Over the last five years
my life story has been full of tension and some might say tragedy. The process has been grueling and traumatic. My parents have made a problematic imprint on my life. I am working toward the days when I can celebrate again the good people that they are, but I must work through our family legacy, parts of which I must reject.
Often, I have found myself focused on the negative ways that my father especially has affected me. I rarely talk about my mother, in part because she is still alive and that story is not complete. Something happened recently between us that I feel is worth remembering here.
is a strange mix of strength and weakness that constantly perplexes me. I have been devastated at times by our relationship, which is strange and erratic. Both emotionally and mentally agonizing, but at times we have moments of tremendous truthfulness. I do not trust her and yet I deeply wish for her understanding. I love her and yet I want to live my life without her (at times) because she has an uncanny way of being able to hurt me. This frightens me. It would be easier to walk away. So far, I haven’t chosen that path.
My mother, seventy-two years old, is the daughter of a southern philanderer for a father and a mother who raised five children by herself washing and ironing clothes. She grew up in poverty, but my mother is bright, with a photographic memory to compensate for her dyslexia. She was the first in her family to go to college where she trained to be teacher and supported my father through college and graduate studies. They went to the mission field in 1966 to be teachers.
Today, sitting in her condo with the air conditioner running and the Red Sox playing, she is a far cry from the woman who trekked through the jungles of Papua New Guinea pregnant with me and holding a toddler. She is a complicated person.
So Mom showed up the other day,
sitting, chatting about nothing important (something she hasn’t done for at least a year.) I said “Stay and hang out while I feed the kids lunch.” She was on a fast of some sort, or I would have offered her the PB&J I was feeding the children.
And she blurted out that she wanted to be my friend.
… Heavy silence ensued …
I felt in a moment, as she threw out those words, that time stood still. And as she waited for my response it took
f o r e v e r.
She threw down her wishes as if everything, the past, had just magically disappeared.
A whirlwind of panic blew into my kitchen and was swirling around in my stomach, and heart, and head. Many things were going through my head. I am afraid of my mother — that she’ll need me too much. And I am afraid that she will reject me. I am frightened by her power over me. Should I be ecstatic that she wants to be my friend? Remember the not small part of the equation where she is constantly forgetting important things? Not telling me about a mother’s day lunch out with my sister. Her calling and turning me down on one of the kid’s concerts at the last-minute. Feeling too tired to come to my photography exhibit. Forgetting the Artist Showcase at my church where I had things on display. There are hundreds of occasions like these which I try to forget because it hurts. Over and over it hurts and I tell myself “Do not care. Again.” These things are unimportant in the larger scheme of life and yet they are a part of why I am so afraid of her.
I’m afraid and I somehow convey this to her as we sit there at my kitchen table. Then tears slowly begin to slip down her face. And as they start to really flow she says something that utterly blows me away.
“It is so difficult to get old.” She continues that it’s frightening. It’s unpredictable. It’s simply hard to face going places alone, not knowing if she’ll find handicapped parking and be forced to walk a long distance. And at times this completely overwhelms her and she can’t face it. So she cancels.
I cannot express adequately to you now how huge this is for me. I have taken her actions as personal rejection of me, as her daughter. Her absences. Cancellations and no shows. And rather than tell me the truth she’s used sickness and fatigue as the excuse. Why? Why do these things ever happen? We are all a strange mixture of motives, fears and desires. She hates that she’s getting old. She’s afraid. She lives alone and what if we decide she can’t handle that any more. What if she decides she can’t? What will it mean for her independence? For all of us? As she sits in her condo, comfortable and safe it’s just easier to not go out.
Growing old is hard on one’s ego. And so uncool don’t you think? The loss of privacy. Dignity. Independence. God help us all as we walk toward this with our parents. May we love them and listen well. Take enough time to ask the right questions and have discernment as we move ahead.
I have felt that my mom doesn’t want to me in her life, not really. This comes out of my dysfunction certainly but has been based on actual events.
And it turns out that she just needs a ride. This is a new place for us to travel to in our relationship — a place of dependence and fragility — but a step closer to one another.