Monday, June 30, 2014

She Would Have Been 70

My mother's 70th birthday would have happened on June 20. I let the day go by without commenting here on my blog, but I thought about it.

I've thought about it a lot.

My mother died in 2000 at the age of 56 - just five years older than I am now. She had pancreatic cancer. The disease manifested itself when she was 55, and she spent a year fighting it before it before cancer took her.

I was 37 years old when my mother died. Fourteen years have passed and I have grown considerably in the time, not up (maybe out a little) but inwardly.

I think I have forgiven her.

There was a lot to forgive. I needed to forgive her for dying, for getting sick, and for leaving me. But there was also that first 37 years of my life, which were turbulent and less than delightful. I needed to come to terms with all that took place in that long period of time.

My mother did not want to be a mother - certainly she did not want to be an 18-year-old mother, which is how old she was when I was born. I think she wanted to be a wife, but she wasn't ready to be a mother.

Eighteen is young to have a baby. It happens all the time all over the world, and perhaps there are young women that age who are mature and ready to raise a child. My mother was not one of them.

It didn't help that I was a girl. Girls in the early 1960s were not desirable. A boy, now that would have been something, to have had the first-born be the heir apparent, the male child who could inherit the world. He would come along three years later, a helpless squalling red-faced brat. I would die to protect him even today.

Perhaps I was not cast aside as I felt, but I felt it, nevertheless. I don't think it was my imagination, but I allow that perhaps it could have been. Regardless, I grew up feeling unwanted, unnecessary, and unneeded. I was told, frequently, that I was a burden, followed by endless tirades against the stupidity that comes from being a child. It was a helluva way to be raised.

My mother acknowledged a few times that I did not have it easy. She used to say I wasn't raised, I was jerked up. And I think she's right about that. I wasn't given much of a chance to be anything other than an old soul trying to grow into and out of my life long before I even had any idea of what that actually meant.

She loved me as well as she could. I have figured that out in the last 14 years, but it took her dying for me to discover that. My mother did not love me as I needed to be loved - unconditionally and without rancor. She wasn't capable of that with me. I don't know if that is how she loved my brother. You would have to ask him.

Her talents were many - she was crafty, she cooked wonderfully, she made my father a fine house. She threw great parties, she looked after her mother. She helped my father on the farm, she went to aerobics classes, and she took bookkeeping courses at Virginia Western when I was around 12 years old. She worked a 40-hour job for 30 years.

She didn't take me to church but she didn't stand in my way when I asked for a Bible, and she didn't flinch when I questioned things. But she could be mean and spiteful and when it came to her daughter, she was relentlessly difficult and I spent the entire time I knew her trying to understand why she hated me so.

I loved her, of course. She was my mother. I did everything I could possibly think of to please her, and failed every single time. As time passed I came to realize I didn't particularly like her as a person. We had nothing in common, we didn't share similar values (I have no idea where my moral system came from), I disliked her taste in clothes. She passed off love by giving things - material gifts - and I don't recognize that, generally, as a love offering. Material items are not part of my love language though I am trying to do better in seeing it. Materialism is, after all, how many people communicate in this day and age.

Recently I looked my own mortality squarely in the eye. The last year has been a difficult one for me health-wise, and while the doctors didn't think I was dying, I wasn't so sure. It rather felt like it, because I was very sick. I thought a great deal about my mother's cancer diagnosis. Her coming death was a certainty, and she refused to deal with it. She fought it, but she made no amends that I am aware of. I asked her many times over the course of the last year of her life to speak to me, to explain, to tell me what I needed to hear.

She refused. Every time. She would not explain, she would not say she was sorry, and she would not tell me I was loved. She went into her grave without saying the things I desperately wanted to hear.

My aunt told me she said them to her. I will never hear them.

I spent six months of the previous year trying to make sure I left nothing undone. Oh, I'm not going to die now, the doctors were right. But I went to work on the things that mattered most. And that wasn't acquiring more stuff, or making more money. It was being with people I cared about, and working on a broken relationship with my father, and trying to come to grips with my own odd concept of spirituality and what happens to us after we're gone.

And in the process of doing all of that, I realized that sometime in the last fourteen years, I had forgiven my mother.

Forgiving, I think, is one of the hardest things we can do. But it also the most important thing we do. I did not forgive my mother for her - she's not here, after all. I forgave my mother for myself. I think that's really the only reason you can forgive, is to make your own peace.

I learned, too, that time is short. You never know if you will live to be 51, 56 or 70. I might leave here for an appointment in a few minutes and not come back. Grudges are easy; forgiving is hard. I hope I always take the hard road.

With whatever time I have left, I want to always be loving and generous, kind, fun, and courageous. And I hope I have the courage to say "I love you" to the many, many people I would like to say it to.


  1. Well written Sis. Sounds like we need to talk. Maybe I can fill sin some blanks for us both. Love you!!!

  2. How sad that your mother didn't love and appreciate the wonderful gift she was given. It makes it even more amazing that you were able to find a loving relationship in your marriage. It is wonderful that you were able to forgive for your own peace of mind. Like a lot of people, I have issues with some of my father's parenting, but we had a good relationship after I grew up and left home. No one emerges unscathed from childhood! It is sad you had such a hard one, but it sounds like you have a loving family life now and that you cherish it. Good for you.

  3. Coming from parents who were a functioning alcoholic but very loving father and a mother who I was generally at odds with, and then marrying and becoming a mother VERY young, I have to say that I can see both sides of the coin.. you and your mom's. Sometimes as parents we are not sure why we raise a child or treat them the way that we do. She may not have even known the reasons behind the way she treated you... not trying to side with her, it's true. Sometimes things from our own childhood have immense effects on how we raise our own children. I've forgiven both of my parents for doing some of the things they did in their lifetimes. xox I mean, they are both dead, so does it really matter at this point?

  4. I'll try again. I don't think my previous comment published.
    This is a raw and revealing post, Anita. I've come to realize that most of us are ill prepared for parenting. Even with good intentions, we muddle it up somehow. What's amazing is that even without your mother asking for your forgiveness, you forgave her. That's a powerful thing.

  5. You had a lot to forgive! Your mother must have felt wounded in some way.


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