Loving Mom, Lessons Learned

It’s a funny thing, mother/adult daughter relationships. Nineteen months before my mother died, I struggled with guilt. Seven years after her death, I still struggled.

Would she have wanted this? Would she have wished to imprison me in a vault of heavy emotion and burdensome self-loathing?

I honestly didn’t know.

During the last several years, I’ve met many adults, women, mostly, whose own parents have died or are facing imminent death. I’ve counseled and advised friends to put aside childish emotions and embrace their parents despite their humanness, their ungodly imperfection.

Not because I did any of this before my mom’s stroke. Only because I wish I had.

I was not fortunate enough to know my father, who died when I was five. For most of my growing-up years, Mom was my everything: Mother, Father, Ally, Nemesis, Support, God.

She was, however, never my friend.

I think she tried. Sometimes, I did, too. I now wish I’d tried harder. I wish for this every day of my life and probably always will.

For many years, I analyzed our journey in blogs and journals, which provided a skeleton outline for my memoir and master’s thesis/project. I dug through photos and scrapbooks for solace and information. I have always been my family’s historian. When I was a child, I would spend hours looking through my mom’s high school yearbooks and photo albums. (I used to get in trouble for tearing out pictures glued into her scrapbook, for good reason, because old photos and pages would get ripped, rendered unrecognizable.) Throughout my life, I’ve read old prayer cards and notes and newspaper articles layered in the family bible between the Book of Genesis and the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Most of these treasures have been laid to rest in Mom’s cedar chest, an engagement gift from my father, one that has found a permanent place in my living room.

Perhaps the most meaningful and informative thing she left behind was a journal she maintained in the 1980s and 19901 after I moved away. Contained within the orange plastic binder are stories of heartbreak and devotion to Jesus and His Blessed Mother. Mom also wrote about the economic hardship she endured while maintaining a home paid for by Social Security and meager wages she earned as a nurse’s aid at a long-term care facility. Things spiraled downhill after 1981, the year President Reagan signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. For my family, it meant that I would continue to be paid my dependent child benefits received because my dad was dead, but my sister would lose hers completely because she didn’t enroll in college the summer after her senior year in high school. (I am appalled that this act applied to all dependents, regardless of household  income. That it was considered a form of financial aid is ridiculous, especially to those of us whose widowed mother’s income barely met the poverty line. I’m sure I’m not the only child who signed over her monthly checks to her parent earning $3.85 per hour at a lousy job.)

Reading her notebook continues to give me insights that are helping me write this memoir. However, it still tugs at my heart because I know I had plenty of opportunities to positively impact her life and our relationship, but because I had grown distant and callous toward her in my adult years, I blew it. Why couldn’t I humor her and accept her offers of lunch at Burger King after Sunday mass? Why didn’t I try to find out where we could go to furnish her apartment with a couch? Why didn’t I visit her more often in her apartment and invite her to visit me in my house? Sure, she treated me like crap sometimes and annoyed me most other times, but I believe now I could–and should–have looked beyond these things and moved forward, not without her but with her right by my side.

Too late, I realized I had always expected my mother to be perfect even though I knew full well I’m not or ever will be. Before her stroke, I refused to acknowledge she wasn’t just my mom but a woman as well, a mistake I hope I can spare other adult daughters who happen to read my story.

Since most of us aren’t gifted with psychic abilities, we will never know what’s ahead. I certainly never expected my mother would endure a stroke that would essentially end our little dance of Love Me/Love Me Not. Oh, the memories, the history I don’t have as a keepsake, and I can only blame myself for that.

That she survived her stroke and lived another nineteen months served as her curse but my blessing and redemption. I could love her in a new way and fill her to capacity with that love. But it was nevertheless an extremely painful time, not only because her life was impacted so severely, but because she whom I had known my entire life was lost forever.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my feelings of guilt and regret, so for those of us who are struggling with these feelings, I hope we can encourage each other along the path to self-forgiveness. But for those for whom it is not too late to evolve in your mother/daughter relationship, I hope you can use my experience in a positive way.

19 thoughts on “Loving Mom, Lessons Learned

  1. What a poignant story Jane. I’ll contact you via e-mail to discuss some other things and possibly some future guest posts from you. Your subject is one that so few people are willing to acknowledge. I find you very brave and compassionate in sharing your story without rancor. Now it’s time to let go of the guilt.
    Laura (startingthedialogue.wordpress.com)

    • Letting go of the guilt is the most difficult part. You are very perceptive, and I would be honored to write a guest post for you. Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read my story. Jane

      • I’ve learned we are so much harder on ourselves in life than is necessary. The guilt is hard to let go of, and so many suffer from it, but we are not meant to be here to find fault with ourselves. Christ taught us to love others, but to also love ourselves as He loves us. He made the ultimate sacrifice so that we would not wallow in self doubt or guilt, but that we might live this life to the fullest expression of joy and gratitude for the great opportunity we’ve been given in having the blessing of life on Earth. I find that not many individuals believe or accept that this life is a gift, an adventure, and an experiment in learning. All I know is that I am very grateful for it. Will e-mail you in a bit about the guest post. Currently at work–home internet doesn’t get hooked up until tomorrow since I just moved.
        Have a great evening!

  2. A beautiful, heartfelt story. My mom and I had a really bad relationship for 40 years. She was beautiful, but insecure and cruel. Her new husband liked me in a special inappropriate way, and rather than defend me, she made me the “other woman.” I was eight. I became her whipping girl and the verbal abuse ripped my self-esteem to shreds. It took me many years to love myself and to forgive her. When I finally stood up for myself at age 40, she and I had our first honest conversation and things changed. She had seen me as a child who didn’t want her as a mother. Once she realized this wasn’t true, she changed. Now she is very loving towards me. Returning home to live with and care for her after all the years of abuse, was a difficult decision for me. She is still who she was, and she can still be cruel, but I no longer allow mistreatment, thus she takes care in her interactions with me. Guilt is a worthless emotion. Every person is always doing the best they can based on their level of awareness at the time. As we become more aware, we can look back and see how we could have done things differently, but if you could have, you would have. Don’t judge yourself for where your heart and emotions were at the time. They were your best at that time. We grow. We change. We learn to love more. You did your best, based on your level of awareness. So did your mom. Knowing this helped me drop the resentment and guilt. I hope it helps you.

    • Thank you! Your childhood sounds torturous, and for you to overcome it and embrace your mother in her humanity is a remarkable story. If my mom had been like that, I don’t know that I would have been so generous, so you teach me a valuable lesson. And thanks for the reminder that I, too, did the best I knew how to do with what I had at the time, as did my mom, so this will help keep the guilt emotions at bay. Thank you so much for your comment, and take good care of yourself 🙂 Jane

  3. I’m so glad that I happened to come across your blog Jane; because after reading about everything between you and your mother it’s helped me come to terms with my relationship with my mother. No mother’s perfect and now I see that I should cut mine some slack, and to also stop blaming her things that have happened in the past. Thank you 🙂

    • Wow! That’s fantastic! That’s one of the main reasons I began working on this memoir. I hope you and your mother enjoy your “new” relationship for many years to come 🙂

  4. My new relationship with my Mom since Alzheimer’s is strangely somehow my blessing and redemption as well. Still racked with guilt for not noticing earlier and spending more quality time with her and accepting her the way she was for all those years. We have a totally different relationship now that my expectations (that she could never really fulfill) are gone. Thanks for this post and making me think.

    • I’m glad you have a meaningful and memorable relationship with your mother. Also, it took me many years to release the guilt. What helped is when I realized that just as my mother did the best with what she had to work with, so did I. We are only human, too, just like our mothers 🙂 Jane

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time and making the effort to read my blog. I realize that I am writing in the same genre that you have, and I just wished I had read your thoughts and used your insight as I travelled the same path with my Mom. It was so hard! I am in the process of putting my book together and have just wanted to see if I could generate any interest in this topic. I learned a lot of information regarding the medical profession and the issues inherent within their sphere. I still find myself dealing with guilt in not recognizing and seeing better ways with which to deal with the myriad issues the final years brought. I fully understand how I do not wish to live my final days. Wish I could attest to finding comfort and joy during the last few years, but I did not and instead just felt such a weight lifted from my shoulders, along with the ever present guilt. But, I did the best I could and I have to realize that is the best anyone could hope to do. I so appreciate your taking the time to write a few words of comfort.

    • During my journey with my mother, I experienced some of the darkest hours of my life. The only real joy I felt stemmed from the fact that instead of my finding her dead, I found my mother alive, which granted me the time I needed to resolve our relationship and care for her in the ways I needed to. Had she died, I believe the guilt would have been insurmountable and forever present. As daughters, you and I did the very best we could with what we had to work with, and I fully understand my mother did the same thing throughout my life. I hope you find the peace you deserve.
      Best, Jane

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