All mothers were not / are not wonderful. Many a year I’d search for hours or even days to find a card for Mother’s Day that said something good which was not a lie.
One of those years a friend challenged me to find 7 good things about my mother or life with my mother. It took a month to compile the list.
This is about one of the many times I went back home with a plan hoping to restore our relationship. I usually returned in tears. This time -decades later-was worse.
I had no plan. Turns out I didn’t need one. Here’s how it began:
After a dinner out celebrating my birthday, I’d preceded my husband into the house as he parked the car, and heard the answering machine beeping that we had a message. Automatically I stepped into the dark room, pressed “play”, and then gasped when I heard the familiar but thready voice singing “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear daughter, Happy Birthday to you.” That was all. The click and “end of messages” from the answering machine left me standing in mute shock. It was as eerie as the scene from a mystery thriller and it felt like I had turned to stone.
Ken came in, alarmed to find me in the dark room staring at the answering machine, my arms wrapped around myself. “What is it? Bad news?” he asked, as he held me.
Mutely, I reached over and hit “play” letting the message repeat. As we listened, his whisper echoed my thoughts. “Why now after all these years?”
Continuing to hold me, he prayed for me. He’d known my story and married me despite all the baggage I brought into our relationship. He’d been my protective knight through traumatic visits and volatile ‘episodes’. As time slipped by, I’d thought I’d grown immune to the painful memories, yet here I was years later, trembling in fear from the sound of my past. Yet, a feeling grew. I knew I needed to go. Perhaps her call meant there was hope. Ken’s prayer led me to the place of faith where I believed God would lead me each step of the way. I wasn’t sure if I could love or forgive Mom, but I knew with a certainty God could.
Her doctor confirmed there had been occasional loss of memory, and much consternation with things appearing to be missing but later found misplaced in odd locations. The loss of memory phrase got me. I remember questioning stories of people who said their past was so traumatic they forgot it. How many times I’d wished I could forget my troubled past. Now it seemed, Mom had forgotten – at least some of it, some of the time. Was it real or was it convenient? Was that good or did it mean it was too late to find healing? Whatever the outcome, I knew the commandment to “honor” my parents, so I prayed for faith to remember I was not facing this alone. I did not have to – spiritually, or literally.
Our granddaughter, Aimee, knew about the phone call and other parts of my story. I was grateful for her willingness to leave her job for several days and ironically spent the journey north preparing her what not to say – triggers that usually sent Mom into a rage.
When the familiar sign announcing my home town came into view, my mind took me back. I was disappointed with myself for feeling 11-years-old again, and memories I thought I had left behind now roared over me like an emotional Niagara Falls.
My chest hurt with the pain of remembrance and my face must have showed it as well.
“Are you OK, Grandma?” “Is this hard for you?”
Leave it to my granddaughter to spot the pain I thought was well hidden. I remember questioning stories of people who said their past was so traumatic they forgot it. How many times I’d wished I could forget.
We spent the night nearby, and once my darling granddaughter dozed off I crept out of bed to pray and think.
The “fixer” in me was clamoring – what should I do – what should I say? Should I have brought a gift? (I knew she might reject me, but hardly ever did she reject a gift.)
Like the Apostle Peter, I often spoke without thinking, filling quiet spaces with whatever words came to mind, and I grappled now with fear of what might result if I didn’t plan every word. Grabbing my Bible, I dropped onto the blue easy chair in the corner. The book fell open to the marker left from a recent Bible study, the yellow highlighting on the page ironically announcing the little phrase without words. I knew instantly that was my answer. I did not have to say or do anything; I just had to be there. I quietly chuckled at God’s sense of humor. Now THAT would be a miracle. Relieved knowing that God alone could enable that to happen, the choice was made, and I slept peacefully.
A gentle touch and meaningful glance from my granddaughter as we approached the home softened in sympathy as the door opened and Aimee’s glance moved from my mother to me. An unexpectedly quiet and subdued little woman shuffled behind the walker, which we folded into the trunk of the car, and began our journey.
I’d purposely planned more than a day would hold, hoping there would be no empty opportunity for an “episode.” Driving past the homes and schools of my childhood, Mom surprised us, remembering her sister lived nearby. We picked up Aunt Angie, and her daughter JoAnne and visited a a fancy restaurant between little drives across the countryside, ostensibly to show my granddaughter where I grew up and went to school.
Aimee could sense my growing tension after lunch because Mom was discovering that her idea to invite her sister, had split our attention.
After we returned my aunt home, Mom wanted to see the farm where she was raised, and directed us down the country roads. It was treacherous emotional territory, but Aimee kept up innocuous chatter comparing cars, clothing, and school days “back then” enabled me to remain quiet.
There were no life-changing conversations or heavenly reconciliation scenes, but there was opportunity to show honor as the little tour helped her find some good memories of her past. Through it all I was wondering how my unusually silent behavior would be interpreted. The day’s end told all.
“Before you go,” Mom asked, “would you help me change to my slippers? It’s hard to bend down anymore.”
Folding one knee down before her, I reached to slip off a shoe. I felt her hand on my head like a benediction, her soft voice noting with surprise that her little girl had silver in her hair. Kneeling there, pictures flashed in my mind, of how Christ knelt to wash the feet of the apostles. Barely restraining the tears, I swallowed and looked up. Our eyes met and held.
“Thank you,” she said, cloudy blue eyes glowing with a response to words I hadn’t had to say, and voicing greater tenderness than I’d heard in my lifetime. The greatest gift, I’d finally realized, was nothing I would ever say, do, or buy.
It was the gift letting her see Christ, instead of me – no words needed.