She was so much more than I’ve allowed myself to remember.
Death is a great mystery – the ultimate hurt or the most welcome redemption. Hers fragmented my heart, the wound obliterating it from merely broken to irreplaceably shattered; for ten years now, the hurt left in the wake of her final days formed the memories I shaped her by. All testimony of her spirit, and her life, prior to that time were nearly forsaken completely – my mother, when she died, became only the epitome of pain, destruction, and sadness. I have battled with this for many years…
Just the other day I dusted off some boxes that contain photographs of my mom. Pictures I have seen countless times.
What occurred to me as I gazed at this ghost on glossy paper is how much I resemble her. The same dark eyes. The same bright smile.
I REALLY saw her, and in seeing her, I saw parts of myself. I felt connected to her in a manner that I have not felt for many, many years, and instead of being fearful of that connection, I allowed my heart to explore it, deeply.
You see, for all these years I’ve adamantly fought the notion that I was ANYTHING like my mother. Why? Because who she was, to me, was a broken woman who succumbed to her addictions. A person who caused pain to herself and to others, pushed away the people whom loved her the most, and drowned her inability to cope in a bottle of bottom-shelf vodka.
Why would I want to be anything like her? The very idea that I even looked like her made me feel… chained to the familial possibility that my fate would even remotely resemble hers. I hated it, to be honest.
For years, I would think of her in a passing thought and still feel the sharp sting as if it was new, and I’d know again that who my mother was… Was everything I swore to God I would never be.
Then one day, it became impossible to deny that I am my mother’s daughter. I was capable of making mistakes of similar nature. I could face my personal darkness, lose to the demons, and hurt the ones I love. I could, and I was, just like her at times.
When I told the story of my past – what got me to Texas or where I am from originally – it is nearly always colored with a few “tragic” events. The loss of love and the loss of my mother. They’re inextricably linked and I’ve made sure that story was told because it shaped my identity.
How sad is that? To build one’s past upon deep hurt and sorrow… Nonetheless, she became the villain, both to herself and to me, and I am not sure I’ve ever mentioned my mom without surely telling things about her people would rather not know.
Why would I want to define her that way, you wonder? Because her part in my story validated my own problems, somehow – as if I had a free pass to be an asshole, or to be untrusting, or to be jealous; it always seemed to make more sense when people knew I came from THAT. But, it never felt good to tell the story because it always perpetuated the untruth that my mom was a piece of shit, though in my heart – the part I had stopped myself from accessing, however – I knew this lie was not true. It helped me cope, but it was slowly suffocating me.
Back to the pictures from the other day.
I sat there and gazed at one, in particular. A profile photograph of her on the day she married my stepfather, Don. Without much detail I’ll just mention that was not a happy day for her children. She was merely months from divorcing our dad and not one of us took to the fact of sudden, painful destruction of our lives as we knew it.
When I looked at the picture, however, I saw my Roberta. I saw a woman with a past, a present, and a future. I saw the pain in her heart from losing her mother very young in tragic way, and marrying my dad young and becoming parents instead of graduating High School. I saw her accepting Christ, sharing God with others, and advocating for pro-life pregnancy centers. I saw a woman passionate about design, and landscaping, and football. I saw a mother trying to love five children while still maintaining some sense of a personal identity, though she had children from the time she was 16 so it was hard to find HERSELF in the midst of everything children demand of their mother.
I saw… Myself.
Not the attention-hungry prowl of an insecure woman. Not the painful regret of causing hurt to others, stuffed down so deep you’d only see it if she allowed her vulnerable side to peek out momentarily. Not the alcoholism that grew so big it dwarfed every last good intention she ever had while she lay there, crushed, under the weight of an addiction so big she could not function apart from it.
I stared hard into her eyes and felt the lump in my throat ease down. I felt my shoudlers slowly relax and my guard wither into rubble as my heart softened to really see this woman looking up at me from a million buried memories.
For a moment, I even almost heard her voice.
She was so much more than what took her life.
I am not only going to overcome the struggles she echoed into my soul, but I am going to embrace that I am like my mother – because she was so much more than I’ve allowed myself to believe.
It’s still surreal, writing my mother as past tense. I am not sure that is something one ever fully grasps…
I told the story many times. Of her role in shattering my heart before she died. Those moments of carelessness on her part completely changed the course of my life, and I was powerless – and have wallowed in that powerlessness since – to change any of it.
Looking at her, remembering her beyond that hurt? Well, it has taken ten years and even now I know I am not 100% healed. But seeing her humanity – her spirit, her beauty, her strength for so long before she lost it – it helps me to heal past the pain, a little more.
I stood outside myself as I looked down at the pictures in front of me and watched as I opened my heart to this woman. The world called her Roberta, but I called her Mama. For many years, she was favorite person… For many years, she was everything it means to a child when she calls out, “Mommy”. The safety. The laughter. The lessons. Learning make-up, singing songs together, watching her make chicken drumsticks with secret sauce…
Being like her? Sometimes it is very hard. Facing my demons when they remind me of her, well, that’s a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But I think God gave me that struggle. That fight. Because I can learn from my mother, even in her death. . .
And I can redefine MY story by appreciating that I am my mother’s daughter. Grow where she floundered. Wise up where she fell short.
Laugh when she would have laughed. Love as deeply as I know she must have loved us when things were perfect, and choose not to give up – (where I had to learn on my own because unfortunately she didn’t show me this part) – when things get hard.
I saw my mother again. And I think it’s time I stop defining my life, and her memory, with only things that bring us both shame, guilt, and pain.
She was so much more than that, and so am I.
In my greatest time of struggle, I knew a pain so deep and limitless that I felt, with absolute assurance, that I would never see the end.
When my mother took her last breathe, she was alone in this world. Alone in her apartment. Alone… But not. She had God beside her, and I believe He ushered her home to the great Kingdom of forgiveness and wholeness by His side. I remember, for me, it was a choice to believe that, because at first, from my earthly place in my dad’s living room in Vancouver, Washington, I saw no grace there. I saw no forgiveness there – in fact, quite the opposite. I saw devastation in the wake of her death, and I saw a hole inside my heart that would never be filled.
Drugs and alcohol steal joy, just as the devil steals joy, and I believe this without reservation. I believe it was the idle evil inherent in this world that stole my mother’s joy, and it stole her breathe as she lay there dying, alone on that big empty bed.
We saw, firsthand, what comes when a person loses the battle.
As the years have pressed on, they surely do, my perspective, and my own ability to see God’s hand in this ordeal, has improved. I know God has given me the choice to see my mother’s death as a tragedy, or as a perfect sign of His redemption. There have been good days and bad, wherein one moment I saw the grace in her deliverance, and then others, when I saw nothing but the dark, twisted fate of a woman entrenched in an evil, unholy place. I have had to choose – somedays multiple times a day – how I would see this… But God has been good to my hardened heart, and thank Him, I have begun to unwrap the layers of my emotion, and finally, I see mostly truth and hope in her death.
That may sound strange, especially considering there is ample proof, even in the history of my writing here, that I struggle with this greatly. However, I can say now that there was light in her journey, and in her death, because now, I know that God redeems even the most broken, heavy souls.
He never left her, not even in the worst moments, and so I know – without any hesitation – that He never leaves ANY OF US.
I don’t write about my spirituality as often as I write about my journey otherwise, though they are integrated, because I feel my relationship with God is my own, and I do not want to open it up to critics whom merely want to doubt me. But I feel that, right now, for very private reasons, because of a conversation I just had with a very dear, very long-time friend, that it is absolutely ESSENTIAL that I share this part of me nakedly.
Because he needs hope. He needs grace. He needs forgiveness. He needs… truth.
That he is not forgotten, worthless, and beyond help. He is not a pile of shit, though he tells himself this in other words; my heart hurts, oh it hurts, because I wanted to reach through the phone and hold him in my arms. I wanted to look into his blue eyes as he wept and make him believe anew that he is a wonderful, unique creation of our holy father. He is beautiful, even in his weakness… No… He is beautiful BECAUSE of his weakness.
In this fragile state, he is most open to the truth about who and what he is. He is most receptive to the healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ, because on one’s knees, in the brokenness of flesh, we come to the Father and we ask, with no words but simply the falling tears on our cheeks, to be forgiven. In that moment, where he is now, all his yesterdays are gone. All his mistakes have already been forgotten.
If he could believe that, if he knew… If he would just listen, and believe, the healing would begin.
You know, there are days I want to scream at the top of my lungs because I want to see my mother again. I want to implore the gates of heaven to open up and send her back, for a single moment, so that I could look into her eyes and she would know that I love her still. She would know… That she is forgiven… For me, yes, but for her… Because that is what the lost, the forgotten, and the broken need to know – and if my words could do that for her, could they not do it for those still living?
My friend, you know who you are, and I know you will read this. Please. Look at yourself in the mirror. Stare straight into your eyes and KNOW that you are His. You are NOT dead. In fact, you are alive again, brand new, and worthy of love. Worthy of trust, and valued beyond measure.
This world may throw stones, and God knows they hurt, but the bruises heal, my love. The bruises fade, and the heart soon knows joy again. Even in the smallest things. A sunrise. A freshly fallen rain. In the faces of your children. In the warmth of a friend’s embrace. In the love in your mother’s beautiful, kind eyes.
Start here, please. Start at the truth. At the heart of everything the cross has done for us. Start here.
Know that you are loved. By so many.
Sure, there are going to be bridges to mend, but does not the mere opportunity that you can mend them prove you are loved? There are going to be hard conversations ahead, and serious work to be done, because this kind of healing is never easy. But these are worldly things, and as hard as it is, you cannot avoid them. They are worldly things, my dear, and that is part of your journey now. But think how that journey looks to God? Think of what kind of strength it took to stand up and walk out of your darkness, one step at a time.
YOU did that. YOU.
You had the courage to face yourself, even when you felt utterly hopeless. You had the strength to turn your back from the devil and walk into a new day.
I know how hard that is, because I saw what happens when someone is NOT that strong. My mother was not that person, but you were. You ARE.
It is in YOU, because God is in YOU. You have everything you need. Start where it hurts the most, face that, but remind yourself of your value and worth as you stare down the hardest parts of yourself. As time passes, the hurt will fade. Believe me. It fades.
You have support, and you have love. But believe that, don’t just know it. Seek it out. Do not fight this alone.
… I never imagined my own history of hurt would be used for good. But this is NOT my redemption, it is God’s. My story is just my story. It was through God’s grace and love, and the light I know is in me, that I was able to overcome my own journey of hardship after hardship. God was there, every step of the way.
And He is with you now, my friend. He will never leave you. And those that really matter, those that really love you, will not leave you either. You have a rally behind you, and we are all so proud that you have the chance to come out of this stronger; healed.
Just believe. Because that is the first and the last step. Everything in the middle is just the work along the way in this swiftly moving world, but the reward, oh the reward, that is eternal.
Every person experiences it when the second arrives. It happens in an instant. Everything anyone ever told you before that moment will just not do it justice to when you feel it – truly experience it – for yourself: When we became parents, we finally, absolutely understood about unconditional love. The blossoming of a soul happens in the blink of an eye, from one final push to the first breathe of a brand new life; we change from merely grown-up children into parents – we see life in an entirely different light. The light of our children.
When it happened for me, nearly five years ago now, I was 24. Many people whispered about the joys of parenthood, and the challenges that would accompany them. From those conversations, I recognized it would surely be love, but quite honestly, nobody is ever prepared… The love overtakes you. It truly does.
Now, I am edging closer to 30 than I would like, and Layla has a sister in the throes of the wonderful, dreaded two’s, and together, they hold my heart in their small effectual mouths – Jemma screams because she wants more candy, and big sissy tattles on her, as if I did not know what drama was unfolding already she feels it her duty to inform the authorities. I am mother; Jury, Judge, and Pardoner. I am the see’er of see’ers, the do’er of do’ers, and the final axe to the grindstone. Reverse the rolls, however, and who are my children to me? My greatest reward, the most tenacious challenge, and the purest example of God I have ever known…
I am, in all ways, entirely, and absolutely in love with my children – I never knew love could be so deep…
Which inevitably speaks to the reality that my daughters, my precious, tiny baby girls – well, they’re growing. Where once I held a wee-one whom relied on my every move to sustain and keep her safe, now replaced by two opinionated, loud, and reliant beings.
I loved them both, wholly and without fear, the moment they were born – one January 19th and the other August 27th – on those days, I celebrated life, and the motherly pursuit of infant bliss wrapped safely in my arms.
Now, they are heaping sacks of burning coals; they keep me warm and motivate me to move, but sometimes, I am so burnt out it does not make sense that tomorrow, I will have to get up and start the same day all over again. Now, they are not babies anymore – I am both reverently nostalgic about this and at the same time overjoyed that we enter into new stages of development constantly.
Layla understands multiple languages. We can speak to her in Arabic, French, Spanish, and English – she translates words when I do not understand what she says, and she is teaching me things I am not familiar with. She can write the entire alphabet, and all her numbers, and she understands complex emotional problem-solving situations, expressing herself articulately and with little frustration when an idea is new or foreign. She speaks eloquently, uses cordial language, and knows about respect and honesty. She loves to dance and sing, play dress up, and dig in the dirt. She loves to look through books and hear stories… And she loves to cuddle her family. She is FOUR.
Jemma is hilarious, a total cheeseball. Her comprehension of language is vast, and she can speak more articulately than most children her age. Her ability to pick up and carry a tune, after hearing a song a handful of times, astounds all those whom hear her do it. She loves people but especially her closest family, and when she spies someone she loves, she always comes running with a big, gap-toothed grin. She can sing songs in French as if she was singing the plain old Itsy Bitsy Spider in English – in fact, today in the drug store, she sang “Frère Jacques” to a complete stranger whom just so happened to BE a French woman – and almost made the woman cry she was so impressed! She is TWO.
I am not certain where the time has gone. I really do not comprehend it myself and I am the one who has lived the past four years as their mother.
We have lived a hell of a lot of life together – these girls and me. I can go back through pictures in my mind and remember when I told two different men that I was pregnant, and I can remember the day both chose to walk away. I remember becoming a single mother once, then twice, and the heartache Layla endured because Jemma’s father was so demanding and hard on her. I can think of the cries my second daughter had when daddy wasn’t there anymore – she was only 6 months old, she could not have understood. The joy and heartbreak I have known with these children in-tow, I believe, is what has made my love for them more fierce and true than anything else I have known.
I choke back tears now when I think of the sheer fabrication of it all – how it created the kind of mother I have become – and why most of the time I allow my children to act as they please because I feel I owe them at least their individual freedoms… But there is no sense in regretting any time spent and gone; I did the best I could, but at least I know that time, loving them throughout the struggles, has made me realize why our bond means so much to me. Still, though, it feels rather crazy – how fast the time has gone – and how true it is that one cannot stop nor slow it down…
One of the common threads that always accompanies the inevitable phrase, “you have no idea how much you will love your child…” is this, “… But just wait – it goes so fast – do not blink!”
I can remember holding both of my children for that first moment of their lives. I recall staring down at this pink-skinned, squinty-eyed newborn baby and falling into a consuming love. It was like nothing I had ever known. I have been fortunate enough to experience this twice.
As I sit and remember that, for both Layla and Jemma, I almost tear up at how much has already changed. But, it is for the best – I have to remember that – because growth, and change, are really the only things we can earnestly count on in this life. They have to grow. If they stopped, that means death. I would never dream or want anything, then, but their continued maturity.
But I am slightly feeling bittersweet at the pace of it all.
One day I found out I was pregnant and then, poof! Five years later, here they are – these little people who like Dinosaur Train and Super Why on PBS. They love yogurt and cheese and ice cubes. They prefer to shack up in my bed than sleep with each other in their own room. They fight but then hold hands. They scream at me for reprimanding them but then chase after me to cuddle. They can enrage me sometimes too easily when my patience meets its end, but then, I feel immediately remorseful and crave closeness to get us back to what feels optimal: Love.
Relationships take work – it does not matter with whom. They ALL do.
But, with children, it just feels so worth it to give them all of me. It feels so natural – almost as if I was born to do it. And no, I do not mean merely in the biological sense because I have a vagina, but in the belief that Layla SaMaya Roberta and Jemma Anne Ileen were meant to be my daughters. That they were placed with me on this earth so we could teach each other about life.
They remind me to slow down, but to be honest, I do not do it enough. I cannot even recall the last time I wrote something purely about parenting or simply about/for my children. Life gets in the way so often. Priorities change – plans change. A year ago I would never have guessed I’d be in this beautiful home with a wonderful man and my daughters all together. I never imagined I would be here…
My girls were once my babies. I was told I would love them, but man, do we ever under sell THAT experience!
To love them is like breathing. Absolutely essential. That is what it feels like; I could not ever imagine life without them in it, and I do not want to try.
As they grow, I will only love them deeper – we encounter challenges together, we laugh, and we cry. They will watch the lines around my eyes deepen and my hair change color, as i too watch them grow to one day soon become women, and someday, I pray I get to tell them how much they will love their own children. I will hold the memories of having my precious tiny newborn daughters in my arms, as I watch them give birth to their own tiny miracles. Then, and only then, on that special day, will they ever know how much they mean to me. How much I love them… Nothing I would or could have said will do it up until then. Unconditional love is not explained, it’s born.
- Babies! (timothymessenger.com)
- How Many Is Too Many? Michelle Duggar Says She’s Trying for Baby Number 20! (thebump.com)