My story is going to jump off the tracks a little here in the timeline. This is because what I want to talk about was happening over a longer period of time than I usually discuss in one post. Also, the effects of what had been happening are most fully felt in the next section.
I have mentioned my mom, obviously, in my previous posts. I only briefly touched on when her life (from what I saw of it) changed. This is, of course, in reference to before my dad died which again would change her life dramatically.
When both of my parents were very sick when I was in 8th grade something changed in my mom. She never talked very openly with me about it but it was plain to see. I can only give what actual information I do know from what she told me and my own impressions of it.
My mom had a difficult childhood. I don’t know the specifics of it but I do know that much. I wouldn’t say it was entirely miserable because that simply isn’t true. I know that from all the great stories she was willing to share but there were hardships. When I was much younger some of those issues did seep into her adult life, as would be expected. I see it more clearly now looking back then I did at the time.
Again, I wish I could be more specific but I just don’t know what was going on inside her head but something was triggered around the time of all the illnesses. I can only imagine what it would do to a parent to not only yourself be very sick but your spouse at the same time. Was it fear of losing my dad or the possibility of her own mortality or something else completely? I don’t know, but my mom changed, a lot.
I do know that she started seeing a therapist but I don’t know how often or even for how long. I don’t know if this was the cause of the change or part of it or what. Here is what I do know. Something made my mom decide to become a very different person. I do mean “decide”. I can’t say that other people saw it as much as I did or even maybe if it was more of a change in our relationship than it was in her as a whole but this is my story from my point of view and this is how I see what happened.
My mom laughed more. She smiled more. She never again, for the rest of her life, commented in any way about my weight (even when she would have been justified in doing so). She and I spent more time together having two-way conversations. She became my friend. My entire high school life (and my whole life thereafter) with my mom was vastly different from my life with her before. Again, it is entirely possible that the change was in our relationship but I don’t think that is true. When most girls become teenagers and strive only to separate themselves from their mom I was getting closer to mine. Come to think of it maybe the change was in me. Maybe the thought of losing her changed me.
Actually, I believe, as the case tends to be, that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It was probably all of those things. I know my mom changed, I know I changed and I know our relationship changed. Don’t get me wrong I was still a teenaged girl, we fought. I asserted my independence. I drove her crazy, as was my duty, but her reactions to all those things wasn’t what it would have been before. She was more willing to talk things out. She wanted to hear and understand my side of things. She became my advocate. I am not trying to claim that she wouldn’t have been when I was younger; my mother loved me fiercely from the moment she knew I existed. I am not going to take that away. I also never doubted it. She would have killed anyone from the time I was born who even looked at me sideways. I always knew that. But there was a time when I was younger that she struggled with me. She struggled with herself, she later told me. I believe it was this struggle that brought us together. I was in high school and I was changing, I was becoming an adult person. At the same time, my mom was changing. I think she was able to see that we had these things in common and knew she could share things with me to help me avoid mistakes. Sadly, I was sure that I already knew everything so I didn’t listen as often as I should have. The fact remains, she was becoming a more secure, happy person.
I know this may not seem extraordinary to everyone but it really is to me and warrants it’s own post for a few reasons. First, I believe that she saw things about herself that she didn’t like and actively endeavored to change them. Not just superficial things but the hard stuff, the deep down emotional, tough-to-face stuff. She took these things head on and chose to become the person she wanted to be instead of the person her childhood set her up to be. I find this incredibly brave. I have struggled with these things myself (not that my childhood was anything like hers) and I know how incredibly hard that can be. I find myself slipping back and forth between the “old” me and the “new” me constantly. I didn’t ever see her do that. She seemed to push straight ahead with such strength and courage, two traits which she would exhibit in abundance over and over in her life. They are also the two traits of her I most try to emulate. The one I tend to have most strong is stubbornness but you take what you can get. The fact that mom my was able to make such deep and profound changes has been a source of encouragement for me for many years. I often take looks at my life and am not happy with what I see, whenever that happens, I think of my mom and I know that I can make the decision to be whoever I want to be, like she did. You know I love to foreshadow so let me say this, she was not the only person in her family to endure such a transformation. More on that later.
The best way to explain who my mom and I became together is to ask this; do you know who Lucy and Ethel are? Yeah, we became thick as thieves. My poor dad. I don’t even want to admit to myself the number of shopping trips that ended with us pulling into the garage and my mom saying, “Don’t tell your dad.” She probably told him herself but I liked feeling like we had our little secrets. My mom had gone from a “mother” to a “mom” but she had a nice balance of not accidentally slipping strictly into being just a “friend”. She was my friend on many levels but she was never willing to relinquish her role as mom. That is one of the things for which I am most grateful. I was 32 when she died and at no point in my life was I ready to not have a mom, I’m still not.
There is one other possible reason why my mom changed that I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention. As usual, it will take a little back story. My mom, was 1 of 6. Her parents had 4 children fairly close together and then had 2 more later in life. I think my mom was a teen when the younger girls were born. I don’t have dates in front of me so I am estimating. I have heard many stories of the way my mom and her sister, Noel cared for the younger sisters, Celiene and Judy. They were, as Noel put it “our baby dolls”. Because of the age difference and the family dynamic Judy and Celiene have always been more like older sisters than aunts to me. I have heard many stories of how my parents were like second parents to them. In fact, my dad taught my Aunt Celiene to drive. They had a very special relationship. Well, again, no dates in front of me but around the time my parents were going through all the illness my cousin was born. Kevin, he was Celiene’s first. (He is the baby in the picture of my mom from the previous post when she had no hair.) Kevin was more of a first grandchild than a nephew and I know my parents saw all my cousins the same way. Kevin and my mom would have probably about the most special relationship of two people that I have ever seen. (You will hear more about this later.) Therefore, I can’t fairly discount the very real possibility of Kevin coming into her life as having a huge impact. Of course, I am just speculating about all of this. I did once discuss with my mom this period of her life and the fact that I felt that she changed a lot and she definitely agreed but when I asked what happened she didn’t seem to know. I could tell when it was something she knew but didn’t want to talk about but during this conversation she didn’t really have one reason to point to. I am sure it was a combination of things. Also, remember the names Noel, Judy and Celiene few people or times in my life would have greater impact on me than what they did and how they gave of themselves when we would all have to face losing my mom, together.
I don’t want it to seem like the only formative moment I ever had with my mom was a bad one because that is far from true and would do a great disservice to the actual relationship we would grow to enjoy. One of the most important lessons I ever learned in my life was from her. It is one for which I even thanked her once. She didn’t remember ever saying it but it had a huge and lasting impact on me. I was a freshman in high school and still unsure of myself. I never admitted it out loud or told anyone, as most people don’t. Somehow this was obviously something that she was able to see in me. I was pretty easy for her to read, as I guess most kids can be to a good mom. Seemingly out of the blue she said to me, “You know, just because people are talking it doesn’t me they are talking about you and just because people are laughing it doesn’t mean they are laughing at you.” This was the first but not the last time in my life I thought my mom was a mind reader (another trait of a good mom). She seemed to recognize in that moment that I needed something and knew exactly what it was and how to present it in a way that I would take to heart and keep with me for the rest of my life. To this day there are times that I will walk past a group of people who will suddenly laugh out loud and I remember those words. They have brought me great comfort for many years.
I don’t know what prompted her to say that and when I asked about it years later she couldn’t remember the conversation at all so she didn’t know either. At first I was befuddled to discover that she didn’t even recall the scene at all but then she pointed out to me, “I guess you never know what you might say to someone that will stick in their heart. Have to be careful about that.” I don’t want to oversell it but seriously, who could come up with two life lessons stacked on each other like that?
There will be much more on my mom in the rest of the story. But I wanted to put this out separately because it becomes important to know how my relationship with her changed so much as will be clear in the next section. I also feel that she deserves her own section and I wanted this to be a bit of a love letter within a love letter.
If you hadn’t noticed yet that is what this whole thing is, a love letter. It is a love letter to all those people in my life which have changed me for the better. Those people who have loved me no matter what. It is for those people who have and would drop everything to be by my side. In that I have an embarrassment of riches. (Remember the 3 names I mentioned earlier?) It is also my way of honoring all of my family that I have lost. I know at times it seems I have been harsh on a few of them but the story isn’t over and I love all of the dearly. Some of the best “characters” (I mean that in every way) are yet to come and sadly, some are to go.
*Happy Mother’s Day mom. I miss you more than you will ever know. Thank you for the courage and insistence that I tell my story (our story). I love you.