I know there are women out there who were lucky enough to have had, and are even luckier to still have, close bonds with their mothers. I look to Jackie and her daughter, Jenny, to see this happening. I know rare as it seems to be, that these relationships exist.
My mother and I did not have a connection to be envied. There was always a deep chasm of distance between us with personalities that meshed on very few topics. I know many women who experienced the same lack of friendship with their moms, although they wished it could have been different. Maybe their mothers did also.
When I was a teen, Mom and I fought a great deal, rarely agreeing on anything except that French Toast smothered in butter and Log Cabin syrup was the best breakfast food, Cary Grant was deliciously handsome, and film noir was the only way to hang out on a winter’s Sunday evening. I constantly challenged Mom’s life choices, unintentionally, by announcing at age twelve that I never intended to get married, have kids, and be a housewife — my mother’s exact choices. When my teenage contemporaries were compiling Hope Chests (does that still happen?), I wanted a dog, a beach, and a life spent writing.
It was no wonder she and I rarely saw eye to eye.
Because Mary had a mischievous streak to her otherwise demure self, Mom would deliberately push my buttons at least as often as I pushed hers. Most likely, she also did this to me from time to time to save her sanity — if she couldn’t make humor of my childhood nature of seriousness, then how could she survive me?
Dad did what he could to control the two of us, but I wonder how many times he mentally threw his hands up in the air and physically went to the garage to get away from our bickering. Even when I was a grownup, and the clashes continued.
Then she got sick.
Let me clarify. Mom was sick off and on for some years. She had Grave’s Disease that she didn’t manage properly, heart disease that she fixed with pills instead of diet and exercise, took other pills for other reasons, and was on oxygen for asthma or maybe it was emphysema or perhaps it was — she never got a clear reason for needing it.
Yet, the same woman who refused to exercise or eat right, put down her pack of cigarettes one day and never smoked, never yearned for one, again. Mom had the determination to change some things — like the time she hung paneling in the family room by herself because she wanted it done now and Dad was busy — but not others.
Like most of us, I suppose.
Like me, for sure.
Stubborn me always thinks that if we eat right and exercise, don’t smoke, and don’t drink (too much) red wine that maybe we can retain our health. I know this isn’t true — that disease will strike where it will strike — and yet I think, hey — I’m gonna give my body a fighting chance.
Mom did these wrong things, got sick(er) and I got … well … pissed at her for getting sicker. Not a fair attitude, I know. I’m not proud of it, just owning up to and telling you the truth.
The spring Dad was diagnosed with ALS, Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had survived breast cancer a decade before by a mastectomy without chemo or radiation. This spot, she said, was tiny. She started treatment, but by August was worn down.
My niece Jenny came to visit. She and my dad were best buddies. They’d email and Instant Message and cause lots of laughter. She loved my mom, but like me, Jenny didn’t “get” her. That Saturday night, we had a good visit with lots of chuckles from everyone circling the dining room table. Dad was doing the best he could as ALS corroded one function after another and Mom was hanging in there. She seemed extra tired by the end of the day, but laughing as hard as we do can sometimes wear out the stoutest soul.
The next morning, Mom wasn’t quite with us.
The Griffith family descended in a constant flow — cousins, aunts, uncles — they along with neighbors — were everywhere in my parents’ ranch house — being helpful, providing more humor, food, and copious amounts of that much-needed red wine. In and out people went, front door, back door, kitchen full, living room overflowing. They drifted in and sailed out the same way Mom did for the next ten days.
God gave our family those days for multiple reasons.
God gave those days to Mom and me so that we could heal our relationship before she went to be with Him.
And heal we did.
We lost Mom in August of 2008. The years don’t make it any easier — this loss of your mother from your life leaves repercussions like a meteor creating a mammoth crater in the middle of a beautiful summer field. You are impacted with the massive moving of your ever-changing emotions.
Surely women abused by their mothers understandably breathe deep relief when they’re gone and at one time I’d have sworn the same. But as things went, I miss the little minx. I miss the person I got to know at the end of her life. When Mom’s many guards were down and she was at her most basic, I fell in love with a woman who was kind, gracious, witty, tender, and who needed us.
Who needed me.
My presence, so aggravating to Mom throughout her life, was a solace to her during her ending days. And I clung to her physically during the dark nights in a way I could never have done during our usual daily lives.
If only we could get ourselves down to these most basic of our selves now, in this present, with the people most important to us. How would our relationships changes? How would they deepen and become more whole for us?
If right now, today, with that challenging spouse, different from you parent, estranged sibling, another not closely known relative, a lost friend … if you could be your most honest self with them, what would it do for your life? For theirs?
“If only,” are such difficult words. They can imply regret or fear or restriction — or all three.
But if only Mom and I had each been honest with each other for the 49 years we were together, how would that have changed our lifelong connection? What if we’d had one good rip-roaring argument that bared our emotions and got the accumulated chaff between us out in the air? How would that have altered everything and made us better — opening the door to a close bond?
Is there a relationship in your life that you think … If only I could have one honest conversation with…
Figure out what keeps you from having that conversation and delve in.