Anyone who has known me for longer than a minute knows my mother gave me one of her kidneys in 1988. When I was 19 years old, my kidneys were functioning at 3% and my life had been reduced to every-other-day cleaning of my bloodstream and the occasional bite of Mummy’s homemade macaroni and cheese.
Mum punctuated our childhood with homemade sweaters, vegetable gardens sporting rhubarb and chives, and Friday Night Candy Night. In 1980, only a year out from losing our father, she took my brother and I to see ABBA play Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens! Their music became the “Post-Daddy" soundtrack for our wee family of 3. We often danced around our High Park apartment to the Swedish synth-pop group's groove. Like rays of sunlight, their infectious hooks dispersed the clouds and brought home harmonic joy. Mum even encouraged me to write ABBA a letter explaining how I felt “Rock Me” was much too heavy a sound for their repertoire. (I wish I were kidding.)
Like many mothers and daughters before us, our relationship has not been free and clear of obstacles. We tripped over the twigs of teenage angst. Endlessly dodged the boulders of illness. Navigated a decade of literal ocean-spanning heartache. Then what seemed an insurmountable mountain of misunderstanding arose, barricading us from each other. For years, I rose and fell, a tornado without end. A storm only lasts for so long before people start running for the hills. Even your mother.
Although it had been years since we had spent much time together, last January she flew to Los Angeles from Saskatoon for a visit. I’m sure she had no idea what she would find. But she flew into the eye of the storm anyway, hoping the tornado had long since blown away.
If you have known me for longer than a week, you know that I will be 4 years clean and sober in July. Last year, Mum came with me to 3 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. In one of those meetings, I shared 10 minutes of my “story.” When I dared glance over, her head was down, but she was listening. To how her daughter drank on the kidney her son-in-law had given her. She did not leave. In fact, when I sat down beside her, she told me what a great job I had done. In that moment, I have never loved her more.
On her last night in Los Angeles, on the 28th anniversary of our transplant, we went to see ABBA’s monster hit, “Mamma Mia!” at The Pantages. Perhaps it was fitting that I get a cold on our anniversary (or, quite frankly, a giant pain in my immunosuppressed ass). My nose was running, my limbs were aching, even as my feet were dancing. Mum reached to put her arm around me, tucked her shawl around my legs, and instructed me to lean into her.
“There. Is that comfortable?”
It was. I stayed there for the entire show. As the cast shimmied their way across the stage to the Swedish quartet’s timeless disco beat, I sank against my 100% Danish Mummy’s shoulder and succumbed. Dribbling and shivering, I was the happiest I had been in years. I was 10 again. We were dancing around our High Park apartment. Healthy. Happy. Safe.
Even in the cold shadow of that mountain, I never stopped missing you, Mum. I am always missing you. Always loving you. The mountain has to be part of our story, but it will not be the final chapter.
I have plotted out the next chapter to look something like this:
This summer, Henriette will fly due north to Saskatoon to visit Mum. Together, they will take a road trip to Winnipeg to see said son-in-law perform in—you guessed it—“Mamma Mia!” Along that drive, 10-year old Henriette will lay her head on Mummy’s shoulder and they will sing along to ABBA.
Skies will be clear. The tornado has long since passed.