Eleanor Vincent is the author of Swimming With Maya; A Mother’s Story, a memoir that has been described as "heartbreaking and heart-healing." In today's guest post, as well as in her book, "Eleanor Vincent shares an inspiring true story of courage, creativity, faith, and sheer tenacity as she seeks to find balance after unthinkable tragedy."
Motherhood Then and Now
When I study my 22-month-old daughter on the cover of my book, I remember a hot July afternoon in Minneapolis. Maya is wading in Cedar Lake, little wavelets lapping at her ankles. She’s about to call “Mommy! Look at me!”
Moments after the picture was taken, she ran to me and hurled herself against my shoulders, throwing her arms around my neck. I have that picture too – me turning my head to look over my shoulder, smiling, and Maya, grinning back at me like a jack-o-lantern.
In Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story I relive my time as a mother. That is one of the great joys of writing – and motherhood – remembering and retelling the peak moments.
I was 24-years-old when I became a mother and fell hopelessly in love with my bright, beautiful little girl. I could never have imagined that 19 years later I would be staring down at her face in a coffin. If you lose a spouse, you are a widow. A child who loses a parent is an orphan. But if your child dies, what are you? Our culture does not have a word for the depths of this grief. “Bereaved parent” is a pale appellation.
Maya’s death demanded that I step into a new level of mothering – radical letting go. At the age of 43, grieving for Maya forced me to mature spiritually and emotionally, and to reach a new understanding of the meaning of love. Love, in my new universe, included the ability to allow my child to have her death, on her own terms.
I can’t sugarcoat this process of letting go. I thought it would kill me. Swimming with Maya shows how day by day I fought to raise my surviving daughter, Meghan, continue my professional life as a writer and editor, and find my balance in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. For me, and countless others, mothering is a hands-on course in surrender, humility, and courage.
When Meghan left home for college, I had to grieve all over again. Not for the loss of a person, but for the loss of my role as a day-to-day mother. One part of me rejoiced at my new-found freedom, but another, stronger part mourned for my place in my daughter’s lives.
It’s been 15 years since I became an empty nester. Guess what? Mothering is never over. It shape shifts into an ability to be your adult child’s friend and, if you’re lucky, a treasured confidante, while at the same time respecting her choices and refraining from any form of advice giving, unless asked! Being close, but not smothering.
Meghan, 33, now has two beautiful daughters. I have the unspeakable joy of watching my child continue the cycle of mothering. I love each precious moment with Lucia, 3, and Francesca, 2 months. All those years of on-the-job training as a Mom come in really handy when you have a jealous preschooler and a crying baby to contend with!
Meghan gave Lucia the middle name Maya, so when she really acts out, I get to say, “Lucia Maya, stop that!” It thrills me to see Maya’s intelligence and spunk reflected in the eyes of her niece, and when Lucia points at the book cover and says, “Maya,” my heart overflows.
Becoming a grandmother is “the bonus round,” as Anne Lamott so aptly said. Because of Maya’s life and death, I will never take a moment of time with my granddaughters for granted, or ever forget those peak moments with my own daughters.
Please enter to win a copy of Swimming with Maya. Thanks, Audry, for hosting me today.
Thank you, Eleanor, for sharing your thoughts and your story with us!
More about Swimming with Maya:
Previously available only in hardcover, Swimming with Maya demonstrates the remarkable process of healing after the traumatic death of a loved one. Eleanor Vincent raised her two daughters, Maya and Meghan, virtually as a single-parent. Maya, the eldest, was a high-spirited and gifted young woman. As a toddler, Maya was an angelic tow-head, full of life and curiosity. As a teenager, Maya was energetic and independent - and often butted heads with her mother. But Eleanor and Maya were always close and connected, like best friends or sisters, but always also mother and daughter.
Then at age 19, Maya mounts a horse bareback as a dare and, in a crushing cantilever fall, is left in a coma from which she will never recover. Eleanor's life is turned upside down as she struggles to make the painful decision about Maya's fate.
Ultimately Eleanor chooses to donate Maya's organs. Years later, in one of the most poignant moments you will ever read about, Eleanor has the opportunity to hear her daughter's heart beat in the chest of the heart recipient. Along the way, Eleanor re-examines her relationship with her daughter, as well as the experiences that shaped Eleanor as a woman and as a mother to Maya.
An inspirational/motivational true story recommended for anyone who has experienced tragedy, who is grappling with traumatic experiences of the past, or who wants to better understand the strength and healing power of the human spirit.
Paperback: 340 Pages
Publisher: Dream of Things (March 26, 2013)
Twitter hashtag: #SWMaya
Swimming with Maya; A Mother’s Story is available as a print and e- book at Amazon.
Meet Eleanor Vincent:
Eleanor Vincent is an award-winning writer whose debut memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and was reissued by Dream of Things press early in 2013. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age.
Called “engaging” by Booklist, Swimming with Maya chronicles the life and death of Eleanor’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Maya, who was thrown from a horse and pronounced brain-dead at the hospital. Eleanor donated her daughter’s organs to critically ill patients and poignantly describes her friendship with a middle-aged man who was the recipient of Maya’s heart.
|Maya as a teen|
She was born in Cleveland, Ohio and attended the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, where she occasionally teaches writing workshops on creative nonfiction and memoir.
Her essays appear in the anthologies At the End of Life: True Stories about How we Die(edited by Lee Gutkind); This I Believe: On Motherhood; and Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs. They celebrate the unique and complicated bonds between mothers and daughters, making hard decisions as a parent – whether your child is 14 or 40 – and navigating midlife transitions with grace and authenticity. She lives in Oakland, California.
Find out more about Eleanor Vincent by visiting her online:
‘About Me’: http://about.me/eleanorvincent