It is Mother’s Day weekend. My mother passed away not too long ago, so this weekend is bittersweet. I am remembering my mother, of course, with love. She is in my heart. My first experience with losing a parent. This week, my daughter was informed that her father had passed away unexpectedly and she was the one who had to inform me of this news. As a mother, my heart breaks for my daughter. As someone I loved deeply, my heart is also saddened because the love that we shared, lives on in my daughter. Having made our amends, we had remained friends and shared in the joys of being grandparents. We are told death is part of life that the people who pass are happier and no longer suffer. This is supposed to help us feel better. It seems that sadness and all that goes along with grieving the loss of a loved one is supposed to go away because this is life and they are in a better place.
Today would have been his 45th birthday. He was very young to have passed away. Of course, that is my belief. We are “supposed to” live a certain minimum time, otherwise, I do not understand. Life is funny. I see there are no rules. Nothing is guaranteed and there is no threshold with respect to the number of years we have. I have so many feelings that are all welled up inside. As they come up, I find myself dissecting them as either appropriate, inappropriate, questioning whether these thoughts and feelings serve me. I think this is indicative of desperately wanting to be in control and to feel the way I am “supposed to”. Then I question: Who decides what is “supposed to” be appropriate and correct?
On another note I am so touched by his family in Portugal who have been son kind and keeping in touch with Jade and myself. Ironically we are now keeping in touch after all these years. My mother had such grace and love and I am hoping I learned from her to apply to this situation. It appears we learn a lot from people, and usually in hindsight, or too late to be able to apply the lesson learned with the people who taught us the lesson.
Crazy stupid love
Our relationship was complicated. I have heard the best ones usually are. I do not know that for certain. However, as I reflect on our past I remember the good times, the more difficult times and the gift that is our daughter. We were so young when we met. I was getting over a heartbreak. I had been in love with an older man, my teacher in college. When I met Natalino, I was with a friend at a bar. I sitting at the bar, and he appeared from the door at the top of the stairs. He lowered his sunglasses and our eyes met. He had the most beautiful eyes, contagious smile and laugh. He kept that until the day he passed. That evening he bought me a rose after playing a round of pool, where he cleared the table in one turn. We were together pretty much all the time after that. However, I was rebounding, he had a jealous streak, we both had anger in us and coupled with chemistry and passion, was a lot of fighting. He called me cold, I called him controlling. But were crazy about each other, loved going to the “Mountain” we loved the outdoors, we loved each other but we could also hate each other. There is a fine line between love and hate. When he broke up with me, I felt lost, abandoned and devastated. I did not deal with it well. I did everything I could to get him back. He was the love of my life then.
After a couple of years, we did reunite and not long after, I got pregnant. It was a surprise. He was overjoyed and even though we were young, unprepared, no education or career to speak of, I knew I was going to keep this baby. Our daughter Jade. My mother was so supportive. Those were the best times. He was a really good dad. One of my favorite memories is when he was being a clown, dancing and making funny faces while we were changing her. It was the first time she belly laughed. A real heartfelt laugh out loud baby laugh. I still hear her laugh, I still see his clown act. I will never forget. His aunt, a wonderful woman with great energy and a kind soul would take care of Jade when we worked. She has children too, they were amazing. All was well with our little family, except the moments when things were not.
Things happen in life, we make choices and we ended up separating when Jade was 3 years old. He moved out, and I would bring Jade to her dad’s every weekend. She adored him. By all accounts, from his aunt, he was the happiest on weekends when he was with Jade.
Then, mistakes caught up to us and he went away for a while. Consequences of bad decisions. I moved on with my life and did what I could to take care of Jade. He did what he had to do as well to get his life back in order.
He did exactly that. He became a counsellor at Portage, a drug rehabilitation centre and became a guidance counsellor to younger adults and teens. He dedicated his life to that. He did not brag about what he had succeeded in doing or how many people he helped. In fact, much of him remains a mystery to me, even today. Upon having to announce his passing to family and friends, I discovered many, many people telling me how he had saved their life. How much he helped and inspired people. How he had given so much of his time to guide young souls who are now happy healthy functioning adults today. These are the things not everyone knows. These are the things I could not allow myself to believe. You see I had visited him in Portage with Jade while he was there, and I was full of judgement and refused to believe he could be well again. I found it easier to keep the anger and resentment, than to forgive because it had taken me so long to put him out of my heart that I did not want to allow anything to crack that wall. I desperately wanted to feel indifference and worked very hard at getting there. Lesson learned – judgement – don, t judge a man by his past, appearance, or how about do not judge another at all?
Life goes on
I was a hypocrite, I had my issues with substances too but felt I was functional responsible, having raised my daughter gone back to school and made a career for myself and Jade. Denial, is not just a river in Egypt.
I remember a time in 2005, when I was engaged to be married and he reached out to us. That had me spiralling. You see, the truth was, it affected me. Here I was about to be married and one phone call from him and I was upside down. I only ever told one person, my best friend at the time. She advised me to really think about getting married if this is how I felt. I blamed it on the alcohol that I had consumed at my bachelorette party and denied I felt anything at all. I was determined to get married and provide a stable family life for my daughter. I got married in 2005 and was separated in 2009.
Forgiveness and love
When I decided to clean up my act in 2011, I reached out to him to make amends for my part in our past. He was generous and forgave me. He even helped me with books, guidance and an ear to listen. I really wanted him and Jade to reconnect and that happened. She had always adored her dad and I knew he adored her, but where there is guilt, there is difficulty letting it go. I think that is why he kept his distance from us during those years when he was getting his life back and making such a huge difference in those lives he touched. Jade knows that and so do I, now.
In the last few years, they talked and saw each other. He attended her birthday party, we went to a New Year’s Eve party together and he spent some time with his grandson Aidan. Aidan loved him immediately. He never really talked about his health issues. He lost a leg due to DVT and then more recently lost the second one. He was always so upbeat and optimistic when we saw him. I thought how brave and strong he was. I wondered how he could go through that. He kept that to himself. When he would share just enough information to explain why he was away for long periods of time, he would always say not to worry, that he would be fine. He even said he understood how busy we were and not to go see him. There is my regret. He would say not to bother. Well I regret and feel guilt about that.
More recently his health issues were severe and he spent some time in intensive care due to unknown infections of the skin. One phone call I remember is he said how sorry he was about everything that happened. I just sat there and wondered why, because I thought we had put that in the past and made peace. I told him I bore no ill will or harboured no resentment about any of it. I told him we were good, all was well with us. The past was the past. Done. He thanked me. In my opinion, he never truly forgave himself for certain things and guilt can really harm a person. It is one thing to become aware of a mistake and try to change it. But it is quite another to have changed for the better and still hold on to that guilt. He would often tell me he loved me, but I always figured it was out of respect as the mother of his child. I could not allow myself to believe or feel different. Therefore I could not say it back out loud. That is the last time we spoke. Recently he did post some pictures if himself after being released from intensive care – Ho quoted “life is not a struggle it’s a process” and said even after going through all that he had, he would keep smiling. A man who had lost both legs and had skin grafts.
That is character. That is strength. That is hope. That is spirit. That is embracing life. That is love. That is a man. I am humbled.
In loving memory
It is therapeutic for me to selfishly write a memoir about Jade’s father. I want to put something out there that reveals that while he was a private person, he was passionate for life and so optimistic. How much he helped other and never spoke about it. I choose to recall the love we shared, the laughs, the talks, the passion, the joy, the wonderful father he was to Jade when given the chance, by himself and by us. I want that to be his memory. He is proof that your past does not define you. He did succeed in learning and growing from his mistakes. I want to do him justice and refuse to allow people to remember him based on how he was when he was in his early twenties. Nobody is perfect. I certainly had my flaws. He was not the same man. Hell no. He was a grown, mature, kind and gentle spirit but so strong. He not only got his life together. He did more than that, he gave back. He gave time and energy and hope and required nothing in return. Nothing. He never asked for anything. He never spoke of himself. He was a strong man, an optimistic, kind, loving, brave man. This is what I want to leave as his legacy. His generous loving spirit. He taught people about faith and helped people reconnect to their spirit. There is no price for that. These are priceless gifts he gave people. You cannot buy that. That is who Natalino Duarte truly was. Any outward appearance to the contrary is but an illusion. I want to thank the people who have reached out and told us of how much Natalino meant to them, even the man from the online chess club, who never met him in person but told me there were hundreds of people online who were inspired by him. He was hoping to come to Montreal one day to meet him. More revelations that I was not aware of. I hope Jade can see now how much he did love her. In his own way.
I like to imagine that he is with my mom because she always saw the best in him. He respected and loved her too. I hope they have connected wherever they are and are watching over Jade, Aidan and William. He never got to meet William but he surely sees him now. That is what I like to believe. Hopefully he will find a way to help sooth Jade’s grief and maybe she will find some peace in talking with him. I am sure he can hear. He believed in the afterlife. I imagine that he can “speak” to her now. He lives on through Jade, Aidan and William. As does my mother. I will keep that in mind this weekend. I will go visit my mother’s urn and leave her a Mother’s Day gift. Today, I will help Jade plan her father’s funeral. On her father’s birthday. I hope to be able to be the mother Jade needs me to be. It is mother’s day weekend after all and she is one beautiful, loving, and inspiring mom. She deserves to be happy. She is my heart and I know hers is breaking. I hope I can help her fix it. I will do my best to channel all the good that was my mother.
This is the circle of life. My uncle gave me this piece of advice when my mom passed away. I need that now. I need to be able to help my daughter. I heard once that when we agreed to come here, we knew this would be the case. Just once we get here, we seem to forget that. It is part of being human I suppose. The thrill of life, inevitably ends with death. Lesson learned- enjoy life while you can; tomorrow is not guaranteed.
I believe that guilt can kill someone and we need to be aware but not beat up on ourselves so much for our past mistakes. We all do the best we can with what we know at the time. Feel the love, accept the fearful feelings but challenge them with love. Break down the walls and set up healthy boundaries. Believe we are good enough. It is okay to be okay with who we are. Let go of resentment and judgement.And most of all just love. I will do my best to practice these lessons in my life.
On that note, I wish all the mom’s out there Happy Mother’s day, whether you are a biological, adoptive or step mom. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend filled with love, peace, hope, serenity and joy. Happy Mother’s Day Jade and mommy. I love you.