Thinking about Mom, on Mother’s Day

I’m writing this here because there is nowhere else to post it, no one to talk to about it, except in prayer. I thank God for answered prayers, and this is one of them. Sometimes we can keep wishing and praying that things would happen a certain way, and though it may not happen the way we’d like, it does work out eventually. Thanks be to the Lord God, His Son Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit.

My mother and I have had a rocky relationship as far back as I can remember. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that she is a strong-willed person, stubborn to the core and set in her ways. So was I. She was never the “baking cookies and kiss the boo-boo” kind of mom; she just wasn’t cut out for that archetype. So we butted heads for years.

She is incredibly intelligent, has the equivalent of a PhD in college in two different disciplines and has the gift of total-recall memory. It’s begun to slip a little in recent years, but she remembers everything – what was said, what was done, the dates that it all happened and so on.  There was no getting away with anything when I was a kid. If I so much as touched anything that belonged to her – her shoes, clothes or jewelry, as teenage girls are wont to do – she knew. She always knew. She is pragmatic and once she gets an idea in her mind, she never lets it go. Ever. I can’t get into all of it on a public blog, but suffice it to say that even though we were distant to each other emotionally, I always looked up to her even when I tried not to. Her opinion mattered to me even when I tried to disregard it.

Over the years, Mom always wrote letters to me and sent boxes of this or that, and always sent presents every year for the kids. When we had nothing, squeaking by and barely paying the light bill, that box always showed up on time, a day or two before Christmas or a birthday. And in between those time, were regular letters, cards, the occasional books and articles she’d cut out of the newspaper with things she thought I might find useful or interesting. I saved all of these things. Never could bear to toss them out because they were a form of affection. I came to understand that this was how she showed she cared about me. And so it went, up until recently.

She has fallen ill and being that she is well on up there in years, the prognosis isn’t good. Still, she held on to her home and all the things in it. She preserved things that people had sent her over the years because of the memories associated with each one. I always thought that was peculiar, how she couldn’t show outward affection to people very easily, but would love the objects that reminded her of them.

On further consideration, I understood on some level that these objects and keepsakes, photos and paintings, a favorite blanket or article of clothing would let her relive a memory of when someone tried to love her and she recognized it, but didn’t know how to reciprocate. Even now, when she’s so ill she can barely talk to me on the phone, I cling to those moments, knowing there will be a day very soon when I will no longer be able to hear her voice.

I’ve talked about this before. in various private journals, but Mom always reminded me of a distant mountain. Not size-wise, because she has always been around 135 lbs and about 5’3″.  Her personality was like that to me – huge.  It dominates the landscape, you look at it every now and then when you are trying to figure out where you are in life, and occasionally you get bold and try to climb it. But the mountain always wins, it is always there, solid and unchanging. Set in its ways, unwilling to move because, well, it’s a mountain. Then one day you wake up to discover that, suddenly, the landscape has changed. You’re in a different place and the mountain is gone. And you’ll always look in the direction where it used to be. And you grieve.

You grieve at what could have been, what was and what would never be.

I had wanted to be able to spend her last days talking to her about Jesus, but I know that’s why she’s been avoiding my phone calls. She knows I want to talk to her about it and she doesn’t want to hear it. Stubborn to the end. I still pray for her though. I’m not concerned about the things she owns or anything she will leave behind. I’m concerned for her soul, and because I want to see her again one day.

I will make a trip to see her this month, and I don’t know if I can take it emotionally, but I have to. There are things that need to be said, whether either of us likes it or not. I forgave her for her coldness and distance to me a long time ago, and I hope she’s forgiven me for being such a rotten kid growing up. In the meantime, I try to preserve every fragment of every memory of her in my mind.  I’m no spring chicken, either, and the memories have faded over time.

I can’t send her a Mother’s Day gift this time because she’s not in a position right now to receive it. She spends most of her time these days sleeping, and when she’s awake, she’s in constant pain. The last time I called her, she told me that she’d found herself in a kind of half-awake /half-asleep state and she heard people in the room around her, talking. She was answering them and they were speaking to her. This concerned me because for one thing, she lives alone, and the second, she’s never told me about any dreams she’s had before. That’s how I know her time is getting close.  She’s not been acting like her normal self.

I contacted a housekeeping service just to have someone check in on her a few times a week, and the lady that interviews their clients recommended to Mom that she go to stay in hospice. Mom was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago and the doctors basically sent her home to die. Meanwhile, I’m 1,300 miles away and can’t be there to help her. Not that she’d listen to me, as I always seemed to be the very last person she’d listen to. She listened to that interviewer from the housekeeping service, though. She agreed it was time to check into hospice.

I haven’t slept most of the night, wondering what she’s doing right now. Is she suffering through pain spasms and yet looking through her pictures, all the what-nots and her books, remembering people? If it were me, knowing I was leaving home and probably never coming back, that’s what I’d be doing. I wouldn’t remember the things, just the people.

We’ve never talked much about her past. I’ve asked, but she’s always been reticent about her younger days. It occurred to me a few years ago that I didn’t really know her at all. In conversations since then, I told her that maybe she ought to write down things she remembers from her past, like descriptions on the thousands of photos she’s stored in her home. I don’t know the people in those photos – most are extended family members I’ve never met and probably never will. But I know so little about who she is. I can see myself a few years down the road, after she’s gone, trying to piece together a more fleshed out mental portrait of her.

But, if that never happens, I want to be able to tell her that it’s no matter that she wasn’t the stereotypical Mom, I still love her and always will. I pray for her, pray that in these last moments she has, that she reaches out for Lord Jesus. Perhaps that was why I had to leave Arizona, because had I stayed there, we would have just argued over stupid things and she wouldn’t have had time to consider her life and the paths she’s taken. I hate that I can’t be there for her, but there’s nothing I can do about that now. All I can do is pray.

– Jillian





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