It took every spec of courage I had plus several hits on the snooze button to get out of bed and face this day. Don’t get me wrong. I had a sincerely good mom and I have incredibly awesome kids. It’s just that Mother’s Day can be loaded on both sides of the equation once you get past the stage where your kids plaster your refrigerator in homemade love notes with dyslexic letters and you all begin to see each other more three dimensionally.
That foundational connection between mom and daughter, the one where a child learns what it means to be human, before realizing they’re in the classroom of life, it leaves an indelible tattoo on the persons we become and that tattoo is always some kind of ugly-beautiful.
My mom wasn’t a perfect mother and I was not a perfect daughter.
I’m not a perfect mama and I don’t have perfect kids.
And, according to everything I understand about christian doctrine, the same holds true beyond the borders of my family tree.
Our lives, amalgamated together resemble the categories of Shakespearean theater. There’s a whole lot of history with a unique blend of comedy and tragedy. Plot lines from generations of stories all being lived out on the stage of our family relationships.
I wish life was like my daughter’s math curriculum. When she gets a failing grade on a lesson, I can delete it online and she can give it another try.
I wish we got second chances to work through the rough patches in our parent-child relationships.
I wish we could tap into that innate curiosity to understand our parent’s stories before it’s too late to ask.
I wish we could lean into the paradox of both the beauty and the broken in our family bonds emulating something of the grace we have ourselves received.
I wish we could know what we know after we lose a parent beforehand.
Last year, leading up to that second Sunday in May, I was in a puddle of tears. There’d been so much transition in the annum prior, a reconfiguring of my daily rhythms and a new quietness I was still learning to appreciate. In the hush, I found myself barraged by shame and grief over my failures and missteps as a daughter and a mother. One day, I ugly cried to my spiritual director, unloading the burdens I carried on my aching back. She encouraged me to write a letter to my mom, drive myself to the cemetery and read it to her. So I did.
Here’s what I told her:
You were born 101 years ago today. I’m glad you were. You brought much good to my world by being you. I want you to know that I noticed how hard you tried, how resourcefully and creatively you problem solved, how perseveringly you navigated a disappointing marriage, how hard you worked and how generously you shared. It was from you I learned hospitality. You taught me to be intentional about pursuing friendships. Thank you for putting feet to vision and determination, for teaching me by example that I can do a great many things if I don’t give up. I’m grateful that it was your priority that I grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Thank you for making sure we attended church, for my Christian education, for praying with and for me every night. I value music because you did and it has enriched my life. I shop thriftily because you taught me how. I’ve walked a million miles because you walked the first 10,000 with me.
Ours has been a difficult relational journey. While individuating is a natural part of growing up, the process was deeply disruptive for us. I imagine it must have been confusing to you to see our relationship dismantle and I couldn’t understand or explain what was happening inside of me but I assure you it was also extremely painful. Now, I understand better why I put up barriers, why I viscerally needed space. I’m just so sad that I got stuck there– that I wasn’t able to proactively contribute to relational repair. Now, I know experientially as a mother what it’s like to love profoundly and to cause great hurt simultaneously. We’ve lived a messy love. All of us. From one generation to the next.
I’m sorry that injustice, betrayal, abuse, poverty, alcoholism and marital friction were written into your childhood story and though that’s all long before my time, I’m sad that trauma remained an unwelcome and toxic companion all your lifelong journey. If I never put it into words before, I want to acknowledge that you experienced things no child should endure, that you were not to blame for and the consequent burdens you carried the best you knew how. Well done!
I’m sorry for the times I shut you out, unable to receive your sincere care and concern.
I’m sorry for my lack of compassion regarding worries you felt for me. I know what that’s like from the other side now.
I’m sorry for the times I ignored your wisdom when you spoke into life altering choices I was making.
I’m sorry that I was so focused on myself that I failed to see you, know you and love you one adult to another.
I’m sorry that I chose a favorite parent and it wasn’t you. That had to be excruciatingly painful, especially when your investment in me growing up was so much more intentional.
I’m sorry for all of the opportunities squandered, the shared laughter quieted, the healing words and touch not expressed.
I’m sorry for my prideful disregard when your health failed and you needed to leave your beloved home.
I’m sorry that I ended up moving 1000 miles away when you and dad needed the most care.
I’m sorry I wasn’t holding your hand when you when you transitioned from this world to eternal life.
God made you my mom, through a series of surprise mercies. You loved me sincerely and served me lavishly. You journeyed alongside me faithfully on this hard and often pretty one-sided calling. I’m grateful for you! I know you were the right mom– the best mom- for me. If I got a do-over, I’d speak these word humbly face to face. There’d be tears and a long hug.
I’m looking forward to meeting you in heaven, to seeing who you are now that you’ve been healed from shame and fear and have experienced protective, unconditional, holy love. I’m looking forward to how God will heal me too, and how we will reunite then and there. I’m looking forward to that hug.
I love you, Dolly
It was not easy to drag myself out from under the covers this morning. But I did. And I put one foot in front of the other and walked straight to that little college, where my husband and I shared life with our daughters in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment for eleven summers. We owned that campus, and there, we lived life to the full. I circled the road that runs around its periphery several times pedestrian style, pulling up memories to match every square inch of space and offered them up with gratitude to God. Then, I went back with the kids for a picnic on the big hill later that day. We immortalized the moment with a picture in the tree, that tree, the one we always took a picture in.
Then we went dumpster diving because my son loves to do that. He climbed right into a gigantic trash container at another college campus down the road, one where the students had disposed of their throw aways from the year and gone home for summer vacation. Some of the trash was absolutely rancid, but in that dumpster was brand new stuff too, good stuff, even great stuff. “SCORE!”, he said with a broad smile across his face when he climbed out and eyed his loot scattered on the grass nearby.
Life is like that… To be a mom and to be a daughter, you’ve got to be willing to climb into the dumpster and sort through the garbage to find the treasure. It’s there! You’ll get kinda dirty in the process but you’ll find fresh, new mercies in the mix. And for today, they’ll be enough.