My mom was the real-life culmination of June Cleaver and Doris Day: she wore an apron; heels; rhinestone, cat-eye glasses; and had a perfectly-sprayed, Marge Simpson, boofon-hairdo. I even remember her gliding through the house, feather duster in-hand, singing, “Que sera, sera, whatever will, be will be…” all while never really knowing what her song choice meant.
As a child, I believed that my mom loved cooking, cleaning, decorating, and taking care of us kids. Although there were times when I was playing, when she’d just stop, and with this distant look in her eyes, share how when she was a little girl, she dreamed of becoming a teacher or a nurse.
My mom met and married my dad when she was only 17 years-old. They both grew up in a time when most women got married right out of high school, and aspiring to be a wife and mother was perfectly acceptable, but once a baby came along, if you wanted more than that, a woman was often seen as a threatening, non-conformist not only by men, but by other woman as well.
As I grew older, I begin to realize, that beneath my mom’s perfectionistic, need-to-clean, was a woman with a deep sadness, and longing for unfulfilled dreams. Keeping our house immaculate became my mom’s drug of choice: she cleaned because that’s what her family’s and societies’ expectations were of her; she cleaned because it gave her a sense of control over the things she felt she had no control over; and if she could just keep busy enough cleaning, she could avoid feeling the emptiness and pain of her unfulfilled dreams.
After 29-years of not being true to herself, and us kids out of the house, my mom finally felt it was safe, to be true to herself. With family encouragement and support, at the age of 46, our mom finally went back to school.
It took a lot of hard work and determination, but two-years later, my mom had become an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), and landed a position at our local hospital.
Years of denial, repression, and self-sacrifice seemed to melt away, as tears of joy and pride ran down all of our cheeks the first time we saw her in her uniform and nurses cap–but, not before the effects of what I believe, not being true to oneself can cause. Four months into my mom living her dream, she was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer.
October 16, 1990; at the young age of 49; and only a year after diagnoses; we laid our mother to rest; wearing her nurses’ uniform, her nurses’ cap, and with her stethoscope proudly, adorned around her neck.
I have since come to believe that having dreams that are repressed, and denied, can manifest themselves into a slow and painful death, not only for the repressor, but for those they leave behind.
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