I think it’s fair to say that there is some part of me that never quite detached from my mother. That’s not to say I didn’t leave home in my early twenties; marry a few years later, have children of my own and lead a life that included a mostly healthy relationship with her and with my Dad. I did. What I mean by not detaching is that I’ve never lost sight of the fact that no matter what I had weighing me down or causing my anxiety, I could tell my Mom and she would listen. No question.
I’m positive that over my half century + in her life, I haven’t been all that she hoped for in one way or another. Couple of highlights: The day I told her that my boyfriend and I were quite committed to each other and no, I wasn’t still a virgin – that must have kept her up for many a night, and worn out a rosary along the way. The day I told her I wasn’t going to be married in ‘The Church,’ also not a celebratory moment in her life, I’m sure. Announcements like these distressed her, and she shared that emotion honestly but kindly. But I never felt any coldness or withdrawal from her when I let her down in some way. And after my own twenty-plus years of motherhood, I call that miraculous. Because honest emotion without judgment has to be the hardest thing ever with children, right? Loving them unconditionally sure; but not holding any resentment or sadness or even anger about what they’ve done or not done; about choices they’ve made in their own lives? I know that’s hard for me.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve sobbed on the phone or in her kitchen, dumping many of my life’s challenges into her always accessible lap. I wasn’t quite looking for answers or advice, although she often offered insight I valued. No, somewhere along the line I’ve discovered that I did it for one reason: To hear her tell me, “It will work out.” The days I would cry about some situation with one or more of my sons and she would say, “I have faith in him. I do. Everything will all be okay.”
As much as we’d all like to believe in nothing but happy endings, things that trouble me may or may not “work out” as she always claims they will. But it’s her certainty and her faith that inspire me. I feel certainty about almost nothing these days but I am just a little suspicious of anyone who exists in a relative sea of calm. That is; toward anyone – except my Mom.
If I wanted to take a more cynical approach to her attitude, I could call it her view through “rose-colored glasses” or quite frankly, her inexplicably and relentlessly positive point of view, when almost none of the facts would seem to offer her reasons for good cheer. I could say that choosing to believe in one good scrap of promise when the reality of a situation is telling you something quite the opposite gets you nowhere.
Or does it? Here’s what I do know – and part of me will always have a girlhood point of view on this, that can’t be helped: She married a complex but loving man with his own personal sadness and demons to fight, and never, ever gave up on the good person he was born to be. She saw the loving man he truly was despite the many aspects of his young life that were a challenge as he grew to adulthood and found his way into the world. During the worst periods of my dad’s alcoholism, she was the one steady, reliable force in our home daily; the parent my sisters and brother and I knew we could rely on for everything, everyday.
My sister and I talked recently about the response many reasonable, intelligent people would understandably have to discovering and then enduring life with an alcoholic spouse who had yet to reach sobriety. Anger, resentment, fear, withdrawal, bitterness, unfairness, anxiety, sadness, and abandonment come to mind. Add children into the marriage and quadruple all those reactions.
We felt none of them from my mother; a testament to the strong woman she is. I expect she spent many an evening crying to her own mom who, according to the stories I heard, listened but then reminded her of my dad’s many good qualities, of the man my grandmother knew was buried inside him, trapped under decades of abuse of one kind or another. She reminded my mom that her love and support was absolutely required if anything positive was to come about. [After my dad died, I learned only a few of the sad stories about his childhood and young adulthood and knowing only a few is quite enough, thank you.]
I started this post a few days ago and my idea here was this: My Mom read every single word I ever wrote, and cut my columns out of the newspaper for almost ten years, saving them in an album. When the column ended, she lamented her “unwired” condition and as a result, couldn’t read my blog posts or online pieces easily. My goal with this piece was to help her understand how much her life and outlook has influenced me and given me a perspective I know I wouldn’t have had otherwise on many, many things. My plan was to read it to her, or at least print it out and share it that way.
When she learned of her cancer just two months ago, and the bleak prognosis, she broke down quietly with me and said, “Renee, I’m not ready.” We held each other and I just cried along with her because if I spoke it would have been to say. “I’m not either Mom. Don’t leave me.”
But because she was who she was, her next thought was, “What’s next? What do we do now?” And she moved on. To new specialists, a new hospitals and the procedures and a surgery that would arrest her condition.
Except it didn’t. And for the past five days, she has been in an intensive care unit, with no fewer than seven machines doing something for her. The yellow, blue, red, and turquoise lines that march across those screens look not unlike the rollercoaster I’m on inside.
She’s slightly, just slightly in the littlest way improved.
We can’t expect much at this point.
She’s very, very sick.
She’s hanging in there.
She’s holding her own.
You need to be patient.
Let her know you’re supporting her.
We’ve heard these and more like it with all the best intentions from the medical people we talk with every day. All of them are some code for this: God knows. Truly: God knows what will happen here.
I’m tired of doctors asking me what I want to “do.” I want to talk to my Mom again. I want to hear her voice. I want to look at her, have her look at me – really see me – and smile at her. I want her to be comfortable. I want to tell her just one more time: I love you, and have her hear me.
I want her to be here. For a little while longer.