The Strength of Unexpected Sacrifice
When my mother died, I felt relieved. She wasn’t horrible, in fact she was loving, apple pie baking, piano playing, seamstress who loved being a mom. She’s the reason I am as emotionally healthy as I am today. The feeling of relief caught me by utter surprise, and yet at the same time it was like I was waiting for it.
Somehow letting her go in my mind was a sacrifice I was willing to make in exchange for her peace. She needed peace more than I needed her to stay with me in her dilapidated body. At age 15, I didn’t realize the toll on me of the years I watched her suffer: 3 times per week connected to a borg-like dialysis machine, in and out of hospitals to recover from Lupus flare-ups, and a horrible marriage to my father. My digestion of her death on Christmas Eve was my, and her, relief from the pain of living with disease and without marital love.
When I was younger, I thought about death because my church frequently reminded parishioners that we could die at any minute. I always thought my mother would go to heaven in a princess carriage with a parade to usher her onto the streets of gold. She was the icon of sacrifice in our family. Nothing was too hard; you just did what needed to be done. So when it was my turn to sacrifice for her, I did it with an inexplicable resolve. But Heaven didn’t take the place of my need for nurturing bosoms. I visited her grave often to talk about all the things I grieved she missed: the birth of my children, the last confrontation with my father, my marriage, my college graduation. I sought solace in professional counselors because I didn’t have anyone else to talk to in her place. Even within my willingness to let her go, I had to invite my loneliness in for tea to discuss tangled regrets of relationships I forged to fill the hole in my heart.
In feeling her peace as my peace, a significant part of my personality was formed. I discovered that I had a large capacity for sacrifice, which is both my greatest strength and weakness. Her model of sacrifice made me dig deeper into my soul for the strength of living. Being completely alone in the world, I was so frightened, sometimes I could not get out of bed. But as I have learned to trust the strength my mother’s death gave me, I found not only could I survive hard times, but I could resist the emotional death that bitterness causes.
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