Love thy mother. It’s written in the bible, the Ten Commandments and in all forms of religion. She brought you into the world.
It’s been five years today since my mother passed away. It doesn’t seem to get any easier as I still, at times, reach for my phone to call her, only to remember she is not there to answer. It’s an ache that seems to sharpen as time goes by; a gaping hole in my heart.
My mom and I did not always see eye to eye. Truth be told, we had some really rough times. She did her best as she always said she did yet there were many times (many, many times) that I wondered if we would ever get along; if we would ever have the type of relationship I thought a mother and daughter should have.
She was a tough one. Hard headed, stubborn and difficult to understand. She was an only child – never had to learn how to “play nice with the other kids”. Her father was cold, her mother the polar opposite. She was barely 21 when she got married, 22 when she had my older sister. She had had to quit college to work in her father’s business – a move that would always haunt her.
Growing up in her house was not always easy. She was so hard on us yet I knew she loved us – she just had strange ways of showing it. I did not confide anything in her, she was purely the matriarch and that was that. Plain and simple, I was afraid of her.
When we are young, we don’t think about those types of things. All we want from our mothers is love and attention. We fail to comprehend what her childhood was like; that she may have some demons in her closet that cause her to behave in certain ways. It isn’t until we grow older that we may begin to understand and accept them for who they are.
It was New Years Eve 1999 for me. We were gathered at my parents home in Wisconsin. It was about to be a new century. One that I knew marked the sad fact that none of us would be around to celebrate the next one. She was crabby that night. She yelled a lot and said some things that really stung. And I looked at her face – no – I really looked at her face with great intent, in a way I had never looked at her before.
So many things happened to me in that moment. I thought “Wow, this is it. This is the one and only mother I have, will ever have. She has done her best, whatever she felt that was. She loves us all despite how she shows it. She loves us deeply, we need to show her, in her final years, that we love her too”. And that was that.
For the next nine years I looked at her that way. I gave in to her behavior and rather than fight it, I embraced it. I gave her what she wanted and I never regretted a moment. I began to confide in her. I showered her with gifts, realizing that all she ever wanted was attention. It was almost a childlike behavior and once I was mature enough to grasp that, my replationship with her transformed into something I’d always hoped for.
In her last two years with us, she was suffering from early signs of dementia. Her toughness was gone. Her memory brought her back to very early days when she would ask my father if her father was coming to visit; if they were going to go to a movie at a theater that had closed in Chicago many years earlier. It broke my heart; all our hearts. And then on February 19, 2009 she breathed her last breath.
I was at her bedside when she passed. A few days before when she had a few moments of lucidity I made my peace with her. I said things to her I had to or I knew I would always regret it. I let her know how happy I was that we had the last nine years of goodness.
Shortly after she passed I went back into her room to take her jewelry off. A Star of David and a Chai (the sign of life). I held her for a few minutes and memorized her face as I knew I would never see it again. That was a thought that was hard to grasp.
And here we are five years later. Time does not heal all wounds. But if you are able to make peace with a loved one that you may have had a tough relationship with, it does make it easier. Do not live with regrets that you should have said things you never did. And most of all, love thy mother.
She will only be here for so long.
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