Every few hours last night, I awakened with a start. My mother was on my mind. Nothing bad, nothing good, nothing sad, nothing glad, she was just in the forefront of my thoughts. My brain rarely stops so usually if I wake up in the middle of the night I have a hard time falling back asleep. My brain is always ready to go.
I think it is part of the letting go process. I am beginning to come out of whatever surreal state I’ve been in for the last two weeks. Yesterday it was two weeks since she signaled the end had come. I noticed it first when we returned to the apartment. I am prone to caffeine headaches. I had one that day for the first time in weeks. Like those first tingles when your mouth awakens from the dentist’s Novocain, my emotions and body was awakening.
It’s odd this numbness I feel. While it makes decisions difficult, it has been a soothing anesthesia. I think I am ready to wake up. When you are numbed for a medical or dental procedure, you may have some significant pain when you are fully awake. Perhaps I should be glad that I haven’t fully woke up.
I have wondered for quite a few years how I will feel when my mother passed away. On the surface, we looked very close. For short periods in my life, we have been somewhat close. Notice the hesitation to claim those times as fully close. Our relationship was complex and complication.
To most people my mother appeared to be a simple person; she was not. She was as complex as our relationship. At her funeral, we read something sent by one of her nephews. A line spoke of questions we (the remaining) were not wise enough to ask. I think I would like to know what traumas she experienced in her life that caused her to be so complex. I know a lot about her life. I was very inquisitive as a child. I have an amazing memory. I know a lot. Nevertheless, I think there are many things I don’t know about her. Even those questions I asked her, she no doubt held back because of her own pain.
There are secrets and stories forever locked in the grave now. Her father was not faithful to her mother. Her mother had more children than they could afford and would take measures to abort fetuses. Horrific stories she would tell. Her father tried to hang himself one time. Her sister Minnie came home just in time. She said he was “under conviction.” I rather think he was "under" depression.
I heard stories of her constant hospitalizations before I was born. When I was a child she wouldn’t eat. Was she anorexic? Or was it a symptom of her depression. I remember her buying little jars of baby food saying this is all I can eat. As I look back at that with adult eyes, I realize she must have had deep pain inside.
I worked for several years as a therapist in a mental health facility. My boss was a wise person. He would say, you know you are grown up when you forgive your parents for the mistakes they’ve made, realize they are human and that they did the absolute best they could. I grew up a long time ago. At times, the immature little girl who was hurt reappears. Nevertheless, I know she did the best she could.
We glorify motherhood, forgetting that a mother is just a fragile, frail, human being. No less human or imperfect than the children she bore. We heap superhuman expectations on them. Often they can rise to those expectations; often they cannot.
Long after I was grown, she reached maturity. She was finally able to receive and express love. Hugs denied me were given to my children and grandchildren. I taught my children to love her and respect her in ways I was never able. Experiencing that love, she was able to give it back. She continued to grow as a human being until her last breath. She died at peace.
As I awaken and grief comes, I will remember my mother as a complex and complicated person who was only capable of doing her best. I am a product of her best. I find myself as complex and complicated as she was. I also have some growing to do.