Monday, February 11, 2008

The Masks We Wear...

My mother died 11 years ago today after suffering a massive aneurysm while fixing breakfast. I just happened to be "home" for this event, having flown from Seattle to Nebraska to assist her in transferring EP (my father) to a nursing home. I am always reminded of her on this day, just as I pause to reflect upon her life on her birthday.


Sometime in the early 1990's before her death, I traveled "home" again for a brief visit. I was, at the time, doing bodywork/massage/therapy in my private practice while still working on call as a nursing supervisor. I was also involved in a women's spirituality group and sat on a board of directors that produced women's festivals and gatherings. And, in my spare time, (which there was little of!) I also led a women's body awareness workshop weekly. Although sounding as if I were constantly on the go (and basically, I WAS!), my life was very rewarding and fulfilling...doing many of the things I most enjoy.

One of the various group projects I engaged my clients in was the making of plaster cast face masks. Purchasing multiple rolls of actual CASTING MATERIAL (the old fashion kind the doctor USED to put on broken bones...and I still have an entire BOX of this stuff in storage...sigh...), my "group-ees" would carefully construct plaster face casts of each other and then decorate them in a theme that would demonstrate "who" was behind the mask...it was a wonderful, messy project that everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy. We would then hold *circle* and each client would be given the time to explain their decoration(s) and the meaning BEHIND the mask. I even had one of my clients lay the casting over MY face so I could also produce my "mask":
In my travel back "home" to visit my mother during this *era* of my life, I decided I wanted to cast HER face...something deep inside me compelled me to this endeavor. But I knew my mother, being the stoic, Germanic character she was, would probably not "readily" jump on this idea...as a matter of fact, I could pretty much bet she would loudly decline and declare the idea as just another one of "her feminist crazy daughter's notions". I had to use *something* that I knew she couldn't resist...so I chose my orphaned nephew!


My eldest sister had died in a car accident about 7 years earlier and my mother was practically raising my sister's two boys...grandsons she adored and would go to the ends of the earth to provide for. I convinced my youngest nephew, Tom, to "ask grandma" to comply with my request...and, as predicted, my mother agreed...grumbling, but agreeable. LOL


Tom and I laid my mother on the floor face up and began to carefully place the strips of plaster over her face...gently and delicately. I remember thinking this was one of the few times I had ever TOUCHED my mother's face as an adult...we were not a "touchy" family (and I now remember lovingly and gently washing her face and hands while she lay unconscious on a ventilator just before shutting down the machines). To this day, I still recall my mother relaxing into the moment and almost falling asleep during the process...it was a snap shot in time that I treasure.
I took the mask back to Houston with me on the plane and did complete the smoothing plaster process with the intent of eventually sending the casting to my nephew when he was older...after all, it was only his tiny, lispy voice that persuaded my mother to participate in the first place! I thought he would one day possibly feel the same connection I had felt to his grandmother/my mother during the process of making the mask. I even *intended* to decorate the mask before sending it to him.



Nearly 15 years have passed since I cast my mother's face that warm August evening. I still have the mask...it has been sealed away in *Pandora's Box* (see previous posts) all these years. It has only been since opening *Pandora's Box* this past month that I rediscovered it...tucked safely away next to the mask of my face. I have taken it out of the trunk and held it...I've tried it on my face...it doesn't fit (oddly, the plaster casting of MY face still fits...even WITH my now fat, chipmunk cheeks!). I have stared at it and also gazed at old photos of my mother this past week trying to *find* the person behind the mask.


My mother wore many masks during her short time on this earth...we ALL do. It is a strangely unique experience to hold her "face" in my hands, knowing I am only holding a smooth, chunk of plaster...yet knowing my mother's face was behind it.


Maybe now I am ready to *decorate* her mask...to give it depth and color and meaning. As I remember her today, I am acutely aware how much her *mask* has softened over the years...how the darker colors I once thought belonged to her have brightened...how lines have smoothed and blended...how unique the shape of her face was and how truly one-of-a-kind her *mask* remains.

24 comments:

Sara said...

When I was growing up we made similar masks when learning about other cultures, we did not however make them nearly as nicely as yours.

Can't wait to see how you decorate it - do you think you'll still send it to your nephew or will you keep it?

thepowerguides said...

hiya linda

wonder if you could pop by
http://blindbeardsmsblog.blogspot.com/

suspect they need some of the support you and some of the other MS bloggers can give better than anyone

Sorry If I chose you but it's because you are a great person to act as the catylist for new MS sufferers

steve

mdmhvonpa said...

Seems to me, her mask IS complete. Uniform, unbroken, pure.

harkoo said...

How reassuring to feel the form of your mother's face when you touch her mask. I hope we get to see the mask when you paint it. You made me reflect today about my own mom who died years ago and I thank you for that.

Blinders Off said...

My family was not a touching family and I use to think my mother favored my siblings over me. Although, I felt that way I knew deep down she loved me. Being a middle child has its problems.

I made it a point to hug my daughters regularly and tell them I love them. Something I always wish I could do with my mother.

Several years ago, my mother gave me a birthday card titled, "Happy Birthday My Brown Eye Daughter". I treasure that card to this day; it explained how my mother felt about me.

Your post helped me to become conscious I need to hug my mother tight when I see her and tell her I love her when I end our telephone conversations.

Thank You

ps

The mask is beautiful the way it is

Diane J Standiford said...

Today is your mother's birthday? What a treasure--the mask. Your post inspired me to open up a Pandora's file drawer today.

Michelle said...

((((Hugs)))) for you as you celebrate and remember your mother. Thank you for sharing such a loving personal story.

Michelle
Stay inspired!
Expand your mind ~ visit Brain Angles

Becky said...

a friend of mine just had a mask made so she can have radiation...and I just read that in her blog...strange

Merelyme said...

this is one of the most touching posts i have read...in a long time. wow. that must be something to take the mask out...touch it...feel her with you. you are a very gifted writer. i often think about some of your posts long after you write them. this is definitely one of these posts. thank you for sharing your special memories with us.

Callie said...

Wow, moving post. I lost my Mom in '99 to a drunk driver, long story. How lucky you are to have been able to cast her face and have it all these years later.

Bubbie said...

An eloquent and touching story Ms.Cheese.
Sorry, but I am in the middle of a fantasy of smearing plaster over my mother's face. Ooops, you need straws for the nostrils don't ya?

BRAINCHEESE said...

SARA:

I have a tentative "plan" to take some of the black and white photos I have of my mother, decoupage them on the mold, then hang it on one of my walls...so no...I really DON'T intend to send it to my nephew! LOL He can have it after I croak...

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

THEPOWERGUIDES/STEVE:

Thanks for the heads up/tip about BlindBeard's site...went there today and left a comment and it looks like others have, too. We're just one, big MS family...

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

MDMHVONPA:

Wise man...

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

HARKOO:

Yep, on a whim, I was able to save something very powerful...thank goodness I rarely listen to "reason"!

I know your mother died with MS...thinking of HER, too.

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

BLINDERS OFF:

Never put off today what you may regret tomorrow...I think my grandmother said that!

Hug the hell outta those kids...

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

DIANE:

My mother actually died today/yesterday...B-day is in September. Hope your Pandora drawer was a pleasant experience!

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

MICHELLE:

Thank you...your support is a treasure.

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

BECKY:

So sorry to hear about your friend! I hope her "mask" wears well during this difficult time...

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

MERELYME:

And are you! I tend to read many blogs and unfortunately have less time to comment...yours is one I DO read and ponder. Which is a gift...

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

CALLIE:

Would LOVE to send you the 20 pounds of casting material I still have in my fateful storage so YOU and YOUR DAUGHTER could do the same?!? OK...I'm really just trying to pawn off my crap here...sigh...LOL

LD

BRAINCHEESE said...

BUBBIE:

There was a time when I, too, might have considered "plastering" my mother's face WITHOUT nostril straws! LOL I suppose death and time has lessened that desire greatly... :-)

LD

Zee said...

Great post Linda, thanks for sharing this with us.

Have myelin? said...

This is a lovely post. I can't say more than that....

I like it the way it is.

Undecorated, understated, and simple. It looks completed.