT) and Muninn (MEMORY)

The other day I found a photo in the big family mish-mash photo box.   I don’t recall ever seeing it before.  My mom and dad look happy and at peace.

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What about the dream?  In reality, I did caregive for mom and dad as best as I could.  In reality, I saw them almost every day.  They were my partners in crime on the Molly project, which is entering it’s 15th year and which is entering a new exciting phase.

Maybe the dream was some kind of cleansing.

A gift from mom and dad to let me know they are OK, and that I am OK, and that I am free now to flow with the current.  I made it.

 

You are motherhood. You are the greatest mystery.

Only do not forget, if I wake up crying it’s only because in my dream I’m a lost child hunting through the leaves of the night for your hands… – Pablo Neruda

Journal entry November 8, 2016:

8 years ago today, my little brother held my mother’s face and spoke sweetly, guiding my mother.  I laid my right ear on her chest and I heard her heart slow then stop. A last sigh.  Then she flew.  She became everything.

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Oh how I love you, Mamma.  I see you more and more in my face, in my body.  I welcome each sag, each wrinkle, each change in my bones.  Your fingers are my fingers (on my right hand), your laugh is mine (and the parrot’s), your worn out recipe book has butter and flour stains and smells like your kitchen.   When I hold Henrik and Vivienne, I feel you holding them as well.  You whirl around the family and your spirit and love fills the room.

I still reach for the phone to call you.  I want to talk about cleaners and the latest soup recipe with you.  I want to have you lie on your bed with Asterix as I sort your closet and we laugh at sweaters we have held on to.  I want to hop in the car with you and Tobey or Tina or Milton and walk for hours in the forest hunting for mushrooms.

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I want to pull out all my Molly research and discuss it with you, head to Molly’s grave and have a picnic.  I want to cook with you as the kids lounge in your bedroom watching cartoons.  I want to pull out the furniture and dust behind the couch and weed the garden as we gossip and laugh.  I want to spend full days in Fort Langley.

I no longer pursue your dreams on your behalf; I pursue mine as you truly always wanted me to do.

You feared to lose me, but you never did.

And as I become more and more myself, I become more and more your love.

Look at the legacy you created.

You are love.  You are beauty.  You are motherhood.  You are the greatest mystery.

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I need to process you.  I want to write about you.


Karin Thorsen

September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008

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Slithering pancreatic serpent. #griefprocess

In November 2007, Dr. Ebrahim sat knee to knee with my mother.  I was on the other side of the little examination room.  I recall it was a sunny day.  I think it was.  Grouse Mountain shone in the background.  I think it did.  The room seemed turquoise.  Friendly.  

We found a mass in your pancreas.  

My immediate thought went to Michael Landon.  For some reason when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died shortly after in 1991, it stuck with me.  I knew pancreatic was the worst word to hear when associated with cancer.

“The pancreas represents your ability to digest the ‘sweetness of life’. It reflects your feelings and behaviour in relation to responsibility, particularly how you feel about taking responsibility for your own happiness and that of others. Therefore, the state of the pancreas reveals how well you flourish in life, how successful you feel and how joyful you are in your life experience.” source

We found a mass in your pancreas.

I took notes, we scheduled an ultrasound… but I don’t recall having a heart to heart with mom about the possibilities.  I just recall starting a binder.  Creating an action plan.

There is so much to write about mom, but for now it suffices to say that we entered what would be our final year together, renewed, wide-eyed, love in our hearts.



It was a year of appointments, insulin shots, chemo, spending precious time with family, laughing in waiting rooms, shopping, cooking even though she couldn’t eat… her final thanksgiving, just a few weeks before she passed- she put on makeup, did her hair, celebrated- a very frail little bird.  Fiercely alive.

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The Pancreas is the main organic structure that processes the emotion of fear because its function is to maintain the stability of the organism and any threat at the emotional or physical level can cause a structural imbalance entire system. Because the Pancreas is intimately connected with the physiology of the Soul through the fields of emotion and primary feelings, and indirectly to the nervous system, any violent emotion or attack received by the organism will immediately paralyze the digestion, consequently affecting the production of insulin and the liver. It is at the Pancreas level that occurs an evaluation and separation of what elements, emotions, and circumstances are proper for the being, and how the changes may have to be made for the continual survival of the organism. – source

Last night I could not sleep.  Processing so much change of late.  Positive change, sad change, epic change, all kinds of change.

The clock ticked— midnight, 1 AM, 2 AM, 3 AM, 3:30 AM. 3:40 AM— I got up and peed, drank water, drank orange juice.   Wandered.  Wrestled with blankets.  In some weird stupor of processing.  My heart didn’t feel heavy or anxious- just weird, unsettled- thoughts swirling about my mother, about pancreatic cancer, about what I should have done, could have done, should have said.

I must have been in a twilight state as I kept envisioning an eel-like serpent swirling around my heart…

To see a sea serpent in your dream represents an emotional transformation. – source

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Placenta series, 1995

Sleep eluded me, so I finally turned on my reading light and pulled out a book from my current reading pile:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (a gift from Patti Henderson).

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The bookmark lay at p. 100— I began to read where I left off.  Strangely there it was again, pancreatic…


All day today that image of the serpent swirling has stayed with me.

That slithering pancreatic serpent.

Placenta series, 1995

Historically, serpents and snakes represent fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they are symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing.source

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The five-year pancreatic cancer survival rate has increased to 9 percent, according to a report released today by the American Cancer Society:

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You are motherhood. You are the greatest mystery. Karin 17/09/36-08/11/08

Only do not forget, if I wake up crying it’s only because in my dream I’m a lost child hunting through the leaves of the night for your hands… – Pablo Neruda

8 years ago today, my little brother held my mother’s face and spoke sweetly, guiding my mother.  I laid my right ear on her chest and I heard her heart slow then stop. A last sigh.  Then she flew.  She became everything.

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Oh how I love you, Mamma.  I see you more and more in my face, in my body.  I welcome each sag, each wrinkle, each change in my bones.  Your fingers are my fingers (on my right hand), your laugh is mine (and the parrot’s), your worn out recipe book has butter and flour stains and smells like your kitchen.   When I hold Henrik and Vivienne, I feel you holding them as well.  You whirl around the family and your spirit and love fills the room.

I still reach for the phone to call you.  I want to talk to you about cleaners and the latest soup recipe with you.  I want to have you lie on your bed with Asterix as I sort your closet and we laugh at sweaters we have held on to.  I want to hop in the car with you and Tobey or Tina or Milton and walk for hours in the forest hunting for mushrooms.

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public domain

I want to pull out all my Molly research and discuss it with you, head to Molly’s grave and have a picnic.  I want to cook with you as the kids lounge in your bedroom watching cartoons.  I want to pull out the furniture and dust behind the couch and weed the garden as we gossip and laugh.  I want to spend full days in Fort Langley.

I no longer pursue your dreams on your behalf; I pursue mine as you truly always wanted me to do.

You feared to lose me, but you never did.

And as I become more and more myself, I become more and more your love.

Look at the legacy you created.

You are love.  You are beauty.  You are motherhood.  You are the greatest mystery.

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I need to process you.  I want to write about you.


Karin Thorsen

September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008

 

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We were drawn together on Saturday- and now I know why…

I love family.  And we have shared so much- all the life markers, the ups and downs of life and through it all there is that special glue that connects us.

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Illustration by Björn Berg. Emil i Lönneberga by Astrid Lindgren.

We had an impromptu get together at my place on Saturday- somehow ALL of us (niece, nephew, brothers, sister in laws, daughter, son, daughter in love, parrot) were together in my creative mayhem- my crowded delirious delicious chaos.

It’s not unusual for us to get together, but this day felt a bit deeper and very special.  I was so aware of a feeling I couldn’t name- joy, love, gratitude, what?

I looked around as I sat sewing my nephew’s Cookie Monster costume and smiled, watching the hurricane of activity as everyone ranging in age from toddler to adult was talking at once, doing something, playing with something, eating chicken! ribs! cupcakes!, being real loud and hilarious.

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Chaos meets chaos in the name of LOVE!  I felt the strong presence of mom and dad and that they were celebrating with us.  Celebrating family.  I felt Tobey’s spirit walking around snuffling for scraps.

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And I really had this sense that we were drawn together for a reason– if nothing else than to just BE together.  But in my heart I felt there was something more.  I had a smile on my face all Sunday and just had to send a message of love and gratitude to the family today, acknowledging there was something magical about it.  It definitely was not a typical family dinner.  The palpable connection and vibe harkened back to our vigils around Mom and Dad during their final days.  We were all together celebrating our connections.

And so now, we cut to about an hour ago and I receive a message from my cousin in Stockholm that my mom’s brother, my uncle Olle, passed away peacefully on Saturday surrounded by family.

Is this why we were drawn together on Saturday!?

It’s amazing- a family drawn together.  Souls celebrating, acknowledging.

My uncle was so funny, so loving.  The rest of us were frequently doubled over in laughter.  And often woken by his late night cook offs in the kitchen.  I recall he was so worried that I would get lost in 1984 when I hopped on the train to visit my friend outside of Stockholm.  When I arrived at Huddinge station, he was sitting in his car, ensuring I had arrived OK.  In 2009, when my son and I were taking the bus to visit my cousins at their summer cottage, Olle walked us to the bus stop, bought the tickets and thrust chocolate bars in our hands for the trip.  He loved history and he influenced my love for American literature- introducing me to the likes of Miller and Heller.

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Photo by my son Julian Bowers of my uncle during our visit in 2009.  Olle looks out his apartment window over Stortorget in Stockholm.

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My aunt and uncle’s apartment is the yellow building on the left. PARADISE!

Say hi to Mamma and Pappa, Olle.

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My mother, Karin, and my Uncle Olle.

An homage by my son, Julian:

My great uncle Olle passed away on Saturday.

I only met him once during the half a week I was in Stockholm, but he was a really wonderful and warm person and he was one of the many things that made my trip to Sweden in 2009 so phenomenal.

A story mom’s fond of telling is his bashing around in the kitchen at three in the morning to make himself a full dinner. I can relate to this habit.

When I went to Stockholm, he was living across from the Nobel Museum.
“See that place?” he asked me.
“Yeah, I went there yesterday,” I said.
“I’ve never been there in my life,” he laughed.
“OUR FAMILY HAS HAD THIS PLACE FOR TWENTY YEARS,” I said.
“I’ve been meaning to go.”
“IT’S…RIGHT THERE.”
“Ehh, I’m not in a rush.”

I always thought that story was funny, but in hindsight, I appreciated the fact that he wasn’t too concerned about rushing in to doing things if it wasn’t necessary. It doesn’t matter if he ever went or not, he was obviously relaxed and satisfied with how his life was going and it was wonderful to see someone content with the flow of life as opposed to fighting it. He was a comforting human being to be around, just judging from the few days I was able to see him.

I took this photo of him in his apartment.

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Dedicated to Olof Orwald and Aunt Siv, cousins Annika, Dan, Gunilla, Tom and their families.

Interestingly, today it is 48 years since my family arrived in Canada:

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Leaving Grums train station October 1968.

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“Always, remember, you are the best.” No, you were, Pappa. #toliveuntilwesaygoodbye

My greatest cheerleader was my Dad.

4 years ago today, his heart stopped beating, but his spirit lives on.

His pep talks were the best.

“Always, remember, you are the best.”

No, you were, Pappa.  

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Our gift to you:

Free PDF version of DRAWN TOGETHER, THE BOOK by Roar and Kat Thorsen!

LINK

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The best corner in the world- Lions Gate Hospital Cafeteria, our favorite table, with snacks and coffee and Tobey beside us.

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On Autumnal endings and beginnings in October

This is such a beautiful tender time of the year for me.  The autumn is both a time of loss and renewal.  My parents passed in the autumn, yet autumn is a time of new possibilities and fresh starts.

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Life/ death.  The extremes?

Or two sides of the same coin or exactly the same?  For isn’t one simply the other?  Is the dark abyss before birth and after death simply the same graceful infinity that unites EVERY thing in this finite universe?

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The overhead horizon.  They want to say something, the dead.

They smoke but don’t eat, they don’t breathe but still have their voices.

I’ll hurry through the streets as if I’m one of them.

The darkening cathedral, heavy as a moon, ebbs and flows.

– Tomas Tranströmer, Deep in Europe from For the Living and the Dead (translated from original Swedish by Don Coles)

Avlyssnad horisont.  De vill säga något, de döda.

De röker men äter inte, de andas inte men har rösten kvar.

Jag kommer att skynda genom gatorna som en av dem.

Den svartande katedralen, tung som en måne, gör ebb och flod.

– Tomas Tranströmer, Djupt i Europa from För levande och döda.

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Recalling this time of year with my father:

October 11, 2012

Dad and I spent the evening in emergency to replace his catheter.  We watched the debate and laughed and talked about life.

October 12, 2005

Dad’s first sketch after his September 21, 2005 stroke:

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October 13, 2012

My father is dying.  I accept it.  He unwinds before me.  I let him go.  But losing my best friend is more painful than I anticipated.

October 15 2012

My father’s last writing:

 

And though at times, the wave hits me and that drowning saudade washes over me,  I know that without the grounding of loss, I would not have the air with which to fly.

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. – George Eliot

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Read Drawn Together (free PDF):

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My mother’s tapestry…

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday.  It was joyous to celebrate her by celebrating my nephew’s 5th birthday (his official birthday is on the 19th) in my brother’s household filled with kids and mayhem, food and laughter.

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Photo by Anna Thorsen

Our growing family certainly is my mother’s tapestry- her woven threads.

We are the weavers of our own lives, in which each experience can become an important thread used by our consciousness to connect with one another… Turning to the archetypal meaning of the thread, it symbolizes the agent that links all states of being to one another… [source]

My mother often claimed that she was not artistic, that instead she was an artistic director.  She had an amazing eye for design and style.  But… despite her denials- she was artistic and crafty and influenced my love for tradition and craft.

She started the piece below in the late 60’s.  I would spend hours watching her work on it, helping her add stitches, laughing with her as she lost count, rubbing my hands over the texture, copying the images… the unfinished aspect is magical.  One of my most important treasures,  I converse with her now as I look at the instructions and smell the wool.

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Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry. – Richard P. Feynman

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Her basket also contains some smaller unfinished projects.  I love this basket. LOVE.   And so happy to still have it.

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Karin Thorsen Sept 17, 1936- Nov 8, 2008

Photo by Fredrik Thorsen

Snapchat by Anna Thorsen:

SOME PORTRAITS OF GRIEF.

For me, it is impossible to quantify grief.  To qualify it.  To define it.  It comes as a surprise. It comes as a wave.  It comes suddenly.  Or it comes on slow.  It can feel like nostalgia, anger, sadness, gratitude, drowning.  It can be triggered.  It can be low grade.  It can be reassuring.  It can be overwhelming.


Journal entry: November 3, 2012 

The emotion of missing.  What is it?

Saudade is a unique Portuguese word that has no immediate translation in English.  Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.  It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return.  It’s related to the feelings of longing, yearning.  Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again…  It can be described as an emptiness and the individual feels this absence…  In fact, one can have ‘saudades’ of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future. source

As the numbness wears off after Dad passed away on October 25, I find myself longing for that numbness again.  Now I feel the familiar sense of fear- sort of like walking on a unsteady pier or a balance beam that wobbles or a tightrope over a waterfall.  I am flooded with thoughts of doubt.  Did I do enough?  Should I have been more aggressive in getting treatment for Dad earlier?  Should I have taken him for more walks in the electric wheelchair?  Was he lonely and scared at the end?  These are expected thoughts.  I know that.  They are not to be avoided or feared.  It’s the process we all experience as we walk through grief.  I get it.  I dare to look.  But it hurts.

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My various experiences of loss and experiences of grief are not like yours, or hers, or his or theirs.  Mine takes up a different space, shape, beyond time. Shifting, eternal.  Each one of our personal truths are unique.  Profound.

And as saudadic waves wash over me, I find it healing to explore:

SOME PORTRAITS OF GRIEF

Beverley Pomeroy:

August 2, 2016: Living Grief is the profound journey of ongoing loss; where we can neither grief nor celebrate. Yet, our loss is palpable. We feel it wrapped around our throat choking back vulnerability we’ve not ever experienced before. We journey through acceptance, make friends with physiological depression, butt up against anger, bargain with whoever or whatever holds our conscience…ultimately, finding the sweet spot of denial where we can see and be what ‘is’ and live in the joy of where we are at on our journey with our loved one.
My gorgeous daughter, Sophia, turns 16 tomorrow…16 years more than we expected to have her, 15 years later with a palliative designation. Tomorrow I will be swallowed up in denial…and will let joy breathe for me, filling up my lungs until I can cry no more and the melancholy rocks my broken heart to sleep.
It is like a play…and even though we know there will be a final act, we so desperately cling to the idea of it being never ending, no matter what.

Beverley is a passionate advocate, social intrapreneur, Community Engagement Strategist, LGBTQA speaker, author of Living Griefbeverleypomeroy.com

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Patton Oswalt:

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… If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get ’em to love you back.

But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel “wiser.” You will not have “closure.” You will not have “perspective” or “resilience” or “a new sense of self.” You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.

And…

You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, “Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.” Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you’ll keep and re-read ’cause you can’t believe how helpful they are… Read more

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C.S. Lewis:

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear…

For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, “I never realized my loss till this moment”? The same leg is cut off time after time. – A Grief Observed

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Shakespeare:

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart? – Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3, Page 3

My study of Munch’s “Puberty” (china marker, oil pastel on wood)

William Cowper:

Encompass’d with a thousand dangers,

Weary, faint, trembling with a thousand terrors… I… in fleshy tomb, am

Buried above ground.

Fleshy Tomb

Cat Webb:

There will be a moment where a memory will hit, or a milestone day, or just a moment of being overwhelmed with something seemingly unrelated… and grief pops up again. AND THAT IS OK!!! More than ok… this is normal… your sadness about your loved ones death is normal… Your grief is normal and essential for your healing. There is no wrong way to do grief other than to pretend it isn’t there… Denying grief is the same as trying to convince your subconscious that there was no love here, no good times to remember, and this person meant nothing to me.  READ MORE

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“Psychopomp” for Cat Webb

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Kay Jamison:

There is a sanity to grief… given to all, [grief] is a generative and human thing…it acts to preserve the self.

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Roar Thorsen:

Adjust yourself.

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There are no easy answers.  There is just process.  And breathing.  In and out.

Study of Picasso’s Guernica

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In place of death there was light.

I am preparing myself to draw my mother’s “death mask” from the photo my son took after she passed on November 8, 2008.

I have been preparing for awhile.

I know the process will be an important and necessary one for me personally.  I think about it often.  It’s not about needing to work on something unfinished.  It’s about not shying away from the processes of life.  I don’t want to shy away!

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I have just needed to feel the time was right.  I have had to gain some space and maturity and to heal in order to be able to revisit my mother’s “death mask.”  To explore, in full truth, my profound relationship with her.

Our final year together was the “start” of a deeper more authentic connection.  We had always been so close, but there had always been a layer of deference and fear on my part, and fragility and depression and loss on her part that did not allow us to speak deeply with words.  But that final year was different.  We spoke of our love of each other, our love of family and homemaking and caregiving, our love of history and crime stories and our mutual love of hibernation and desire for autonomy and adventure.

There is a lot I want to write about my relationship with my mother.  I want to explore my old diaries and I want to view it all with these new mature eyes.  But I pick up a journal and read an excerpt and there is such pain there.

With time and healing, I am slowly able to open the pages more gently without being thrown into an existential crisis.

Grief is work!

Exploring the journals is an essential piece in my work on Molly as my story and her story intertwines.  But words aren’t flowing just yet around the relationship with Mom.  There have been starts and stops.  I suppose Mom is not ready.  But I KNOW she wants me to tell it.  We “talk” about it often.

Whatever the truth is, to speak it is a great adventure. – Louise Glück

As I explore and prep to draw Mom’s “death mask,” I am inspired by the work of Sue Coe:

The Last 11 Days is a group of charcoal drawings Sue Coe created from July 20 to 31, 1995 depicting her mother as she lay dying with cancer. The drawings reveal Coe’s private struggle with her mother’s illness and eventual death. [source]

 

From: BROAD STROKES

Unlike her other work, The Last 11 Days were created without the intention of being shown and reveal Coe’s private struggle with her mother’s illness and eventual death. Sue Coe is inspiring in every form, supporting issues that plague the world and refusing to sit quietly in their wake. She continues to be a magnetic force in the complex world of contemporary women artists.

 

Memory:

On a visit to SFMOMA in 2011, my daughter stated that sees her “Mormor” in this portrait by Matisse .  We often talk about how Mormor flew right down to Anna in San Francisco when she left her body.

The Girl with Green Eyes, 1908
Henri Matisse

And so, today I will dig through my files and try to find the photo I hid away deep in my computer in an obscure file.  Once found, I will sit with paper in place and china marker in hand wait to see if mom lets me know if it is time.

In place of death there was light. – Leo Tolstoy

And in place of death there is love.  And mom’s laugh.  And more and more love.

Mom’s parrot, Asterix, lives with me now. I love when he does her GIGANTIC belly laugh and answers the phone in her Swedish accent.

The timeless/spaceless mid zone of creative process and chatting with the dead…

There is a beautiful part of my creative process that I cherish- the part that allows me to dialogue with my parents as if they are here in my kitchen, sharing coffee and offering advice and dialoguing on the cold case.  I had some magical moments the other day as I pulled out old binders of research to cut and paste onto a current drawing:

The words were originally photocopied, cut and pasted onto paper and placed in a binder by my father.  I gingerly felt the paper he had once touched, being so fully in awe that his hands had used his glue stick to place the cut-outs onto the paper he chose.   I was so aware of the way his hands moved.  What his skin looked like.  And now some years later, I am taking his process further by cutting the words out and using my white glue. To place those words onto my latest piece.  I know it may sound trivial, but seriously- I am so in love with how the creative process brings the living and the dead together into a type of timeless/spaceless mid zone.


And the tangents the process takes me on are magical.

For example, the other day, I was contemplating where my interest in crime (and the human condition and its dark side) originated.   As per usual, I decided to put a crime drama on in the background.  To drench myself in the  Swedish language, I decided to look up some Nordic Noir.

Nordic Noir

With its roots in the ground-breaking TV dramas The Killing, Borgen, Wallander and The Bridge, Nordic Noir has become a genre in its own right, influencing screenwriters far beyond the Scandinavian Peninsula. – nordicnoir.tv

I found the following six part very Agatha Christie type drama inspired by the writings of Maria Lang.

Maria Lang

Dagmar Lange (31 March 1914, Västerås – 9 October 1991, Nora) was a Swedish author of under the pen name Maria Lang.  She was one of the first detective novelists in the Swedish language, and her books helped make the genre popular in Sweden.  Her first novel, Mördaren ljuger inte ensam (The Murderer is Not the Only Liar), was published in 1949 and caused some controversy because two of the main characters lived in a homosexual relationship… Lange wrote more than 40 detective novels, as well as crime fiction for young adults.  Most of her books are set in the fictional Swedish town Skoga, which is based on Lange’s home town Nora. She was one of the original 13 members of the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy when it was founded in 1971. – wikipedia

OMG- how cool was she?!

And since I was in full creative process, and in that timeless spaceless mid-zone again, feeling the presence of my parents, I was reminded that Maria Lang was one of my mother’s favorite authors.  There was one book in particular that she always had in her bookshelf or by her bed.  And I (who keeps everything) still have that book.   I found it in my personal library (that is why you should keep everything- ha!).

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I looked inside and was DELIGHTED to discover that the book was a gift from my father to my mother as she lay in the maternity ward, having just given birth to my  older brother on the 13th of August!  A murder mystery.  Was it her special request?  Or a surprise?

King Lily-of-the-Valley from the grove,
King Lily-of-the-Valley is as white as snow,
now the young king mourns
over Princess Lily-of-the-Valley-Maiden.

King Lily-of-the-Valley, he lowers
his sad head so heavy and weak;
and the silver helmet shines
in the pale summer twilight.

Around the bier, a spider weaves
from the “incense place” with floral scent
an incense [that] slowly flows;
the entire forest is full of fragrance.

From the birch’s rocking crown,
from the wind’s waving green house
small songs of sorrow sound;
the entire forest is filled up with whistling.

A message is whispered through the valley
about a king’s sorrow among whispering leaves,
in the wide kingdoms of the forest,
from the capital of the Lilies-of-the-Valley.

And this lovely timeless/spaceless mid zone sends me on a wormhole of research that feeds my creativity.

Gustav Fröding

Gustaf Fröding (22 August 1860 – 8 February 1911) was a Swedish poet and writer, born in Alster outside Karlstad in Värmland.

My mother gave birth in Karlstad, received a murder mystery by her favorite author, that featured her favorite flower and the poem by the poet also born in Karlstad (and where I was also born).

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And here it is May, and I am drawing birds and wondering about my interest in the dark side, and being reminded that it is from my mom, and that my love of research and drawing and cutting and pasting is from my dad.  And again, here it is May, and I am reminded of my mom’s favorite beloved worn book and her favorite flower and I am still drawing birds:

Lily of the Valley and the Nightingale

A sweeter story tells of the affection between Lily of the Valley and Nightingale.  The Lily of the Valley loved Nightingale’s song, but was so shy she hid in the grass to listen.  Nightingale was lonely and said he would no longer sing unless the Lily of the Valley revealed herself, and promised to bloom every May for all to see.  And so she does. – Deborah Weber


These times are treasures. I need not fear I didn’t have time to collect all the stories I could from mom and dad. They are telling them to me still.


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Mamma.

 
Karin Thorsen

September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008

Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.

From Pablo Neruda, Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground

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Oh how I love you, Mamma.  As I grow older, as I grow old, I see you more and more in my face, in my body.  I welcome each sag, each wrinkle, each change in my bones.  Your fingers are my fingers (on my right hand), your laugh is mine (and the parrot’s), your worn out recipe book has butter and flour stains and its heart beats loudly.  I no longer pursue your dreams on your behalf.  I pursue mine as you truly always wanted me to do.   You feared to lose me, but you never did.  And as I become more and more myself, I become more and more your love.  Look at the legacy you created.

 

it should be a nightmare, but somehow, it isn’t. Instead, I am filled with curiosity…

I am a bit lost these days.  Spinning in place the last few weeks.   I know the spinning comes from diving into the past for a certain personal project.  The triggers pull the rug out from under me.

And so I freeze, bite my nails, feel exhausted.

Yet at peace… strangely.  For I am ready.

I know that the spinning in place also helps the inner critic inside me to rise, causing me to over-think my current book as I prepare a presentation for my agent.  I find myself wanting to succumb to self-doubt.

And so I freeze, bite my nails down to the quick, feel exhausted.

Yet still at peace.  For I am ready.

And I am taking care to take care.  Reminding myself to stand in my successful self.  To remember to trust that magic.

Yes- to TRUST.

To just LIVE.

But it’s hard.  It is a weighty time.  Especially in the fall.  The anniversaries come quick this time of year- like Dad’s death October 25, my kitty October 29, Molly’s suicide November 6…

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My mother- today.

My mother. My God.  7 years ago- today.

So much to process there.  And that is certainly a large part of the personal exploration I am on.

I acknowledge the umbilical cord.

I adore my mom.  Miss my mom.  Fear my mom.  Love my mom.  Learned so much from my mom.

As I go further and further back into the past (more on that journey later), I am gathering clues and connecting the dots as to why I am who I am, made the choices I have made, found myself in certain situations, found myself powerless at times, why I am drawn to the therapeutic work I do, why I am drawn to researching crime, why I am drawn to my main character, Molly- why Molly chose me

So much of it all is intertwined in my relationship with my mom.

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Mom’s unfinished tapestry…
And so I’m spinning in place.

Yet at peace.  For I am ready.

And I feel it is key for me to try to UNDERSTAND all this– at least to acknowledge and explore, for that may, just maybe, make my spinning stop.

I am so much part of Molly’s story and to write it- I need to know why.

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I recall all of a sudden, a childhood dream!

I believe I may have been at age 5 or 6 (before moving to Canada). I know I was very young at the time.

In the dream, Mom and I walk along a gravel road in the middle of a large field. Large empty lots on either side. In the distance- mountains. The lots are empty, unkempt, and overgrown, with knee-high beige dry grass. We are on a single gravel road in the undeveloped giant field, and the road ends as a cul-de sac.  There are no buildings.  In fact, I don’t see any buildings anywhere.  It appears that the lots sit empty, but will be used some time in the future.  The centre of the cul-de-sac has a roundabout island, also overgrown with 6-foot tall grasses- some green.

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As the dream unfolds, the action loops- we sometimes walk along the right, counterclockwise around the cul-de-sac, or along the left, clockwise… the gravel road and our direction of walking points north.

As we walk around the roundabout island, I am holding my mom’s hand. I am about 5 years old.  I feel like I should be scared.  We continue to loop- walk down the road again, walk around the roundabout island.  I am still holding my mom’s hand.

Finally, we come across a rotting corpse. A human corpse.

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Photo: public domain
The events re-occur again and again. Looping. We walk, we walk, we come across the corpse.

The dream is recurring within the dream.

I am aware that it should be a nightmare, but somehow, it isn’t.  Instead, I am filled with curiosity- as long as I hold my mom’s hand.

The corpse shows decomposition, maybe several weeks old.  Teeth exposed.  I am not scared.  As long as I hold mom’s hand.  I crouch down and look closer…

Was that the first moment I heard the calling to investigate the silent voices of the dead?  To peel back the human psyche to search for clues between the lines, to not take any clue for granted?  Was the dream an awakening of the curiosity gene I inherited from my mom?

It was my first look into the dark side.

I am still on that path.  Spinning.

Dedicated to my mother Karin September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008 and my father Roar August 8, 1930 – October 25, 2012. And my sweet cat Violet who passed October 29, 2014.
Dedicated to my mother Karin September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008 and my father Roar August 8, 1930 – October 25, 2012. And my sweet cat Violet who passed October 29, 2014.

When grief is like a wave crashing on shore…

I attended an event last night at the Vancouver Public Library.

I am so glad I went alone, for not only could I soak in the event itself (as I am passionate about this case), but I could really sit in my personal grief.

This was the room I sat in with my Mom as we first listened to a lecture about the Babes in the Wood because of an article my Dad had given me from the Vancouver Sun.   
  

Mom and Dad- the two people who tirelessly worked with me, traveled with me across the Lower Mainland in search of clues, relished in talking history, mapping it out, tending grave sites and the scene in the park… Who could handle my endless chatter.  Who loved to hear about the latest unfolding and discovery.

Mom and Dad- who also shared my interest in the case covered by last night’s event, who shared deep concern for the women of the DTES and who came with me to the healing tent, who shared concern for the families, who helped me deliver art for fundraisers and who drove me to meetings with police officers and family members, who helped host events at schools, who came with me to the trial, who despaired at the failure of the system, who cut out articles and analyzed and discussed and inspired me to work with at-risk youth.

Cut to 12+ years later, and I am back in that room at the Central Branch.  And Mom and Dad are not here to share this profound event with me.

They are not here.

And so I feel it.

It starts in the toes and wells upward through the legs and spine. I swallow water as the wave lifts me upward, whiplashes and slaps me forward face down on the shore.

And I lie there, listening to the Bergmaneque soundtrack…

… realizing that somehow- I’m still alive.

Get up, wipe myself off.  Dry off in the sun.  Sit for awhile looking out over the amniotic sea in absolute gratitude for the memories and gifts Mom and Dad gave me.

Applause.

The event was amazing.

I walked home.

The maternal eyelids that buried will again open toward the heights…

 
Karin Thorsen

September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008

Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.

From Pablo Neruda, Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground

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Contemplating death, loss, hope, acceptance…

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Release
Leap of faith
Acceptance
Peace

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Honorary
Karin
Roar
Life rough on the seas

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Sacrifice
Mother father daughter love
Death
Release

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Hope
Promise
Defence
Loss

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Rose
Thorn
Thorsen
Memorial

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Cycle
Allowance
Honor
New beginnings

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Immortal
Bud
Blossom
Farewell

Dedicated to my mother Karin September 17, 1936 – November 8, 2008 and my father Roar August 8, 1930 – October 25, 2012. And my sweet cat Violet who passed October 29, 2014.

Grief hits me when I least suspect it, with a solitary evening walk…

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All of a sudden, all I want to do is organize mom’s closet, as she lies on the bed and chats with me, the parrot cuddling her hand, Tobey on the floor below, with Grey Gardens on in the background.

Grief hits me when I least suspect it, with a solitary evening walk, letting the dog meander where he wants, with that first drop of rain.  It hits me sideways and bores into my bad ear, and worms its way down to right below the sternum, to that place between the heart and the gut.  Then moves up through the trachea, into the sinuses then makes the neuralgia flare.  My eyes feel swollen and the tears want to come.  But they don’t.  Not yet.

I saved my mom’s dishrag.  It rests on my mantle like some kind of sacred heirloom.  That dishrag she’d rub obsessively over the counter if she was upset, or cleaned the birdcage with, Oprah on in the background, or washed a stain off my shirt as we got ready for the film fest.

But why just tonight, why now?  What is it about this moment that makes loss so palpable?  So intermingled with nostalgia and gratitude?

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A letter home. November 1, 1968

Recall the package of letters I received from my mom and dad’s friends in Sweden.  LINK

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Today I look at the first one… A letter from my mom to Rolf and Eivor dated November 1, 1968.  We moved from Sweden to Canada (the first time) October 31, 1968.  My mom was 32 at the time.

Leaving Sweden, October 1968
Leaving Sweden, October 1968 Mom (Karin), Anders (oldest), Baby Fredrik, Dad (Roar), Katarina (Nina)

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Some excerpts [approximate translation]:

Ah, so here we are.  Dang it is sad to not be able to run back and forth to drink coffee with you all day.  [Our two families lived next to each other on Råbäcksgatan in Grums, Sweden]  Alas, one has the habit instilled…  

We were at our new house today.  It’s beautifully situated below a mountain…

I bought a washer and dryer today as there is no basement…

The neighbor came over with coffee today and I guess she is my age (18)…  

Fredrik swears like a chimney sweep and Nina looks at me all worried and claims that Auntie Eivor taught him…

You’re coming on Saturday, right?  The trip went well and I wasn’t too scared, but God, I am tired.  We traveled for 24 hours…

 

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… Anders and Nina were allowed to visit the captain on the way to Amsterdam.  O’boy that was really something for Anders…

What do Ann-Christine and Niklas say?  Katarina speaks of them as if she will see them tomorrow.

The kids are starting school on Monday.  Nina played with a five year old today and Roar laughed because Nina asked her, “Can you hopping?” because they were going to jump rope.  

She makes up her own words, and it seems to work…

Oh, how I am going to miss home.  O’boy but you are coming next summer.  It’s so damn beautiful here and lots to see and do.   

Package of letters to Sweden by Mom and Dad since 1968, now in my hands

This morning I woke to my very old cat bravely climbing wobbly into my bed and cuddling.  I turned off the alarm clock to savour the moment and decided to change the way I approach the day.  I was going to dive right in to work.  But I decided instead to take it slow.  To allow my heart to beat gently and slower.  To allow myself to rest a bit and enjoy the quiet purr of my cat.  And to take time.  Let the morning unfold.  By letting it go, it all gets done.

A coffee, a bagel with PB and Jam…

A knock at the door.  I thought it was the pipers (who are refitting the whole building).  Instead it was the postman.  With a package from Sweden- from my mom and dad’s best friends, Eivor and Rolf.

A collection of letters.  Written by mom and dad to Eivor and Rolf since 1968 when we emigrated to Canada.  I am stunned.  Tears.  I am happy I opened up my time this AM to allow my heart to be fully present to this moment.

These are sacred documents and I will savour going through them.  And the package included the most beautiful letter to me from Rolf.  It could not have come at a more opportune time, as I take stock of what is important.

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Eivor, Rolf, Mom (Karin)

 

The darkness is not always there. But the mask slips at times. #journal

I’ve been trying to write a post for days.  And those that know me know that it’s unusual for me to have to pause in the process.  But I have become stuck.

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There’s a pain in the chest that reminds me to pay attention, to try to figure it out.  My journal- usually filled with clutter and profusion- has stopped.  There are only some scrawled words…

June 10 11 12/ 2013 

Darkness behind the smile

Turning away

The abyss

The mess

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I’ve wanted to write about the darkness behind my smiles.  The darkness is not always there.  But the mask slips at times.   I will be in situations at work or over dinner with family or friends and chirp and converse and dialogue and laugh, but as I say goodbye and I turn away, a darkness slips underneath me and I stand on the precipice and I crawl back to the car and my grey, threadbare worn-out clothes droop around me.  My ashen old face with its sunken eyes is unveiled.  I get back in the car and slump.

But I look over and see my dog looking at me with love in his eyes and I feel the simplicity of love heal me.  I can turn the key again and drive into my future- whatever lies ahead, however long or short it may be.

I suppose it’s fatigue.  It’s all the projects on the brink of success (“we just need to get there”); it’s the usuals.  But I know there has been something else to it.

Driving home today, my mind lingered on my mother.  At the red light, I grabbed my phone and searched YouTube for mom’s favorite song, Cohen’s Halleluja.

Ah- there we go.  The floodgates opened.  I played it about 8 times through before entering the garage and knew those words could be about her, could have been hers.  Could be mine to her.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

– Leonard Cohen

I could feel my mother’s angel wings envelop me and allow me to miss her.  For what daughter, so loved by mother [a mother I knew who lived with a broken and fragile soul but who loved me so completely] would not miss a mom like mine.  And it’s OK to miss her.  It’s OK.

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Mourning is not forgetting . . . It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the dust.

~ Margery Allingham

[source]

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“Leaving behind in autumn’s advent…” My father’s last tax filings.

I filed my father’s taxes and submitted his will.  All is done.  All is wrapped up regarding both my mother and father’s paperwork.  How very strange.

There was no probate as my father died with no savings, no life insurance, no assets… but I am left massively rich, with a full heart and peaceful soul.  Their memories contained in mine.

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Their boxes of files remain, and despite intermittent moments of self-doubt, I know I did the best I could.

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I have no unfinished business with mom and dad, though I miss, miss, MISS them.

As always, Neruda helps in the heaviest moments.

From Heights of Macchu Picchu: I

Pablo Neruda

From the air to the air, like an empty net,

I went wandering between the streets and the

atmosphere, arriving and saying goodbye,

leaving behind in autumn’s advent the coin extended 

from the leaves, and between Spring and the wheat,

that which the greatest love, as within a falling glove,

hands over to us like a large moon…

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I leaned my head into the deepest waves,

I sank through the sulfuric peace, 

and like a blind man, returned to the jasmine

of the exhausted human springtime.

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The umbilical cord. Mother-daughter journal series. PART 3: Because you are only a seed

AS I MOVE FORWARD INTO NEW CHAPTERS IN MY LIFE, I HAVE DECIDED THAT IT IS TIME TO FOCUS FULLY ON ME.

(Hello, me!

IT IS FINALLY TIME TO PROCESS MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MOTHER AND ALL THE DELICIOUS, SCARY, INTERESTING, HEART-WARMING, DEEEEEEEEP EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENTS, BLOCKAGES, PATTERNS ETC. THAT COME UP.

FULLY READY.  EXCITED.

THE UMBILICAL CORD

Recall PART 1: ACCEPTING THE TASK

Recall PART 2: IDENTIFY THE FIRST MILESTONE

PART 3: BECAUSE YOU ARE A ONLY SEED

Before I dig deeper into my journey as a daughter, I am pausing to draw inspiration from poetry and reflect on the potential we are all born with.

I start with the sketch.

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THEN FIND THE POEM.  I love how we can always find just the right one.

Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.

From Pablo Neruda, Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground

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The umbilical cord. Mother-daughter journal series. PART 2: IDENTIFY THE FIRST MILESTONE

AS I MOVE FORWARD INTO NEW CHAPTERS IN MY LIFE, I HAVE DECIDED THAT IT IS TIME TO FOCUS FULLY ON ME.

(Hello, me!

IT IS FINALLY TIME TO PROCESS MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MOTHER AND ALL THE DELICIOUS, SCARY, INTERESTING, HEART-WARMING, DEEEEEEEEP EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENTS, BLOCKAGES, PATTERNS ETC. THAT COME UP.

FULLY READY.  EXCITED.

THE UMBILICAL CORD

Recall PART 1: ACCEPTING THE TASK

PART 2: IDENTIFY THE FIRST MILESTONE

Draw (or photocopy) a baby in the womb.  Write stream of consciousness in the nooks and crannies on the image focusing on the theme of the first indication in your life where attachment issues, blockages, patterns etc. may have begun.

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My journal entry January 20, 2013 (stream of consciousness):

When I was born I lay between my mother’s legs in the same position she was in.  Legs spread ready to give birth.  I mirrored her and our connection begun in “wound” deepened  [interestingly I wrote wound when I meant to write “womb”].  I was her daughter.  She was the mother and all was as it should.

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Age 1. Watercolor.

My brother was 4 years older and I’m not sure how he felt about my arrival but I am hoping he enjoyed it.

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I was extremely colicky- born with my infamous stomachaches.  For three solid weeks I cried with no response to reassurances or backpats.  I wonder if this affected my bonds or not.  I know my mom loved being a mom and that, with the support of  best friends, she did perfectly.  She was surrounded by the love of her friends.  And she had her mother (and her mother’s siblings).  It was a typical 60’s childhood in Sweden.  Blissful and traditional.

My mother experienced intense sadness though when she lost her mom suddenly in 1964.  I was two.  Mom was only 28.  I can’t imagine.  This was a huge turning point for mom’s confidence.  Her needs for healing and connections were not filled by my Dad.  Certainly all her girlfriends were there for her.  This saved her life.

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Lt. to rt.: My mom (Karin), Anneli, Ulla-Britt, Eivor

But I can’t imagine the internal pain Mom was experiencing.

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The death of Stina (my grandmother) was the turnaround for mom.  Dad pulled away from her when she needed him.  He was not capable to support those needs.  Mom agreed to move to Canada shortly after my little brother was born.

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She did not want to move.  But she did want to escape the pain.  The family became the rooted oasis she needed.

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A woman’s heroic journey always begins in partnership with her mother, the woman from whom she takes the imprint of what it means to be a woman.  Her journey picks up speed when she leaves the comfort of the womb and goes through the process of birth.  From then on, she must travel through a series of developmental stages that can be likened to a series of wombs.

– Dr. Christiane Northrup, Mother-Daughter Wisdom

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The umbilical cord. Mother-daughter journal series. PART 1: Accepting the task.

AS I MOVE FORWARD INTO NEW CHAPTERS IN MY LIFE, I HAVE DECIDED THAT IT IS TIME TO FOCUS FULLY ON ME.

(Hello, me!

IT IS FINALLY TIME TO PROCESS MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MOTHER AND ALL THE DELICIOUS, SCARY, INTERESTING, HEART-WARMING, DEEEEEEEEP EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENTS, BLOCKAGES, PATTERNS ETC. THAT COME UP.

FULLY READY.  EXCITED.

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My mother was extremely private. She wore a mask of perfection and medicated away her anxieties, but she longed for disclosure and process and the joy of self-discovery.  I am not private.  So I will share the ride with you and perhaps this will encourage you to take your own journaling path through the blockages that repeatedly come up in your life.  And in this way, I take my mother along for the ride with us.

Every woman who heals herself helps heal all the women who came before her and all those who will come after her.

– Christiane Northrup, MD

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THE UMBILICAL CORD

PART 1: ACCEPTING THE TASK

Write for 20 minutes (stream of consciousness) around the theme.

Try not to censor or edit yourself or hesitate when moving the pen across the paper.

My journal entry January 18, 2013:

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As I find myself in low places again, struggling with self-esteem issues and blaming myself when circumstances become complicated and unbearable, I know it is time to address the most complicated and intertwined relationship in my life, my relationship with my mother.

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My mother was an integral part of researching Molly, and indeed the book is dedicated to her.   The book itself centres around the theme of “the mother,” so it is an appropriate (and necessary) time for me to address the theme in my own life.  Drawn Together was a father-daughter story and in it I only touch on my mother.

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But I have longed to fully work on the aspects in my life that block me, drive me, make me spectacular, make me weak, fearful, small, make me the mother that I am.  Make me judge myself, make me follow my passions.  Address our commonalities and differences,  Work through the repeated patterns.  Break them, embrace them, celebrate them, make new ones.

Figurine by mom's best friend, Johanna Vermeer.
Figurine by mom’s best friend, Johanna Vermeer.

It is appropriate that I use this journal, which is also my Molly journal.  Only by addressing and healing my issues re: my mother can I authentically tell Molly’s story.

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