This is the short essay I wrote and then read at the memorial gathering we had for my mother:
Ellen Mary Irving Kiernan, 1928 to 2014. My mother. Her name means light and she was an incredible light to our small family and to the people she met and touched. She was an exceptionally bright woman all the way through from her childhood to her old age. That innate intelligence shown brightly in her keen curiosity in the world around her. She watched, she listened, she read and reflected, she talked and she created. She was a vibrant woman, an honest woman, a good woman. I am so proud of her.
She grew up as a child during the Great Depression in New York City in the Bronx. Her family was small, just her mother, father and brother and like so many others of the time, they did not have much money. She wore home made clothing made by her mother, but longed for fine store bought clothes and shoes. When she was a bit older and she went to work, she saved her money to do just that. In this way, she followed her father, who also had fine taste in good quality clothing.
But her focus as a child and young adult was not clothing so much as school. She excelled at her school work and was a hard act to follow for her younger brother, Bob, though he, too, was very, very bright. Their parents were good about taking advantage of all that the great city of New York had to offer. They went to museums and parks and beaches. Mom and her brother soaked it all up. By the time my mother was five years old she progressed from a serious envy of her cute little brother that her mother adored to becoming his friend and protector. They loved to read, listen to music and play outside and as they grew up together they bonded as a team and stood up from time to time to their parents, especially their father, who could be unjustly critical and tough.
Her father died when she was in her mid 40s and when I was 12 years old. I didn’t get the chance to know him as a young adult and my mother was mostly unwilling to talk about her relationship with him growing up. Whatever unresolved conflict she had with her father, she always maintained that he was a hardworking, responsible man who loved his wife. Still, it was obvious to me that he left his mark on Mom and helped to cultivate some core aspects of her personality. Whatever critical attitudes he took with his daughter, it was clear that he was very proud of her intelligence and skill. It is because he prodded and challenged her to excel at her school work that she worked even harder. She learned to assert her point of view in an honest, direct and intelligent way and came to value her mind and her unique spirit. Most likely she suffered because, like any young person, she needed love and kindness from her father more than criticism, but she endured and she got stronger.
It is my feeling that my mother was at her happiest living here at Cypress Cove in the last 15 years. She no longer had the responsibility of caring for her children or her mother and my father’s mother and so she was free to live in a way that was most comfortable for her. The pace of her life was relaxed and she bonded more closely with my father. Her favorite spot in their apartment was looking out the windows of the living room. She loved the view looking out over the water and watching the wide array of birds with her binoculars. She also loved all her thriving house plants and never failed to take care of them. In my mind’s eye I still see her reading, writing, singing, talking to others with such a cheerful attitude and walking the grounds. She had this uplifting energy about her that was motivated by a keen curiosity and an innate kindness towards others. She never failed to do her part to help out.
She taught me from childhood to be very honest, polite and tolerant of others. I think I valued her direct, intelligent honesty most of all. She did not lie; she did not manipulate me. She always stated her opinion and perspective plainly and she continued to be respectful of me even when she disagreed with me. And when I made poor choices and got into trouble, she was there for me, as was my father, and provided a safe haven for me to stay in when I needed it. She was not just my mother, she was my friend. But it was this strict adherence to honesty that came to define me and my personality as well. She passed on this ability to have the courage to be honest with myself and others and that has saved me on numerous occasions and has given me a foundation of joy from which to work.
My mother was an atheist, as is her brother Bob and my father, but I am not. I’m the only one in our family who believes that there is some kind of higher power or higher order that is involved with the life on this planet. I truly believe that my mother’s spirit continues in some way and that she is just continuing on her journey somewhere out of my reach. I will miss her and I will never forget her. I feel truly blessed by the time we spent together. May you be well Mom. May you find happiness and the root of happiness.
A Recovery Blog
This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.