My friend’s mother died this week—the first of my friend’s mothers to die. As I sat in the chapel listening to the speakers’ words of hope and grief and vision for a future without her, I did not hear a word. As my friend stammered out the Gospel of Paul, tearfully tripping over the sermon, I did not hear a word. I thought instead about my 60ish year old friend and how she must feel right at this moment like a 10 year old whose mother just left her home alone. I lingered on that scenario and about just how much (at 53) I believed that I was not ready for my mother to leave me home alone.
My life with my mother flashed through my mind….different times, ages, settings. I thought about how badly I have treated my mother over the years and how lovingly and thoughtfully she treated me in return—rarely pushing back at me no matter how much I pushed her. The times are so rare, that I can remember them all and count them on one hand.
Still, over the years, I felt she didn’t love me enough, or show it enough, or care enough, or be strong enough of a mother to me. And, I let her know in subtle and not so subtle ways that she didn’t quite meet the mark. The “mark” ascribed by Hallmark and Leave it to Beaver and other marketing ploys that have more to do with selling greeting cards than with the realities of actually being a mother. My mother did not have chocolate chip cookies and milk waiting for me when I got home from school.
While true that she was not Mrs. Cleaver of “Leave it to Beaver” fame, she did toil and save to take us to the fabric store to pick out the latest fashion in sewing patterns and fabric so that she could make all of our clothes. She ensured that for Easter, my sisters and I had a new dress, gloves and an Easter bonnet. She took care that our Easter baskets and Christmas stockings alike were filled with little treasures that she knew we would enjoy. And, she taught us manners—how to do things properly so that when we did get out in the world, we would know which fork to use, which bread plate was ours and how to say please and thank you.
She set us loose on the world with the knowledge and wisdom that would permit us to be good citizens—to be polite and gracious—to be first-class ambassadors for our family—to sit down at or set anyone’s table and not embarrass her or us. She sang with us on car trips, helped set up tents and cooked over fires on camping trips, was a Camp Fire Girl leader and Boy Scout mom, and a cheerleader for all the sports and other activities we did. She was and is still present in our lives…in my life. No matter how much I pushed her over the years, her response to me was to love me and care about me and take care of me in all the little, unremarkable, unpretentious, unassuming ways that she does.
We blame our mothers for everything. Our fathers and their often paltry contribution to the family life are esteemed in so many ways. Our fathers are not blamed because the house is a mess, or the kids are dirty or misbehaved, or the yard is unkempt; it is our mothers who are blamed for every failure of the family. Our mothers, not our fathers, are diminished or esteemed by the successes or failures of their children. At least, in this regard, I have not failed my mother. But I have revered my father’s advice over hers and often neglected to heed her words of wisdom, when hindsight often revealed they were the more thoughtful, wise, and intuitive.
I believe (hope) that my mother will be with me for a great deal longer and that I will not soon be left home alone. Just in case, I want her to know now while she is healthy and able to digest these words that she is a magnificent mother—a woman fraught with and balanced by courage, wisdom, love, peace, and strength. I am sorry and ashamed for all the times I failed to see this and succumbed to the rhetoric of what a mother is supposed to be instead of seeing and valuing my mother for who she is and the amazing value she brought to and brings to my siblings, her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and to me. I believe that my mother is a woman who gave up her own dreams early on in her young life to help us build the foundation upon which we could fulfill ours. She is a fascinating, smart, beautiful, gentle, kind, strong woman with a big heart and an amazing amount of resilience and strength. I love her with all the capacity that I have within me to love anyone and am so grateful not to yet be left home alone.
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