Thursday, September 23, 2010

Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be. ~ Thomas à Kempis

What was your relationship with your mother like, if you are a daughter? That's a loaded bomb waiting to go off, isn't it? For some of us anyway. For me.

I lost my mom when I was 35. She's been gone for 21 years now. I'm not one of those women who wallpapers her walls or any other surfaces with family photos. I have one of Dylan on display. One of Cooper. A portrait photo of my maternal great-grandmother at the age of 18 on her high school graduation day in 1898 or thereabouts. A large photo of my kids taken when they were around kindergarten age, others of them around graduation. One of Dear Hubby. That's it.

So...if I need to remind myself what my mother looked like I go to an elaborate antique cigar box that belonged to my maternal great-grandfather. I have many snapshots and old family obituaries that date back to one of my great-great-grandfathers, and I rummage around in it until I find a photo taken of both my parents. It was taken not long before she died. She is sitting on my father's lap and actually has a half-smile on her face. I can't tell you how rare that was, to see her with a smile. To see her having any physical contact with my father. If I need to remember how she sounded I dig out an old VCR tape of a family Christmas in 1987, I believe it was. When she was ill with cancer but not terminal yet. I hear her cackling laugh. My daughter has inherited that, and her tendency to talk to the television.

And if I need to remind myself of who she was...well, I'm at a bit of a loss there. I have my memories of who I thought she was but, the older I get, the more distorted those memories seem to be. I don't really think she was the woman I remember her as. As much as she talked, talked, talked to me...I don't think she ever revealed her real self. So much of her is a mystery to me and, regrettably, will remain so. So much of what she did reveal to me...well, I don't know how accurate a lot of it was. A few years ago a cousin of hers who grew up with her came out from New Hampshire to visit and on a day when Ginger and I spent several hours together I asked her to tell me what my mom was like as a young woman, as a girl. Ginger told me as much as she could but I think I went away feeling even more confused than I'd been before. Some of the family history she told me wasn't quite like the history my mom passed on to us. I don't think my brothers ever cared one way or another but maybe because I'm the only female in our family I wanted a more tangible grasp of who our mom was. But she'll forever be an enigma to me. A swirly vapor. A breeze that lifts the hair on the back of my neck. A smoky haze hovering just over the edge of the horizon.

My younger brother and I spent a day together during my vacation week and we did a lot of talking about a lot of things. We both know she made the comment she would've had a happier marriage if she'd never had children. We both know she was emotionally frozen. That she had no idea how to reach out to people and when people reached out to her she'd deliberately sabotage any friendly overtures. She was bitter. She was mad at the world. Nothing made her happy.

And yet...rare moments...she could be funny. She had a razor-sharp mind. She was hard-working, dedicated. I know she meant well. I knew she was lonely...but I couldn't fill her empty voids. And she resented that. Deeply. She wanted me to herself and she didn't want to share me with my husband, my children. And the less she had of me as I grew older, the more she wanted. I loved her, but I resented her, too. I wanted to be free of the web, what I considered the millstone around my neck. I wanted freedom to live my life.

These are wise words: "Be careful what you wish for".

Sometimes you get it.

My mother and I made peace with each other before she died. She told me many times, "I wish I could go back and do it over again when it comes to you". I told her it was water under the bridge, that I survived. That I loved her.

And here I am, a motherless daughter. For a long time now. And sometimes, as I think of her now and then, I realize maybe I know her better than I thought I did. Maybe, as a more mature woman, I understand her better now. That the water under the bridge has taken me over all kinds of rips and rills and free-falls and boulders along the way. I have a lot more of Life tucked into my belt now. I am less mystified. I am more forgiving.

She was who she was. I am who I am. And I am my mother's daughter.


Edna said...

Hi, I am blessed to still have my mother, doing well at age 94! There was a period in my life when I didn't appreciate her promptings & pressures to relate to her or my sisters in a certain way. But we've moved on and we're on good terms.
Mother is still the hub of the four of us daughters. We sill certainly need to cultivate new lines of communication when Mother will no longer be able to be our central communicator.
Thanks for sharing your reflections.

Warren Baldwin said...

LInked here from BPOTW. You've written a very moving post. Glad to hear you and your mom reconciled before you lost her. Your post could be a great encouragment to a lot of people who are estranged right now from family members. Good job. wb

Betty said...

A very moving post. Brings many emotions to the surface, that I have for my mother. There are many occasions she has hurt me deeply and it´s made me pretty "hard" against her. I have forgiven her and I couldn´t even tell you anymore, what it is she did, but it has altered my relationship with her. I hope I can come to the point where I can say: "She is what she is" and accept that.
Thanks for a great post Kris!

Pam said...

This post really struck a nerve with me. Not because of my relationship with my mother, but because of my relationship AS a mother to my daughter who is now a freshman in college and living away from home for the first time. In many ways I see myself in the way you describe your mom - I can be cold emotionally and I can also be angry with the world and bitter at times. The thing that struck me the most, though, is what your mom said to you about wishing she could start over with you. That is EXACTLY how I felt in the days leading up to my daughter's departure. I was not expecting to feel that emotion and it was completely overwhelming. I made a point of having a heart to heart talk with my daughter before she left to share those feelings with her and to admit my regrets and to apologize to her for anything I had done to hurt her. Fortunately, she seemed surprised by my "confession" and assured me that I have been a good mom to her. I can't tell you how much that meant. Sorry to dump all this emotional baggage here in your comments, but this post really struck a nerve.

Clipped Wings said...

Here from BPOTW. This is such a moving and sad post. My mother has always seemed cold emotionally to me, and I think in her own way she loves me, but I have never felt it. I used to try to do anything that would make her love me, but of course none of that worked. When in my 40's I finally learned to let go of it all and just accept her as she was. She was as her parents raised her, and I think she did the best with what she had and was. She is in her late 80's now and just as distant as ever emotionally, but I love her as she is with no expectations, and that beats having no mom at all. I wish you the best. You really write from the heart.

Esther said...

I finished posting on my Facebook wall: "Dear Lord, help me to always have a thankful heart", then came over here and read your blog about your relationship with your mom. My eyes filled with tears and my heart went out to you, dear lady - my own story is so different, as I had my mother until she was 102 years and 12 days - and she was SO loving; we had quite a bond. Now that she is gone, I have pictures of her framed all over the place, have made shadow boxes with some of her things, and continue to miss her terribly. But I have had some relationships that were not so loving, and continue to have some heart breaking issues with some family members. Even the bad relationships cause me to be thankful. It is through them that I have been able to grow emotionally and spiritually. It has been a challenge to learn to forgive and move on, but when I look back, I see my life as a book - some chapters end on a low note, but others end on a high note. When the last chapter has been written, I am hoping it will be classified as a good book - a good life; one sprinkled with sorrow and tears, yet filled with lots of joy and laughter.

May I say just one more thing? - the other day I found a card my co-workers signed when I retired a couple years back. One lady had written: "We will miss you here - you were the light of the office." I thought of Jesus' words about being the "light of the world" - and smiled to think I had made a difference in our dark world. For that, I am thankful.