A Strange Wilderness, Grief

My Mother passed away On December 3, 2010.
A graveside memorial service was held today in Sunset Memorial Park, in Chester VA. at 11 am in the bitter cold (29 degrees).
I decided to deliver the eulogy myself.
I felt that to speak of Mama’s life authentically, I would need to speak about her pain. So I spoke candidly.
Eulogy for Ruth McLeod Harvey
by Mark Christopher Harvey
I don’t know how to talk about Mama’s life without talking about her pain, because it so dominated her life.
Most of you who knew Mama may remember her as distant or worse, exceedingly difficult.
She suffered inconceivably in her own mind.
She struggled to make and sustain connections with other people, to go and do things that most people do and enjoy with no effort. but she became isolated from those joys in recent decades in almost every way. It was heartbreaking for me and Daddy to see her suffer and not be able to do much of anything to ease it.
I’m convinced she suffered from an undiagnosed condition known as a Borderline Personality Disorder.
BPD causes one to become so convinced that others are about to hurt or abandon them that they are compelled to behave in ways which, paradoxically, are provocative and alienating.
She never wanted to do any harm. She fought so hard against it her whole life.
Fear drove all her behavior, and eventually it drove everyone away, though she did not intend that. She didn’t understand it, and that hurt her even further.
One exception to this is Tina, who so wisely stepped in just ahead of disaster so many times in this year. She comforted mama in ways I could not and devoted endless hours to her care and to my assistance.
It was in the Hospital on Mama’s last day, when she was far from coherent, during or after a hug from Tina that Mama finally let go of her suffering. It gives me incredible comfort to know her last experience of life was a loving embrace.
Thank you Tina, for your love and support.
Almost everyone who knows me knows that I have spent most of my life agonizing over how to understand Mama’s pain and trying to find a way to ease her suffering and her disappoint in life. It was nearly an impossible task.
I always knew a time would come when I would have to come and take care of her. and honestly I dreaded it, because I wasn’t sure I could manage it, but it has been a truly transformative experience, beyond anything I could have imagined.
The english poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in his play “Prometheus Unbound” on the transformative nature of pain and I want to share a few lines of his that I thought spoke to this experience especially:
“To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy power which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates From its own wreck
the thing it contemplates”
and until Daddy became ill and I came to take care of her I indeed felt wrecked and hopeless to understand or really help her, but in the doing of it, in all the tedious little daily tasks that all changed, miraculously.
I know she appreciated what I was doing, and once I was here I was so glad to be doing it. It wasn’t easy, but so very worth the effort.
I understand now that caring for someone who is ill, and bereavement itself is an integral part of the experience of love.
I am humbled and deeply thankful for this time with her. Already, I miss her terribly.
I can truthfully say it has been the best, most fulfilling experience of my life.
I wish everyone could remember her not for her suffering or her behavior, but for her profound love for daddy and I, and for her years of dedicated homemaking (Homemaking is such an under appreciated effort in our society) and for her utterly selfless devotion to that ideal, even after she became too ill to practice it. She did the best she could with what she had.
She often choose suffering out of fear and that familiarity with fear in a perverse way actually sustained her in ways no amount of love or effort could touch.
Faced with such a situation, all we can do is accept and be in awe of the burden that some are brought to bear in this life.
Despite her suffering, she had a deep faith, and despite her continued suffering was assured in God and Jesus for support.
All we can do sometimes is accept and be there for someone, to try to ease others suffering and to treasure the time we have with one another, whether it be easy or difficult because in the end it is so very brief, and in the end sharing love is what matters most.
Unfortunately much of this didn’t become clear until it was too late for me to share with her, so I wanted to share what I learned from her with you all in loving tribute.

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