This is a melancholy time of year for me. My mother died on St. Patrick’s Day, 11 years ago. Since she was Irish, I have no doubt that the timing would have made her smile.
I dream of my mother often. But in my dreams, I can never get to her. I’m looking for her, and need desperately to talk to her, but either I can’t find her, or she doesn’t want to be found. I awaken from those dreams so saddened and frustrated.
My mom and I had a very difficult relationship, from the time I was in my tumultuous teens while coincidently she was navigating menopause. OUR HOUSE WAS A BARREL OF LAUGHS, LET ME TELL YOU.
And then, when I thought things could not get worse, my parents divorced. A very gut wrenching and ugly divorce. Lines were drawn, sides were forced to be chosen, and 4 people who were once a family became fractured nearly beyond repair.
My mother could let anger dictate her decisions, and it was that anger that would cause her to literally disown those people who loved her the most. I was on the receiving end of that kind of anger off and on throughout much of my adulthood. Not to say that I was innocent, oh my no. I was self centered and didn’t always think before I spoke. I handled things on my end very badly as well. Mostly by avoidance and non-confrontation.
I joke about my issues with these two traits, but they are very real and very nearly have crippled my relationally. My mother suffered with the same affliction.
The year before my mother’s death, we had not spoken. I disappointed her in a way that she felt she had no choice but to disown me. This was during my first pregnancy. I called her once to tell her that I had miscarried, but she could not give me the comforting words I needed, and asked me not to contact her again.
My heart was broken into a thousand pieces.
In late February of 1999, I received a call from my brother telling me that my mother had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital. My husband and I left for Arizona the next morning to be with her. When I arrived at the ICU, I looked in the door at a frail woman that I barely recognized as my strong and larger than life mama.
She smiled and weakly raised her left hand to take mine. She nearly inaudibly told me that she was glad I was there. What we thought was a stroke turned out to be incurable cancer, that had gone systemic. After some testing, we learned that she had only days to live. And would likely lapse into a coma within 24 hours.
My mother handled the news with a sense of calm. She chose to shun all talk of death, and instead focus on antique buying trips we would take together, and she would compose a laundry list of what we needed to pack. Including a 6 pack of Coke. I gladly accompanied her on this mental journey. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her.
In that brief time I could spend with her sitting by her hospital bed while she was lucid, we made our peace. In our own avoidance laden way. She did tell me that she so regretted not being there for me during my miscarriage. And she even made peace with her only sister on a long distance phone call, after years and years of not speaking.
We took her home to her sweet little house so that she could be surrounded by the things and people that she loved. It was there that she slipped into a coma. Just a day before I found out that I was at long last pregnant with a little curly haired girl who would be her first grandchild. It is no coincidence that little grandchild is the spitting image of my mother.
My mama held on for two more weeks, before peacefully slipping away on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day.
I dreamed about my mother again last night. But this dream was different. I found her, and stood before her not as a fearful 10 year old, but as a grown woman. A woman who was herself a mother. A woman who was not afraid to face her fears. And a woman who was not so prideful that she couldn’t admit when she was wrong.
And I was mad as a hornet.
I told my mother everything that I was thinking and feeling. And how I didn’t understand how she could leave me. Not only in death, but also in life. I told her how much I hurt and what her actions did to me. A mother never lets go of her own child. No matter what that child does. A mother never lets go.
I also told her I was sorry for all that I did to hurt her. And how I wished I had handled things so very differently. And I told her that I loved her with all of my heart and I miss her more than she’ll ever know.
I woke up before she could respond.
Before my mother died, late one night I sat by her bed, she opened her eyes and looked at me and said, “Don’t cry, I will always be with you.”
And she is. She’s in my heart. I see her larger than life spirit in both of my daughters.
Over these last years, I’ve forged a close relationship with my mother’s only sister. We talk at least monthly. She has confided in me things about my mother’s upbringing and tragedies in her life that I was not aware of. I understand my mother so much more now. She was so very broken. And I was too blind to see it.
I’ve come to a place of complete forgiveness. Because what I realize above all else, is that we’re all broken. And we all have things that we’re working on. And what a travesty it would be to take all that baggage with us as we negotiate the complexities of life. This is an area of healing in my life that God is continuously working on.
I have a chance to change history with my own children. To leave them with a legacy of undying love, a faith filled upbringing, and most of all, the ability to seek forgiveness and to accept it as well.
I pray that I never again stick my head in the sand when I’m tempted to avoid something unpleasant. Because I just might miss something amazing.
Me & my mom, mid 90’s