What do you do when the memories aren’t getting sweeter with time?
I’ve mentioned my mother frequently in my writing. The scarred vision I carry with me of our relationship has been evident. Losing a parent is not easy; losing a parent when you’re young and they’re young is much harder.
My mother was a kind and beautiful person. She loved my dad dearly. She served her church faithfully throughout her life. She was predictable and reliable. She was quiet and loyal to her small group of friends. She respected her parents and helped me have a good relationship with them. She managed my brother and me by herself most of the time because my dad traveled for his job. She took care of our home with ease and was a gracious, well-prepared hostess. She was the quintessential southern woman…poised, classy, mannerly, and always appropriate.
I should have nothing but fantastic memories of my mother. However, time has a way of twisting and turning things in our minds. I can put a name to all the beautiful things about my mom…but what I seem to dwell on the most are the heart issues where she and I missed the mark.
I felt ugly to her. Was I really that ugly or did she and I disagree on things like clothes and hair and the ideal weight? I don’t feel like she tried to understand me. Was she really that dismissive or did she just not know how to identify with me? I felt like we were always in an argument. Was our relationship that strained or were my teenage hormones making it difficult for us to connect? I felt rejected by her. Was she rejecting me or did I misinterpret her reasons for doing and saying some of the things she did? Seventeen years is a long time to ask yourself the same questions.
My mother was ill during my entire trek through the teenage years. She got sick when I was 12 and died when I was 22. Those are tricky years between a mom and daughter regardless; add in endless doctor visits, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and hospital stays and you have an even more complicated situation. My mom and I didn’t have the easier years that usually follow the angsty teenage years. By the time I was no longer angsty, she was gone.
There were things left unsaid. She wrote me a letter that I was supposed to read three months after she died. Though she meant it for comfort and encouragement, the only thing I heard was more disappointment. It’s ok if you don’t marry. I don’t think you’ll ever find anyone you love and respect more than your daddy. Those words still confuse me and unfortunately I’ve never been able to ask her why she would say such a thing. I’m afraid what she was really saying was, “You’ve proven what a failure you are because you graduated from college without a ring on your finger.”
Where do I go with all these thoughts? In some cases, time heals pain; but time can also highlight the gap between when you could have said something to redeem the relationship and the present day. It’s been longer since I’ve had a conversation with her. It’s been longer since we’ve had the chance to connect. It’s been longer since I’ve felt good about our relationship. There is little recourse now. I am left here to deal with the memories on my own.
One thing I try to do is to take the pain before the Lord as it comes. Taking thoughts captive is a technique I learned years ago in a Bible study. Not every thought we have is from the Lord. Some thoughts are from the enemy and are designed to throw us off our game. The enemy wants to demobilize us in our efforts to bring glory to The Father and will use every trick he can. What better way to make me ineffective than to repeatedly push play on the tape that says “You’re ugly. You’re insignificant. You’re a failure.” Taking thoughts captive is a mental action. I identify the thought and recognize that it’s not truth from the Lord. Then I mentally shred it like a piece of paper and throw it out of my brain. It sounds childish, but sometimes it works for me.
Another thing that has helped is recognizing that I’m not the same person I was when my mom was alive. I was awkward and hard to understand and disobedient and annoying sometimes — those aren’t personal flaws…those are characteristics of most teenagers. I’ve grown. I’ve matured. I’ve found purpose and meaning and places to be useful. I’ve chosen to love and I’ve chosen to receive love. I don’t have to feel like everyone will reject me. I don’t have to feel judged or insignificant. I can be confident and feel beautiful and enjoy the person I am today even though I don’t feel like I was confident and beautiful and joyful in my mother’s eyes. Life’s really short. Dwelling on the past hinders me from being who God intends me to be today.
I’m envious friends who still have their mothers. I see what they get to do and the relationships they have as mature women and I wonder what that might have looked like for me. I think if I just had one afternoon with my mom we would be able to work through most of the memories that consume me. One trip for coffee. One walk along the trail. Just one heart-to-heart conversation where she and I could connect as wives, mothers, and friends. Maybe it would take more than one…but one would be a nice place to start.
Please hear encouragement from me. If your memories of a loved one are not good, you are not alone. If time seems to be worsening things instead of making them better, you are not alone. Take your thoughts captive and focus on where you are now, not where you were when they were alive. Ask the Father to give you clarity and comfort when you think about your loved one. And inasmuch as you are able, choose to live peaceably with those in your circles; today is the time to choose what kind of legacy you will leave.
“New grief, when it came, you could feel filling the air. It took up all the room there was. The place itself, the whole place, became a reminder of the absence of the hurt or the dead or the missing one. I don’t believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and the griever alike endure.” — Wendell Berry (American author)