The feet of a Bodhisattva-my mother

I’m going to see my mother I decided as I was speaking to a friend on the phone. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone who visits a mother with regularity. For me, it’s mammoth. For decades, I wasn’t able to go at all. Then I could only go with my sister. Then, for a while, only with my intuitive healer as she held my hand. When I became able to go alone I could do it only with my camera in tow. My camera provided me with an extra wall of protection from my feelings.

“You’re too sensitive” my father would tell me when I was a little girl.  “Hannah, you have to control your feelings, don’t let your feelings control you.” he said later when my mother wound up in intensive care at UCLA hospital. My mother is the longest living resident in a home for the aged. Perhaps it would be easier to accept if she ‘d actually been aged when she entered the hospital-like setting thirty-one years ago. She was forty-one years old then and my family had been trying for five years, between rental homes and hired help, to take care of her after she suffered brain damage at age thirty-six. She had left my father for another man. That man abused her to the point of life in a wheelchair. That man, whose name I still can’t say, was no longer in her life.

When my mother entered the home, we had run out of options. I understood her anger. I’d be pissed too if I ended up crippled but the women taking care of her couldn’t handle her explosions. My mother was a passionate brunette from Guatemala who used to dance the Flamenco. My uncle told me men would throw their wallets at her. Today she is incapacitated to the point of not being able to walk, feed or clothe her self.

I pulled off the freeway and into the familiar lot. I just wanted to see her and tell her I loved her.  A wave of emotion came up inside of me and as I backed my car into a parking spot, I realized I couldn’t go in. My eyes were red, the tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt utterly exhausted from the emotion.  Sometimes my emotions overwhelm me and all I can do is crawl into bed, into the fetal position that I sleep in, my way of saying I want back in the womb.  “Mami, some days just bring the feelings back” my friend said to me on the phone that afternoon. Mami is a term of endearment we say in Guatemala. It seems to have stuck with certain friends.

“But why” I asked as if she could give me an answer. “I thought I was doing so much better.”

Her compassion and understanding were exactly what I needed. “Think of physics. Nothing can ever be at the same place at the same time. A spiral. If you start to go around the spiral, you can be right next to where you were but you will never be in the exact place. Does it ever end up at the same place.” Her words were so soothing as I was melting.

I gathered myself enough to walk into the metal doors. I took a deep inhale before I entered as always. Then I take a deep breath to exhale as I walk down the hallway of familiar linoleum floors that look as if they haven’t been changed in thirty one years. The smell hit me as I was buying a little time with my exhale. A combination of old, sick people, disease, disinfectant, dirty skin, age. I poked my head into my mother’s room. I notice the green curtains long ago faded by the sunlight. Three wheelchairs gathered in a corner of the room. A border of pink & blue flowered wallpaper along the top of the wall. A miniature lone Christmas tree on top of a cabinet from one of her room mates. Never mind that it’s April.  My mother was sleeping while a woman in the next bed kept crying and pleading to no one in particular; “Oh, I didn’t do nothing wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I did everything correct. Please G-d help me up. Please G-d ayudame por favor. Please help me up. I have no shoes on. Nurse, nurse” at which point her cry turned into a wail. To keep from crying myself, I had to pretend I couldn’t hear her.

How has my mother managed to sleep with all the voices, noise, lights, blaring TV? I guess after all these years she’s figured out a way to block it all out. I wish I could say the same for me.  I am sensitive to certain voices, the sound of television commercials bother me, my cell phone ringing sometimes startles me and I have to switch it to vibrate, jack hammers make me cover my ears and run for my front door. I know I sound dramatic. I have exaggerated emotional responses to just about anything.  I have a friend who used to say I was dramatic. She’s right. My brain behaves differently than the average bear’s. Part of the damage that remains for me after watching my mother being abused when I was nine until fourteen; when she landed in intensive care after one night when the beatings went too far. I had pestered my father to bring my mother one of the leather jackets he sold. She liked pretty clothes. That night, a fight ensued between my mother and her second husband. We all have secrets from childhood. My secret for decades was I thought it was my fault she wound up in the hospital.

As the nurse came to help the crying woman up, I turned to my mother in her single bed. Her eyes were closed. She was sleeping quietly. Seemingly careless to our world. She seemed serene. She wasn’t suffering. But I was. My mother taught me forgiveness. I have come down a long road to get to where I no longer judge her as a bad mother. She wasn’t a bad mother. She fell in love with someone else after my father. She listened to her heart, not her head. I’m not different from her. Perhaps that’s why I judged her. I was still judging myself.  I’m not anymore. I love whom I love and I don’t care who judges me.

I fire off some photos from my camera. Direct, straight, honest, without pretense pictures. I don’t have a modicum of regret about expressing my feelings through my photos. These photos are meant to take me out of my comfort zone.  When I return home to view the pictures I’ve taken, I experience my mother again and I feel my emotions without fear. I was in denial for so long. My photos force me to accept the reality of her right here and now. I wonder when she suffers. I know she remembers so much. That’s why she speaks in her mother tongue of Spanish; she remembers her past. I miss never truly having her in my life. I have the courage to feel all of the sorrow I ran from all those decades. She’s influenced my life in every way but she doesn’t know that which makes me feel an intensified anguish that seems unbearable at times.

My mother doesn’t need a fancy home or clothes or car to feel good. When I brought her a cheeseburger from Fat Burger and I asked her “le gusta?” “Do you like it? “She answered “me encanta.” “I love it.”  She’s so in the moment it hurts because she mirrors back to me that I’m frequently not. She suffered to teach me to forgive her. It took me forty-seven years to meet the intuitive healer who would help me heal my anger at my mother for leaving.  The healer that I love like the mother I never had, a long lost sister and a friend all wrapped up in one. That’s another story.

I looked at her feet. Her toes are permanently bent down in a way that says decades of not walking. Her feet have not been touched, or rubbed or massaged in probably 41 years. I mean really touched, stroked, cared for. You know the way you rub someone’s feet when you really love them. Part of my sadness is I was not able to visit her let alone rub her feet for too long to admit.

I didn’t need to travel around the world to deepen my spirituality. My greatest teacher was in front of me my entire life. I just couldn’t see it was my mother;a true Bodhisattva. She forgave me for not visiting her all those years and she did that without uttering a word. I forgave her for leaving. For me, forgiveness is when you care about the relationship more than your ego.

One of the nurses banged hard into my mother’s bed while trying to help the woman crying in the next bed. My thoughts were interrupted and my mother was awakened. I just shook my head in silence. She can’t even get in solid sleep, I thoughtI watched her open her eyes. I could see she was tired. She looked in front of her, couldn’t see it was me without her glasses, closed her eyes and fell back into sleep. After 31 years of living in that room, in that place that is her home, in that building, I suppose everything must make her tired.

This is my mother. No wonder sometimes I’m tired too.

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About hannahkozak

I am passionate about photography & have been making photos since I was a little girl. I have been a stunt woman for twenty five years. I have a passion for exploration, discovery, and escape. I dream of every place I seek to travel to. A recovering adrenaline junkie, I seek authenticity in everyday experiences. I love Kundalini Yoga,travel, books,writing and authentic, real experiences and people. I brake for squirrels. Que le vaya bien! View all posts by hannahkozak

52 responses to “The feet of a Bodhisattva-my mother

  • Karen Mulvaney

    Sweet Hannah, You are warm like the sun, and I think of you as ethereal, strong though, not fragile. Angelic. Your spirit is comfort. Your writing though painful, is light. Reach. It is a good thing. I send you all my love and gratitude that you and I have met and our spirit friends across time and space. Love,

    • hannahkozak

      Karen, Our paths were meant to cross when we met in Guatemala. Along with you and some others, I was graced with meeting Hope Edelman; who gave me the courage to begin to write of my journey. Thank you for your support along the way. Love, hannah

  • Sam

    Wow Hannah! Very touching, beautifully written x

  • Steve Ferry

    Otra vez, tocastes mi corazon y lloro. Te quiero mucho. Sat Nam….

  • Paula

    And this is the song my ipod, (a boy), chose while reading this – much more than a happy accident, when you consider that his content is mostly cheesefabulous r&b tracks from the 90s.

    So I was able to read most of it until the crying took over. It really helped me to know you better, particularly the 2nd and 3rd paragraph; but I want to know more, because I’m nosy and because it helps to fill out the picture of why you felt and feel the way you felt towards your mother. I can surmise and fill in gaps, but I’d rather read the open vein stuff, because, you know, that’s where I’m at with relation to my matriarchal relation.
    Muchlovingly, p. (who read your email and is responding to the specifics of your request) xoxox

    • hannahkozak

      What a gorgeous song you have found. Paula, I can always count on you to pull something unusual out of your sleeve. Thank you for your support along the way. I feel you. With love, hannah xxoox

  • kristine

    beautiful…once I can swallow past this gigantic lump in my throat, I would like to say Thank You.
    I think that in so many ways our mothers are our greatest teachers. The good, the bad, the ugly…come what may, once they are gone we will never be loved quite like that again. You are better for enduring and understanding the hurt, as am I, as are countless others.
    Hannah, I am in awe.

    • hannahkozak

      Kristine, you are a blessing to me. You’re part of the core group of women on FB who support, encourage, love and carry each other. Our mothers are undoubtedly our greatest teachers. I am in awe of you Kristine. Love hannah

  • Debra DeAngelo

    My father was in nursing care following a stroke at age 54 for 27 years. I relate to so much of this story. That push-pull pain when you go inside, the smells, the sights… the agony. And yet you must go. And one day, your parent passes after spending half his/her life this way…. and it’s such an odd, equal mix of relief and grief. Regrief… maybe that’s the word.

  • amy ferris


    all my love.

  • Patty Little

    Dear Hannah, what beautiful writing….and what evidence of Spirit unfolding your heart like an exquisite flower! The mother issue is the deepest for me, too….She is the teacher. I am so blessed to know you, Hannah. Love to you, Patty

    • hannahkozak

      Patty, Between my intuitive healer helping me to heal my wounds from my mother and then meeting Hope Edelman in Guatemala on a writer’s workshop along with supportive, loving souls like you, I feel myself carried in grace. It’s a blessing to know you Patty. Much love, hannah

  • Beverlee Peters

    Hannah. wow. That really put my morning into perspective….. Beautiful piece, beautiful!! I too, am in awe of you.. raw beauty. Wishing you love, inner peace and all that brings you happiness. xoxo

  • Amy Wise

    Oh my God! This was beautiful. Thank you thank you for sharing. I’m so saddened by your Mother’s loss yet so touched by all you have gained. I am speechless. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Love Amy

  • Carol

    Thank you for such an honest piece and a view inside your heart and soul, as well as the mother -daughter relationship. Your writing and pictures are a powerful testament to the tie that binds us to our mothers. My mother is also in a nursing home, although not under the same circumstances, and I ache for her too. Peace and love to you Hannah. Keep revealing the beauty that is in you.

  • Kathleen's Life Waves

    Hannah, As your lens is a shield your photos and words show and tell of your love and devotion. You inhale and exhale for yourself yet also for your Mom for in her abused state she was and is unable to do so.
    You have grown and learned from her sorrow yet found compassion within yourself to share this story with all of us. I am touched beyond words and this healer you speak of with such reverence I look forward to reading about. Peace Within.

    • hannahkozak

      Hope Edelman has asked to hear about my healer as well. That will come to me I promise. I will share her with all of you. She is a treasure to behold. I am grateful for your kindness. Thank you

  • Cheryl Moseley

    This essay is stunningly beautiful . I completely understand the profound depth of this. Hannah, being a nurse for all of my adult life, as well as working with people who are dying and disabled (and the families), I am deeply affected by the meaning of your story. In addition, my own sister who is 60, still can’t come to grips with the beauty of our Bodhisattva mother. Even last night on the telephone, she said she holds my mother “responsible,” blaming her for her own lack of seeing clearly. It has been 11 years since our Mommy passed on in her journey. Vulnerability, honesty, and forgiveness are so key to our passing with grace through this life. I honor your heartfelt truthfulness and vision. I love your writing and photographs. And I thank Amy Ferris for bringing you to us.

    • hannahkozak

      Oh, Cheryl. You are one more angel that I’ve met here because of the supportive love of Amy Ferris. That my story affected you is a great honor. It means so much to me to know I was able to touch you in some way through my photos and writing. Thank you Cheryl.

  • Vered Zarco-Maoz

    Dear Hannah,
    Thank you for sharing this fragment of truth, tragic and yet wholesome only as a truth can be.
    Please excuse my poor English – this story has been told to me so many times in so many versions, but never from the mouth of the truth “la bocca della verita”…the words of a child, a girl, who was shattered to pieces too early in her life. Too late for me to say I am sorry that I wasn’t there for you prior…

    Every time you write brings out that piece of motherhood that is missing, puzzled, restored. Go on Hannah…as your Mother’s feet will forever beat inside your heart…

    With all my love and admiration,
    your cousin, Vered

    • hannahkozak

      No apologies needed on your English. Your English is beautiful Vered. When I can speak Hebrew as well as you speak English….I met you when you were five years old. I loved you then and I can say thirty years later, I love you now Vered. I wear a bocca della verita around my neck to remind me to tell the truth. It’s okay that you weren’t there. It was as it was meant to be. You are here now. That’s all we have is now. I love you more.

  • Linda Lichtman

    Thank you for trusting all of us Hannah! I can feel your fear, your pride, your trust and your awakening. Beautiful.

  • cynthia kates

    Hannah, I think you hit the nail on the head with regards to the cyclical pattern that is this life. Just as we think we have got things under control, we find that we are not learning the lessons we were meant to keep learning and adapting to the rest of our life. There is something very good about breaking down, but continuing on. As I cried through parts of your post, I realize that I too have feelings to feel and that makes me alive so it is a blessing. I wonder if your mom is at peace? If she is, i think that her surroundings fade with those thoughts. I think of all the people that are blessed with beautiful homes and a wonderful lifestyle, but I always wonder what peace they have and the misery that remains in absence of peace.

    • hannahkozak

      Cynthia, The lessons continue right up to the moment of our last inhale. I believe she is at peace. I’m the one who suffers as I sometimes judge her place in life. Who am I to decide why this was her destiny?
      As long as there is duality, we suffer. All we can do is love.

  • Hope

    This is just stunning, Hannah. Takes my breath away every time. So powerful when paired with the photos. You are brave and strong and pure.

    • hannahkozak

      Hope, I could not have done this without you, your support, your tireless belief & your ability to help me see that the subtleties are so hugely (your word) important in writing. Thank you Hope Edelman from the bottom of my heart.

  • melody

    Hannah… Intelligent, touching, fearless writing. Well done….very well done.

  • Russ duPont

    From tragedy, you’ve found peace, beauty, dignity and an affirmation of life and love.

  • knittingpeace

    Absolutely beautiful, inspiring and honest. Thanks for writing, sharing and opening your heart.

  • Louise

    This piece has come such a long way! I am ever-impressed with your honesty, raw and beautiful, matter of fact. The threads all weave together perfectly. This is easily a great stand alone piece or an important part of an intricate work. You bring your reader on such an important journey over the span of 10-15 minutes. Impressive.

  • Madge Woods

    Hannah, you look a lot like your Mom in that old picture of her. So glad to meet you the other night. Beautifully written story. Is your Mom in Los Angeles?

  • hannahkozak

    I love that photo of her. It was a treat to meet you Madge with the gals. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I appreciate your feedback very much. My mom is in L.A. She’s my greatest teacher.

  • Hollye Dexter

    Beautiful and heartbreaking Hannah. What a mystery life is, that we would have to go so far and through so much just to return to love.

    I am so glad you found your place of peace within yourself. I pray your mother will one day be able to find it, too.

    • hannahkozak

      Sweet Hollye, Isn’t it mysterious how life will bring us back to love always if our heart is broken open enough times? Whole hearted forgiveness is a transformative energy that works magic on our souls. Thank you.

  • Judy

    This is heart wrenching, both the pictures and the story.

  • Donald Sanders

    You are right about love. You cannot control love, it controls you. You cannot pick who you fall in love with and when you do fall in love you will do anything, anything, to be with them. I think that your father is a master of love, brused but still very much in love with your mother. Sometimes love hurts so much. However, what would life be without it-I can tell you. It’s like being locked in a closet, the only light coming from a space under the door. You can lay on the floor to try to get more light and air. Love is like that-when it is taken away you are in the dark and looking for the light, shining like the sun, that can only come from LOVE sweet LOVE. Thank you for sharing this private corner of your life and for the photos that go with it.

  • Brauna Walsh

    Within the heart of grief, love becomes the start of a journey of homecoming.
    I am so proud to travel with you, my beloved friend.
    I love you so, so much. xxoo, Bbird

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