Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death, and it’s hard to hold back the tears. And as I think back to a statement I made last week to a therapist, I feel shame in addition to sorrow. That’s because I had the gall to say, “My mom was basically mute in my life. I can’t remember a single conversation I ever really had with her.”
Those words were spoken from my bitterness.
I was the only girl in our family of four children and I had always longed to be close to my mother. It’s true that I did not feel special as the only girl. And it’s true that my mom and I didn’t do mother/daughter things much. Surely, when I became a teen, whatever relationship we had dwindled significantly with common tension about boys and chores.
I went off to college in New Jersey at age 18. I got married at age 20 and moved 500 miles away. Even the process of planning my wedding was mechanical at best. My mom never came with me to shop for wedding gowns. What I said to my therapist stemmed from these realities.
It’s sad, however, that my default setting is to dwell on what my mother was not instead of who she was. She was a godly woman and she took my brothers and me to church every Sunday. What a gift! It’s the greatest gift a parent can give because it offers an anchor all souls desperately need: the anchor of faith.
My mom did this spiritual guiding alone, as my father never came to church. He even ridiculed her church commitments later in their marriage. But it was God’s spirit in my mother giving her courage and resolve to ensure her children had a chance to meet Him.
And meet Him I did. No. Not at the church in which I grew up, but later when I was in college. But Mom had tilled the soil of my heart by showing me how to make faith a priority. Not only did we attend church, we sang in the choir and supported various activities there. At the age of 13, I became the church organist, which later evolved into accompanying the Gospel choir in college and serving in music ministry in my adult years. The gift of piano lessons was a message all its own.
As a working mom, she met my every need. She never failed to fix breakfast in the morning and dinner in the evening. She partnered with my dad to give my brothers and me a hugely comfortable life that included Catholic school, a pool in the backyard, family vacations, and a dog. They supported our every endeavor with money, encouragement, and long hours on hard bleachers. I drove an Audi, a Lincoln, and Buick to school. How on earth can I be bitter?
There are so many other ways my mother spoke to me by the way she lived. Like how to care for the elderly by taking me with her to visit her cranky Aunt Daisy.
Like how to do self-care after I had my first baby by encouraging me to “dab on a little make up.” She also mailed me clothes from time to time, sending a message of love and maybe redemption. Maybe she began reflecting on how fast time had flown and she wished we had done more mother/daughter things.
In these ways, my mother was having a conversation with me.
“Mary. It’s important to know God and serve others.”
“Mary, I love you. I will provide for you.”
“Mary, I am proud of you and I love your precious babies.”
“Mary, I am sorry. Let’s be friends.”
Sadly, my mom died from a brain aneurysm when I was 24 and our ability to grow a deeper friendship never fully materialized.
Nevertheless, it’s wrong of me to speak out of bitterness as though my mom was a failure. She was not mute. She spoke to me by the way she lived her life, and her life was a life of love.
My dad came to church for this family photo, included in the church directory.
This is one of my favorite photos. I remember this night when my mom played a board game with my brother and me.
My parents were gracious enough to host my wedding reception at their home. I look back now on all the preparations required and realize how much I took for granted.