My Mother died on Thanksgiving Night of 2006. I chose to settle things with Mom before she died. If you haven’t done so, do it now. Whatever the history, no matter how horrible her crime, find a way to forgive. Trust me, this is a selfish act. You will be doing it for yourself. Oh, yes…it will make your Mother much happier too (big smile).
My Mom and I…what to say. Our relationship was tumultuous, competitive and sometimes felt downright mean. We were polar opposites. Yet a soft little voice warned me I’d better get my ducks in a row before her death.
She didn’t have long. It could happen right then, or six months from now. Her heart was failing. What magnificent, yet untried tool could bust through this ugly crust of mutual dislike built so meticulously in five decades? And if I did break through, would she misunderstand? Make fun of me? Assume I was admitting I was wrong and she right? Would she see my open armor and take advantage with a verbal jab? Even more frightening, would she suddenly assume I agreed with her on politics…that I’m ready to rejoin her religion?
This task was like tatting. Highly delicate. One bad move and the beautiful lace is forever scarred. My Mother was a formidable, opinionated woman.
I began in small steps. I visited more often, always bringing a nice treat (one of her weaknesses…sweets). Disarmed by this, she would fix me my favorite childhood meal, grilled tuna fish sandwiches. Or we’d sip glass after glass of tap water and she’d talk about books she’d read, parties she’d attended, gossip from her volunteer job. Whenever politics or religion came up, I nimbly diverted her train of thought with a funny story or joke. This took a lot of work initially, but she finally realized I had unbuckled my holster…and let it fall to the ground. Her one gun did not a good gunfight make.
This process of forgiving was a selfish act. I was healing me. I was also forgiving myself for the mean things I’d said and done to my Mother. My ego stood in the way and I had to dismantle it.
1. What difference did it make if she didn’t love me like I wanted?
2. What did it matter that she loved one of my siblings so much more than me?
3. So what if she thought the way I lived my life would prevent me from going to heaven?
4. What difference did it make that I didn’t really like her personality, nor she mine?
And finally…(and I find this very amusing now)
5. What difference did it make if she still insisted weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq…even after George and his administration admitted that wasn’t the case?
In the big staredown with death, none of the above mattered anymore.
As the summer heat grew heavy, her health began to decline. I became her chauffer to a number of medical facilities. At times, she appeared ready to die right in the waiting room. Her heart was failing and the doctors had run out of ideas, and medicine. This softened her in an unexpected way. Here was Mom, facing her end. All I could do was listen. I was hardly experienced in end-of-life fear. My gift: I kept my belligerent mouth shut, and proceeded to get to know her for the first time in my life.
As children, we expect our parents to dote on us. We expect to be the center of their universe. Our hearts break when we learn otherwise. Such is the sadness in growing up. There is a sudden moment in time when you transform into the parent, allowing your parent to rest and prepare to die.
One late lazy afternoon, we sat in the backyard. In a rare moment of rare vulnerability, she asked me to read the words to a religious song called, “Where do I Turn For Peace?” I sucked in a nervous, tense breath, worried the conversation was again headed for religion. Then my dear inner voice told me to get over it.
I read the poem with all my heart. My life changed in that second, just as dramatic as Helen Keller saying “water” for the first time. My stocked-full-of-lead backpack suddenly fell off my shoulder. The act of surrender massaged my back, one nearly broken from the weight of anger.
As I scanned the lyrics, I felt her looking at me, studying my face, as if for the first time. And I was giving her permission to do so without saying, “what are you looking at?” Perspiration gathered uncomfortably on my eyelids…and they fluttered with embarrassment. I could feel it. She was looking at me, loving me, regarding me as her precious creation. This raided my heart with near shock. It felt so Damn good, I took my sweet time reading the piece. I wanted to feel her heartfelt gaze. Was this the beginning? Could we finally “make peace?”
Back at home that night, I poured out my heart in two poems and sent them to her immediately. She called back, enthralled…because I hadn’t written poetry since I was a child, when I couldn’t really write, She, a typist, had been my scribe. Long ago in poetry we had found our peace pipe.
Our visits became more joyous, despite how terrible she felt. I suppose our newfound relationship may have encouraged her to live a little longer. But that was not to be.
Hospice was prescribed, and for two weeks she lay dying. I coaxed her through it with the most sincere effort I’ve ever pledged. Now, Mother’s Day is deep-hearted. No sad memories for me. I made peace with Mom, and she with me. And so, dear reader…work things out with your Mom. You’ll never regret it.
-by Linda Athis
The most loving embrace
I ever gave,
was over a toilet.
There sat my Mother
unable to speak,
pleading for response
from a body shutting down.
Our eyes met in fear.
We did not share
what we both knew.
Death whispered near.
I’m sorry she said,
as if she caused this,
had cruelly wished a curse
upon me, her caregiver.
In that second my heart split,
ripped raw by a mean and jagged knife.
My stronger, youthful arms reached out,
fiercely wrapped around her bony frame.
And there we paused
in a deep, strange embrace.
Resting, loving, weeping
for all things left unsaid.
More poetry like this at forgivingmom.com