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Remembering with a Smile

A Year in the Spiritual Life... Discover Your Purpose: Remembering with a Smile


Remembering with a Smile

She was a character, my mom. I wasn't raised by her, my parents divorced when I was four or five. My father remarried when I was eight, so I had a mom; who raised me for 9 years - I just wanted “my” mom too. 

When I was 17, I left home at the request of my parents, (we had a rough relationship and I was a handful) moved in with family 800 miles away, back to where it all began for me: Arkansas. I was born there, as were my parents; my family roots were there. 

I felt more at home there than I ever had in Texas as a kid, and I had not lived there for twelve years. While I was there, I went to my grandparents place on Lake Chicot. They had passed on, but I knew that my mom, the one I did not know, still owned it. 

I was a kid; fascinated by my past, wondering why my mom didn't want me, convinced my father drove her away, and not that she was just a flaky person with no sense of responsibility. So I dug. I dug through boxes in the garage; I dug through boxes in a car that was parked on the property. I even dug through the trash. 

I broke into my grandparents’ house. I climbed in the attic. I checked every drawer, ever closet, every chest. I stole family photographs, a quilt, some letters, even a gun that had belonged to my grandmother. These were my families’ things. They connected me to them in some tangible way. 

Later that night, after sharing my “finds” with my Aunt and Uncle, I discovered a number to the 7-98 Union dispatcher. I knew my mother was a welder, so I called and asked for her. Told them I needed to reach her, I was her daughter. The dispatcher commented they didn't know she had a daughter. Fifteen minutes later my mother called back. 

That first conversation was awkward. I had only seen this woman a handful of times growing up and though I knew the sound of her voice, it was strange talking to her. She wanted immediate intimacy that mothers and daughters have, and I wanted that, but did not feel it, so I could not fake it. It was years before we would get there. 

Still desperate for a connection to my mother, after having my first daughter, I asked her to move in with us. The next few years were a mixed bag. Getting to know the woman my mother was had moments of pain and joy. For a while I could focus on the joy. 

For a while, because I so desperately longed for a closeness that I had not had growing up I pretended that her exaggerations did not matter, her callous disregard of my sister, her daughter, didn’t matter, that her bad parenting advice was just her way of “helping”. I did not know how to handle her emotional outbursts when her guilt and grief over abandoning her girls got the better of her. She was an all or nothing, hot or cold person and I sometimes became overwhelmed by her emotional manipulations. 

Instead I focused on her sense of humor, and her love of adventure. She loved to just get in the car and go. I saw my first professional baseball game with her, as did my daughters, and every time I see baseball on TV now I think of her. 

In the last few years of my mom’s life, we had grown closer. It was a hard road, but we got there. My girls had a grandmother that loved them, though she was a mixed bag for them too. 

Then, she got sick. Hepatitis C. Normally, if you take care of yourself, follow a strict diet, take the treatment, you can live for years with HepC. My mom lived seven years after diagnosis. 

She was not a compliant person in life, and she was not a compliant person in her illness. She feared death, though she was saved (I think). She feared the actual physical part of dying. She was not a fan of pain, and after a chemo-immobilization for a liver tumor, she had what doctors refer to as phantom pain. 

Now, after years of being drug free, (she’d been an addict in those years I did not know her) she was popping her pain pills with too much frequency. She was not taking the other medications that would keep her healthy, and at 52 she slipped from normal to dementia to coma in less than a week. Her last words to me were “Don’t do this to me, don’t let me die.” Even at the end, my mom had a hard time with personal responsibility. 

That was nearly two years ago. I miss her. I miss the laugh that sounded just like mine; I miss the odd ball things she would say sometimes. I miss her getting super excited about spring training and cursing at the TV when the Cubbies where ahead of the Astros by a game and a half. 

I don’t know why I had to write about her today. I just felt like it was time. I loved the woman, though she made me feel like any moment could take us over the edge into Thelma and Louise territory. I guess I just needed to remember her, in this moment and instead of being angry at her for her weaknesses, I had to smile at her quirks. 

What is your mom like?

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