My neighbor, Heidi, recently told me, “I’ve forgiven my mother, but I won’t go to her funeral.” My friend Lynne has not communicated with her mother in 30 years. She occasionally trolls for a death certificate because, as the only child, there might be something left, but definitely not love.
I hope my children have forgiven me and the poor choices I sometimes made surviving as a single mom one step away from foreclosure. My son remembers when I sold all my jewelry. My daughter remembers me forgetting to pay for gallons of milk. Both of them remember me not eating dinner till they had eaten and had their fill. They both remember the third glass of wine.
Yet, Thank God, they remember growing up in a home where their friends could come over and swing from the trees, nature and art camps in summer, baby lambs by the woodstove, stories I read to them and made up, swimming in the Shenandoah River and my dogged determination to survive and thrive, which they all, in their own ways, have modeled.
Somehow, they love me, despite my flaws, and they occasionally remember me on Mother’s Day! But a success I take responsibility for is they know how to love.
I found a book I hand-made for my mother on Mother’s Day with a lion on the cover and the words, I roar over you. I think we made these gifts at grade school. I worked very hard for my mother’s love. Her love came in subtle ways when she was not in her room with a migraine, yelling about some maleficence, reminding me that I wasn’t the daughter she wanted because her perfect daughter had died of leukemia at 14 before I was born; you know, the stuff that keeps therapists in business.
Heidi, Lynne and I had similar mothers – self-absorbed, critical, probable mental illness, neglectful and abusive. Lots of pills and doctors for illnesses. We all broke away from our mothers.
My relationship ended when I tried to run her over in my car. The next day my father and sister helped me find an apartment. Within one month my grades were A’s and I wasn’t depressed, cutting myself, or suicidal. I didn’t go home for a year.
But I did go home again, and having broken my mother’s control, the distance allowed for healing, and it changed our relationship. First, my mother cooked for me, inviting me to Friday fish dinners because we were Catholic and always making my favorite fish.
When I graduated college, worked for the government and my anxiety went through the roof causing me to lose 25 pounds, my mother came and took care of me. Later, when I brought home inappropriate men and husbands, she didn’t reproach me. It was only one man that she had a direct opinion on; a rich man that I thought would meet my parent’s approval, but she knew me. “You won’t be happy with him, he won’t let you be you.” She was right.
When my whole family was ready to disown me for buying a broken-down farm in the Blue Ridge mountains, my mother kept saying, “She is happy here, so I am happy for her.” When my daughter was colicing at two months old, my mother drove around with me from store to store trying to find something, anything that would help.
And she was a good grandmother to my daughter who spent many afternoons seated beside her at my mother’s vanity applying lotions, makeup and beauty treatments, and shopping for girly dresses, the type I never would wear.
What I did take away from her was her sense of tailored style and looking put together when leaving the house, cut flowers all year round, decorating for holidays, stoicism, reading and going to the library each week, enjoyment in female friendships, writing. And in her younger days she was naughty and a rule breaker, climbing out of her bedroom window late at night, dating three guys at once, playing field hockey and graduating college in the 1930s.
Her mother was a stern woman who talked in a loud voice that made it seem like she was barking in Polish. I never saw her smile or kiss me or my mother.
I remember my mother. I remember her rocking me in the rocking chair her father made and singing me lullabies in Polish, taking me on walks in the woods and making me chocolate pudding. It has taken me a very long time to remember these things.
I returned those favors when she was ill and dying. Cleaning her, picking her up off the floor, wiping her mouth and the bedside vigil.
She may have been one of the main causes of my therapy bills, but I have forgiven her and learned how to love her while she and I were still alive. That is grace.
What is the state of your relationship with your mother, if she is still alive? If she has passed, did you part as friends? Do your children celebrate Mother’s Day with you? What mother-daughter stories can you share?