Saturday, August 20, 2016

Memories with Mom I'll never forget

Just found an emotional letter I wrote to my mom on the day I turned 45 back in 2013. It was a difficult letter to write as we had not really spoken or communicated at all since my divorce was finalized earlier that year. In fact, since my estrangement from my family in the summer of 2012, things were tense between me and my parents. My mom and I had grown distant. This letter was my attempt to begin a conversation that would hopefully bridge the gap between us.

It wasn’t an apology letter or a defense of my actions. I simply told her how I’d been feeling and about how hard it was to go it alone, without the emotional support of my mom or dad. Knowing that they’d only heard one side of the story, I didn’t attempt to counter it, per se, I just tried to get my mom to walk a mile in my shoes. She was upset and hurting for my girls. She grew up the child of divorced parents, so it killed her to see her granddaughters hurting. And believe me, if I could’ve sheltered them from that pain, I would have.

At any rate, mom didn’t see things the way I did. She’d been married to my father for 45 years at that time. She never really thought divorce was an option. I was the third child of hers who went there. I hated that I let our differences of opinion cloud my judgment and keep me from speaking to her. In 2013, I didn’t call to wish her a happy birthday or a happy mother’s day. That guilt was weighing on me so heavy by the fall that I sat down on my laptop and wrote from my heart.

I don’t remember verbatim the phone conversation we had a few weeks after she received my letter, but it didn’t seem to hit its mark. I still didn’t feel that she was hearing my heart or understanding where I was coming from. But, at least, we were finally talking. That was the main thing. My letter had started the conversation.

It continued in the spring of 2014, when after moving to Tallahassee to be nearer my girls, my parents came down to Florida for Spring Break with my sister and several of their grandkids. I took my two girls over to Panama City Beach to visit with them even though their Tallahassee Spring Break had ended a week or two earlier. I sat poolside with my mom and engaged in a very difficult conversation where I tried to clarify some of the points of my letter. Mom was hearing me with her ears, but I still wasn’t getting through to her heart and it was frustrating for me. I nearly left in tears. I did leave my girls with them and return to Tallahassee to resume my search for work. At least, that was my excuse for leaving. I was having no luck reconnecting with my parents on a substantial level and I left there very disheartened.

They brought my girls home before heading back to Indiana that April. In June, I’d receive a call from mom that would bring me to my knees. She called to inform me of her aggressive cancer diagnosis and to tell me that she wouldn’t be fighting it medically. She resorted to prayer and, short of a miracle, was going to succumb to the cancer, and leaving the outcome in God’s hands. To say that I was shocked and devastated is an understatement. It shook me to my foundation. She couldn’t leave me with our relationship still in turmoil, so I determined to get up to Indiana as soon as I could.

Once my girls were out of school, they were able to go stay with their mother who was working for nine months in Colorado. I drove the aging Volvo up to Noblesville, Indiana, and spent six weeks that summer in mom’s basement. That was her literal basement, not figurative. I had begun to work my way out of her figurative basement by then. Plus, her terminal illness, I believe, had her ready to re-evaluate her assessment of me and open to listen with her heart.

That summer of sadness had many bright spots, like the long conversations we shared on her back porch, where I poured out my soul and she listened without judgment. We didn’t always find common ground, but I knew for certain that she was finally hearing my heart. Like I told her, “You’ve known me for 45 years! You know the kind of person I am, the man inside. You raised me. We grew up together.” And so there was much healing that came to our relationship on her back porch that summer.

I left there with my girls in tow. They’d flown in from Colorado to see their Grammy and get the devastating news direct from her lips. It was a bittersweet trip for us all. But I left there feeling so much relief. Years of physical separation and emotional distance were removed and the chasm between us swallowed up by understanding, grace, forgiveness and love.

I will always and forever cherish that summer as a priceless gift bestowed upon me. I was able to follow with trips to Noblesville that Thanksgiving, and three visits to Cicero, where she moved in 2015, before she died. In fact, my daughters and I were at her Cicero home the morning she died following Thanksgiving last year.

I will never, ever regret writing that letter on my 45th birthday. It was the beginning of a new love between my mother and I and a new chapter in our relationship. I’m so glad I ran across it on my laptop today even though it was difficult to read. I miss you mom and always will. I love that we understood each other on such a deep level. It was a great joy to grow up with you and to be your oldest child, witness to so many of your joys and sorrows. Thank you, God, for the time of healing and reconciliation we shared 2014-15. Rest in peace, Mom.

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