mtDNA Takes your Breath Away

I have spent most of this week trying to be silent, and trying not to think, as much as I could.

This has been a strange experience for me. But in the exhaustion of going around and around and around: what is in the here and now, what is coming, what will be, I finally threw up a stop sign. Truthfully, I finally threw up my hands. The thoughts and the feelings and emotions come up and around, and buzz through my brain exactly like a broken record player, leaving me thinking “wasn’t I just here?”.

I was reading an article in Macleans Magazine a few weeks ago, it was about Wayson Choy’s book Not Yet. It was the headline: No Wife! No Son! No Daughter! You Die Alone.

The words were those that Wayson heard as he lay in that place between life and death. They are, I think, the questions we all ask. I have long maintained that no one comes into this world alone, and no one should leave it alone. I have been privileged to sit with the dying. Not just with Gabriel, but with others. A lady, some years ago, as I did palliative pet therapy. Maggie and I sat with her those last 2 hours, holding her hand. There were no words, just the presence of another person. A last companion to stay on earth while she left it. A duty to those around us, to hold their hand and wish them God Speed.

I read the article about Not Yet, and the title struck me upside the head. Without children, I will die alone. Now, perhaps not alone, in the sense that Mr. Spit may or may not be with me, others may or may not be with me, but when I am gone, there will be nothing left of me in the world. I will be gone in a way that those with children never can be.

Years ago, my mother was ill. Ill enough that dying became something we were talking about. I was about 16, and learning about mitochondrial DNA. Our mitochondrial DNA is living memory, matrilineal record. Unlike the rest of our DNA, that is a mix of both parents, our mitochondrial DNA is only from our mother’s. Think on that for just a second. Look at your children. Deep within their cells, deep where we cannot easily see, you reside. Just you.

Within our cells, there resides the stories of who we are, and who we were. Within me there resides the story of my mother falling off the roof as she waited for Santa Claus, a pet skunk named Miss Pew. The story of my grandmother’s china that sits in my china cabinet. Deep within my cells cries a reminder – remember where you have come from. Who we come from is part of who we are.

And when I am gone from this world, that memory will be gone. No one will hold it in their body. I will be truly gone. The detritus of my life, my grandmother’s china, it will remain, but it is not me. Bits of stuff do not contain living memory.

No Sons. No Daughters, you die alone.

Takes your breath away.
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21 Responses to mtDNA Takes your Breath Away

  1. Sue says:

    A beautiful post. Heartbreaking, as that is what I fear, too. Thank you for saying it, exactly right.

    Thinking of you.

  2. Brendan and Brenna's Mom says:

    Mrs. Spit I am so sorry. That is all I can say.

  3. Seraphim says:

    It really does.

  4. loribeth says:

    I saw that story. I still haven’t screwed up the nerve to read it yet. It just hits way, way too close to home. 🙁

  5. Donna says:

    I haven’t seen the story. I guess I should look it up before I comment but that’s never stopped me before… This brings up so many mixed up emotions and issues for me. I have a biological child who is no longer living and I have a non-biological child who is living.

    To me people are so much more than simple flesh and bone. There is more to us and our lives than what is contained in DNA. We live on in the world after we are gone in the people that our lives have touched.

    I started to write more but I think there is more in me to write than can be said in a comment.

    I think you’ve inspired another blog post for me. (and I’ll go find that article too)

  6. Bluebird says:

    I’ve had many of these thoughts before, although they were not articulated as well. I hate these thoughts. Hate them. There’s no other way to say it.

  7. Martha says:

    I am so sorry. It’s so unfair.

  8. Ya Chun says:

    Thinking of you two.

  9. Aunt Becky says:

    Takes my breath away too Mrs. Spit. I want so badly to help you both.

  10. Brown Owl says:

    It is something I too think about, for though I have two living children, I have no grandchildren (and not not likely to) who will remember me. It is a different kind of loneness and different than my dreams.

    It is something my mother feared, that all those who new her when she was young were gone and who would remember her when she was little? Who would carry those stories? And yet, she was blessed with children and grand children and great grandchildren.. still in the end, she too was alone.

  11. Tash says:

    My mitochondrial DNA almost became my undoing: it was primarily the source of the genome studies they ran with Maddy in the year following her death. Part of me really really wanted an answer, even if it was that; part of me couldn’t bear to look at Bella and know some dark ugly monster swam within her, too. Not to mention that I, solely, would’ve been responsible.

    This post split me open, Mrs. S.

  12. meinsideout says:


  13. The Rebound Girl says:

    The bond between a mother and her children is something that exceeds even our spirtual minds. Its proven on a scientific bases, I love it!

  14. Hope's Mama says:

    I think you’ve touched on all of our greatest fears here Mrs Spit. I think you are incredibly brave, and this was such a moving and heartbreaking post. I just wish there was something I could say or do to help. You’re in my heart today.

  15. Anita says:

    I’m sitting here trying to decide if my geeky comment to your post will be helpful or hurtful. Please know that my intentions are good.
    You are right that the mitochondrial DNA comes only from the mother, but you perhaps missed the other implication of that… that your own mother carries the same mtDNA, that if you have any sisters, they have it as well, as do their children. If you have no sisters, you can go further up the family tree… your mother’s sisters also, and their children and the children of their female children, and up the line… your grandmother’s sisters, and their children, and the children of the girls in that line, etc etc. I don’t know whether you have much of an extended family, nor whether you are emotionally close to them if you do, but the odds are good that you have at least distant relatives out there who share your mtDNA.
    Anyway, I know the pain of infertility has a lot of aspects to it and this is just a small but real part. -frequent lurker

  16. Kate says:

    I’ve been following you for a long time now. I don’t actually know how long, but I think maybe just over a year. I absolutely ache for you, from the very bottom of my soul. I wish I could do something to change all of this.

    I just found out today that my childhood best friend killed herself. All I keep thinking about is the fact that she was alone, and that she’ll never get married or have children. And oh, how she loved children.

    This world seems so very cruel, so very unfair. From this year or so of following your story I feel more and more as though you may be one of the best people I’ve ever encountered. I hate that all of this pain is happening to you.

    I’m praying for you and thinking of you. I hope you find what you’re looking for.

  17. Trish says:

    I’m not really sure how to respond. I suppose I see things differently because I sort of hate my DNA. (Long story)
    But I think what you have shared with the world (YOU) will live on.. and that is far more important than mtDNA.

  18. Aunt Deb says:

    Thinking of you …


    “You can’t divide by zero”
    Her friend said quite amazed.
    Let me guide and help you
    Though this mathematics maze.

    You can’t divide by zero
    No matter how you try
    Your Zero into numbers
    really doesn’t fly.

    “You can’t divide by zero”
    Her husband firmly said
    He’s pretty sure about this
    He’s tried it in his head.

    Well that didn’t change her thinking…
    And it really matters not.
    She is quite content
    with the answer that she got.

    She likes to think “outside the box”
    Doesn’t matter if its true
    If you believe just what you see
    How very sad for you.

    See…she is just a rebel
    A rebel just like me
    The writing may be on the wall
    But we refuse to see.

    Try the zero to divide
    Then you’ll see just how it goes
    It opens up another world
    Outside the status quo.

    Sometimes facts are not the answer
    They promise you no gain
    There is only your beliefs and dreams
    And nothing else remains.

    You can divide by zero
    she begins to make her case
    Just throw out all those silly laws
    that affect your time and space

    Trust the feelings in your heart
    They’ll lead you where to go
    Don’t depend just on your head
    When your hearts the one to know.

    You can’t divide by zero
    They will always say it’s so
    but I think we’ll just keep trying
    and go against the flow.

    For Mrs Spit
    From Aunt Deb

  19. Ya Chun says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post. My, thoughts, no animal is governed solely by genetics or by environment. It is always a combination.

    And mothering is so much more than the passing on of the mitochondrial genome just as fathering is so much more than passing on the chromosomes.

    There are wonderful people who biologically can’t be parents and there are plenty of those with highly efficient reproductive organs that probably really shouldn’t be parents.

  20. CLC says:

    It does take your breath away. I’m sorry.

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