Loss and Refuge: A Mother's Day Reflection
Rosie Dillon is a Haverford House Fellow who works with Project HOME's Employment Services program.
My mom was my home. She was my roots, my role model, my protector, my friend. She was the bearer of truly unconditional love in my life. When I lost my mom seven months ago, I was set adrift in the world with nothing to anchor me. I came back to work at Project HOME because I didn’t know what else to do, and because I knew that my mom had been proud of the life I was embarking on.
At first, I just muddled through. Sometimes I cried in stairwells or bathrooms. Often I was numb. Then someone pointed out to me that if you cry at Project HOME, if you are having a rough day, if your gratitude at the Thanksgiving Day service is tempered by sorrow—people will understand, and you won’t be alone. Over time, I came to need my work, and not just for income or to fill my time. We all know the rhetoric of recovery, but what I found was more than that.
A woman known to our community as “the maestro” played me Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, a song my mom had chosen for her memorial service. One woman told me: “I stopped drinking so that I would never have to go back to A.A. and hear all those people talk about how blessed they are.” Her irreverent sense of humor in hard times reminded me of my mom’s attitude toward her breast cancer support group, and really, toward life in general.
My first trip to a hospital after my mom’s passing was to visit a Project HOME resident. It was awful to be inside hospital walls and to see someone once full of life so diminished. But I remembered that she had found me crying in my office one day and comforted me. A woman about my age told me that the piece of myself that I lost will not be replaced, that the hole will never be filled. What a relief to know that I did not have to try to be healed.
Their resilience taught me, not that there would be an end to my sadness, but that there would be more to my life than sadness. The strength of others, starting with my mom, was the only proof I had that humans could survive and surpass terrible things. James Baldwin wrote: "You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
The people that I met at Project HOME—not just those who live there, but everyone—became my connection with all the people who had ever been alive and, by extension, had ever experienced heartbreak. Of course, not all are equally put upon by pain. The inequalities of circumstance are obvious. It is easy to say that we cannot understand or share each others’ struggles, that our lives are just too different. This is why it is truly visionary to understand that, in Sister Mary’s words, “We can no longer pass by and piously say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ – but rather ‘There go I.’ ”
I found in this understanding a home that encompasses but transcends both my mother and the Project HOME community. Because we are interconnected, the refuge that I have given and received and the human connections that I have made remain, no matter what tomorrow brings.