Sunday, May 8, 2011

When I stopped seeing my mother with the eyes of a child, I saw the woman who helped me to give birth to myself - Nancy Friday

MY MOM.....................

It’s been almost 23 years since my mother died.  She missed so many things in my life, even in her younger years.  Addiction robbed her children of a close relationship with her.  Far worse, it stole a large chunk of her life and snatched away so many blessings.   By the time I reached adulthood, marriage, and having my own child, the insidiousness of alcoholism had taken her to a helpless, hopeless, and solitary state. It highjacked her home, marriage, self-respect, children, and most of all her identity. She missed both of her children’s first weddings and births of grandchildren, and by the time my brother and I had figured out how to select healthier marriages, the second time around, she had passed on. 
 She walked into the rooms of recovery, and blossomed under the light of awareness as well as discovering a Creator that had loved her all long; something she craved all her life...desperately. Seven years later, an equally aggressive disease infiltrated her body.... brain cancer. She was 51 years old when she died.  It seemed to me to be cruel punishment for a woman who had already suffered so much in her lifetime. I felt cheated.  She didn’t.  She was so grateful for experiencing those few years unshackled from the bottle.  No matter, what, she was my mother.  I made my peace with the raging battle inside me that spoke fighting words about the damage she had done to my life and I chose to love her deeply instead.  She revealed a treasure trove of spiritual tools before she left her earthly role as my birth mother.  Examples of how to live a surrendered life, one day at a time, were mind-boggling to me as she graciously walked through her cancer and three months later, death.  The day of her diagnosis, she said to me, “I’m not really scared.  I have lived such a blessed life.”  I didn’t think so at the time, but she did, and that’s all that mattered.  I was highly pissed off at God for not allowing her more time to dance in her new found joy and freedom.  More selfishly, for the time I felt entitled to in getting to know her as a human being. 
I vividly recall the last time I flew out to be with her.  She was living (and dying) in Phoenix.  I had taken my adolescent daughter with me sensing this might be the last time I would see her in this earthly life. Head shaved, thin, and often incoherent, it was not only difficult for me to witness the deterioration of her body, but some of her behaviors teleported me back to a frightened little seven year old. The nature of her cancer and its location caused her to behave like she often did in her addiction.  Facial expressions, slurring her words, and measured gait made it hard for my mind to stay focused on the reality of the present.  It all opened up the stuffy, musty attic of the past.  Something I had boxed up, put into storage and moved away... as far as I could.  It did bring me to the realization that her alcoholism was as much of a disease as her brain cancer and set into motion some empathy and understanding.  
It’s hard to see our parent’s as souls with tears, fears and foibles.  It’s much harder to take a walk into their past.   After she passed away, going through her things, (which felt like a severe violation of her privacy), I found some of her letters from others to her; books with inscriptions, old legal papers, and special items sent to her through the years.  Pictures of a little girl on a pony being led by an older sister and brother-in-law with a note on the back, “mom and dad #2”  a smiling, skinny, teenage girl, prancing in her majorette uniform; and later, a beautiful, sophisticated, unhappy, solemn wife- dressed fit to kill for a mandatory Officers wives function. Letters through the years from various people, many condemning her lifestyle, her parenting skills, her morality were appalling, even to me.  Why would she keep such negative documentation of those dark periods of her life?  Angry pre-divorce letters passed back and forth between spouses who had grown too far apart to ever pull anything together again. Amongst all the drama that unfolded novel style, a few shining stars - handmade Mother’s Day Cards from my brother and I, pictures of her two newborn granddaughters.  Special books she had received in her recovery, highlighted and annotated.  One made a particular impact.  The chapter was on feelings, learning to identify them in order to be able to accept and walk through them.  She had written next to the words “less than” and “isolated”, I have felt this way all of my life.  I sat, book in my lap and cried.  It explained so much to me. I packed it all up and shipped it home, to myself, after her funeral.  I wasn’t sure why.  
Years after her death I did study her letters and memorabilia like a hungry neophyte seeking the meaning of her life. Finally for her, and me, I burned the majority of the docu-dramas.  They served their purpose. They gave me insight about her journey and the overwhelming shame connected to so much of it.  Enlightened, I learned it really was just her story, not the soul she was, and it served no purpose for anyone to live with that kind of regret and fear anymore. I have to come to know today, that when we live connected by a genetic umbilical cord of dysfunction of any kind, it carries on, down through the generations.  It was time to severe that cord and reconnect... at the heart, with love.  My little family no longer needs to live with an inheritance of secrets, fear, and shame.  I also discovered we were never really so different, my mom and I.  She was fun-loving, kind, social, intelligent, and loyal. She had hopes and dreams too.  She was a perfect soul, navigating an imperfect world.  As am I. 

Through these years since her death, I’ve had so many miraculous things that have allowed  me to peel back the layers and understand my real mom as well as helped to build a healing bridge connecting me, to her.  Evidence that even death cannot steal from us the love OR relationship.  I like to think of her as fulfilling her maternal instincts, now, as my guardian angel.  She has heavenly guided so many other beautiful women my way through these many years; second mom’s, step-mom's, mother-in-laws, mother figures, mentors, best friends.  They all have blessed me, helping to fill that aching void of a motherless daughter. I treasure and will hold them close to my heart, always,  for their unconditional love, support and the many things they've taught me. It doesn’t take a blood line to build a mother. 
Happy Mother's Day to the
woman I was privileged to

I wonder, as I end this Tribute to my Mom on Mother’s Day, if other’s will perceive it as a Tribute?   It doesn’t matter.  I know she does.  She helped me write it. The legacy she left with me is far more beautiful, and meaningful, than any storybook tale of a mother’s love I could create.

I miss her every day.  She knows that too.  That's why she continues to touch my heart through others.

Happy Mother’s Day to Women everywhere.