By Deb Avery
Sometimes, the things/people we run from are the very things/people that we need in life to learn and grow.
Sometimes the very things/people that break our hearts also open the wide to feel and love more.
When I was very young I would sometimes pretend to be sick so my mom would stay home from work with me. I craved affection from her and would continue to do this until about the 3rd grade. My mom was a little harsh with me and not always affectionate. I don’t remember hearing, “I love you” or encouraging words. Of course both my parents loved me, but my mom was just very reserved in showing her feelings…except for anger. She often was angry with me it seemed.
I came to believe that there was something wrong with me. Some of that was from my mom’s very reserved personality and some of it was from being raised in a strict Southern Baptist family. I continued to believe that I was flawed even in my 30’s, and it had a lot to do with all the decisions I had made in my life.
Then I became a mother myself. My whole world changed almost overnight.
Having finally understood what unconditional love was, I vowed to always shower my child with affection and encourage them from day one. I vowed that he would hear “I love you” each and every day. Sometimes several times a day. I vowed to never leave my child wondering if he was flawed or good enough.
Still, as any parent can attest to, I failed at times. I was a human being without infinite patience. I tried very hard. But I was only human. And despite our best intentions, as humans we sometimes fall short of how we imagine we would like to be.
Because of being a mother, a whole new world opened up for me. My heart seem grow and my mind seemed to open wide to new experiences. In my late 30’s I began to meditate. Meditation brought with it even more unconditional love, more kindness and a little more patience. However, I still could not resolve the resentment I felt toward my mom and her withholding of affection to her daughter.
It was some years later that I gained a new perspective about myself and my mom. And as often times it does, it came from a personal tragedy. The storms in life will come, and they will go. We can harden our hearts or we let them break us wide open to new possibilities. If we can learn to use them, and the lessons they bring, we can learn and grow exponentially.
I decided I wanted to grow.
I read as many books about Zen as I could get my hands on. I meditated. I did yoga. And gradually there was a shift in my perceptions.
It didn’t happen overnight. It was still a year or so later when I felt the resentment slipping away. And not just the resentment for mom that I felt, but resentment toward everything. Through this shifting of perception I learned to be kinder, more compassionate and infinitely more understanding.
During this time I thought about my mom’s upbringing. She was brought up in a strict, rural, religious Southern family of nine. When she wasn’t attending school, she was always in the fields picking cotton, taking care of farm animals or working the family garden. This left little time for leisure or play and disciple was quick and painful.
She married very young…at “sweet 16.” Her life was hard. She went straight from the fields and farm of her family to a job in a factory where the monotony alone was enough to dampen the strongest of spirits. She did this during the day, came home and did the housework and cooked for my dad and me for eleven years.
Then, after all that time, my little sister came along. I remember I often joked that my mom waited so long because she wanted a built in baby sitter. The joking and what little was left of my mom’s spirit hit a brick wall.
My sister was born with Cerebral Palsy—a debilitating illness that kept her at the level of a two year old.
My mom had to quit work and be a full time caregiver for my sister. But there was a bond that formed between my mom and sister that my mom and I had never had, whereas I grew and learned and began to question things in life and of course at times disobeyed and disappointed my mom.
My sister would never do those things. She was always my mom’s little girl.
So I understood that, of course the two of them would share something that my mom and I never had.
When I was 24 and my sister 13, my dad died suddenly with a heart attack. I had married and moved away and my mom was left with a disabled child who required constant care. My husband was in the military and we had received our orders to move to Alaska for his new assignment. But because of the situation with my mom, we asked for a hardship reassignment and was able to move within six hours away from her.
We brought them to our house for that first Christmas without my dad and they stayed for over a month before going back to the little rural community where I grew up. My sister’s health worsened and my husband hated his new assignment, so after a year and a half we moved back to my home town.
My mom never learned to drive. Still to this day she doesn’t have a driver’s license. So at least I was there to help get my sister to all her doctor’s appointments and numerous visits to the ER.
14 years after my dad died, my sister’s illnesses grew very grave and she died a few days short of her 27th birthday.
With my new perception of things I watched my mom grieve and wither. Nothing in the world could have hurt her more than losing her little girl. And I hurt for her. My son was four years old at the time and I could only imagine what she was going through.
It’s been 24 years now since my sister’s death. My own husband passed away 11 years ago, and today I am the caregiver for my mom. She can still do things on her own. She takes her own baths and does her own laundry. She lives with me and I cook, clean—take her to doctors appointments and to do her errands.
A lot has changed over the years. Today there is no resentment in my heart towards my mom. I understand that her personality, her issues with me as a child and everything else in her life, was shaped by her upbringing and the lack of the very things that I craved as a child: unconditional love, affection and encouragement.
I am at peace with who I am, and with who she is. And I will continue to take care of her as best I can.
Lest anyone think that all is sunshine and roses now, that’s just not how things work. No two people are more different than myself and my mom. It’s still a struggle sometimes to have the patience I need. Especially when I can’t get her to put her hearing aids in.
But with a lot of love, a little patience and Zen attitude…we will be fine.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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