Reflections on Your Birthday

 

By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
pat@tearsoup.com

 

 

Hi, Mom.  I’m writing this on your birthday.  You’d be 90 years old today had you not died 1 ½ years ago.  Those who know me remember how I struggled with our relationship.  There were times I thought it would best if neither of us lived one more day.  I couldn’t bear the pain you were causing me and I didn’t like it that I couldn’t fix your vengeful life.

You said no one else would miss you after you were gone except me.  I don’t know about the others.  But you were right about me.  I do miss you.  Not a single day goes by without you entering my thoughts.  It’s interesting, when I think about it.  When you were alive and not living with me, I have to admit I didn’t think of you every day.  Maybe I thought you would always be there. Or maybe I protected myself, because it hurt too much to think about us. 

Acknowledging your birthday was something you always expected of me and you were ready to make me very sorry if I forgot.  So as I remember this this birthday I’m giving you my new insights of how over the years you have impacted my life.

  1.  I now accept it as a compliment when people say that I look like you. There was a point in my life that I didn’t want to admit that I was anything at all like you.  Even though you were beautiful, I couldn’t bear the thought that I had any characteristics that resembled yours.  I used to not want even one cell in my body to be like yours.  I wished I could say that I was adopted.  I started cutting my own hair because I saw you in the mirror one day when my hair was wet after the hairdresser had washed and it was pulled back from my face.  And now I don’t even mind when someone comments on a funny gesture or a silly little dance that I do that reminds them of you.

  2.  I now go to ALANON.  I should have gone while you were still alive, but I didn’t think I needed it.  Now, I realize our last four years together might have been easier if I had sought support from others who also had a loved one who was an alcoholic.  Even though I knew (intellectually) it wasn’t up to me to fix you, and it was my responsibility to not let you hurt me, those words are easier said than done.  The discipline of showing up and admitting I needed help would have been good for me.  It would have helped me be more reflective rather than reactive in our struggles.  But I’m finding out that it’s never too late to fix one’s own life.  I laugh to myself now when I see a whole room full of people, many who had been raised by an alcoholic, having some of the same issues of self destructive behaviors, control and secrets that I struggle with.

  3.  I’ve given myself a second chance.  I think Norm, an older guy that moved in to our household after you died, is channeling you.  He’s just two years younger than you and he does some of the same things that you used to do that would irritate me.  He also is hard of hearing and has a hard time admitting he might be wrong.  I regret having not always having been patient with you.  Now I get to practice being kind and patient with Norm.

  4.  Now I think more about my own death and how I would like it to be.  For years you had wished you would die.  I thought it was my job to keep you alive at all costs.  But in truth, I think you had stopped living many years ago and I had put you on “life support” against your will.  When I didn’t challenge your decision that last time when you announced you weren’t going to eat or drink anymore you didn’t say, “See, I told you, you don’t love me!”  You said, “Thank you.”  I think you got exactly what you wanted.  And you were in complete control.  I hope I can do the same.  I know, because I am stubborn like you, that I will also have to believe I have value—not because of what others tell me, but because I simply believe it to be true.  That’s a piece I struggle with.  Am I of value if I can no longer participate, communicate or love?

  5.  I am learning to forgive myself.  Forgiveness was never a strong characteristic of yours.  So you weren’t able to be a good teacher in that respect.  One definition I’ve found helpful is ‘Forgiveness is giving up all hopes of a better past.’  I have to stop going back and wishing my life could have been different.  It was what it was.  I have learned to be grateful for not just the good times, but the hard times as well.  Now I know it’s those difficult times that taught me resilience and compassion.

  6.  I think you always wanted me to be perfect because you used to say that, of all your children, I was most like you.  So you tried to fashion me into the person you thought you would have been if you hadn’t gotten pregnant at the age of 17.  Because you wanted to be perfect I had to act perfect.  That meant I couldn’t always tell you when I was afraid of failing at something.  I had to bear it alone and would beat myself up over it.  So on the outside I was perfect, but on the inside I was never good enough.

  7.  I resented it when people would say what a neat mother I had.  I would say “you don’t have to live with her.  If you really knew her you wouldn’t say that.”  Now I realize I just wanted people’s sympathy.  I wanted to show people that I did suffering well.  I wanted validation for what I was going through.  I wanted others to know it was hard.  Now I’m trying to not hold so many pity parties.

  8.  I say good morning to your picture beside your coffee cup that still sits on the plate rack by the coffee pot.  I enjoy starting my day that way.  And it reminds me that I can bring you along on my daily adventures.

  9.  I have turned you into the mother I have always wanted.  You were never a great communicator and you weren’t into exploring meaning, but now you can.  I can now always count on you to be there when I need you to comfort me and just listen.  I love it.

What I have come to know is that you were just what I needed.  You were the perfect mom for me.  You are a part of my DNA.  Now I totally claim you.  I remember a story about how a piece of coal when it goes through a refining process by fire it becomes a diamond.  You are still helping me to become that diamond.  Happy Birthday, Mom


           Imperfect ourselves we must be gentle toward others.