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.
Growing up, we did not always get along. As with all our siblings, we fought. One time, when we were about 14 and 11, I pushed the wrong pre-teen button and she got so mad she literally grabbed my head, threw me to the ground, and proceeded to bash my skull into the glass of the sliding back door. Yeah, I guess you could say my sister and me never really could see eye-to-eye…
But, we were kids. The two girls in a brood full of boys, there were times we were forced to form an alliance; those guys never saw it coming when we cocked our rubber band guns and shot them down like Clint Eastwood in a cheesy Western film. One thing always rang true, no matter if we were duking it out or joining forces – I always loved my little sister unlike I loved anyone in my life.
When I was 21, shortly after our mom died, I moved away from our hometown in Washington to the sunny beaches of San Diego. Amanda was a new graduate and on her way to University of Washington to pursue a Mathematics degree and me, well, I just wanted to get the hell out of town. We lost touch for the next few years, but eventually got better at using that crazy invention called the telephone; our relationship, as adults, was just beginning.
I became a mother at the age of 24 and suddenly realized how much I needed my sister. Always the more maternal one by nature, I sought out her years of nanny training and demanded she tell me the secret to raising a good child. She was by my side soon after Layla was born, and I can honestly say there were times I thought I would lose my mind, a crying baby on my hip with no clue how to soothe her, but my faithful sissy was always there to help me through… And this was well before she ever had kids of her own.
As I have gone through my adult life, with as many trials and heartaches as I have endured, she was always a constant force of encouragement, and occasionally that hard dose of humility and, well, reality that a woman needs once in a while. She never said things just to get her word in, but instead, she was kind, compassionate, and truthful – and as I have become a mother, twice now, and grown so much, there is a great deal of that wisdom that came from a young woman I have been lucky enough to call my sister.
Now, she is a mother herself. After a surprise double-visit from the stork, Amanda and Jennie now hold two precious baby girls, and Lexie and Vienna are the sunshine they had been craving for years. I was blessed to get to travel to Boston just a month after their birth and meet my two precious nieces, and I got to watch my sister perform the wondrous dance of motherhood for the first time.
It was… amazing. She is everything I want to be, as a woman – a mom, a passionate pursuer of knowledge, and just as the kind of friend anyone is lucky to have – and I just loved the opportunity to watch her in motion.
I am home now, and tonight I got to thinking how fast life moves. These moments we have with the people we love are often for some and few for others; her and me are hundreds of miles apart, as I am from my entire family, and the time we get together is precious and too-few. When I think about the fact that I am almost thirty, and realizing there is still so much I have yet to experience and do, I am grateful that as I live my life, I know I have a loyal, loving companion whom accompanies me on this journey even from miles apart. She is the reason I am still in college, frankly, because she’s all but forced me not to throw in the towel. She is my inspiration and I am so lucky to have her for my math classes (Lord knows I wouldn’t have passed them without my genius math-whiz sister!)
I think of Amanda and realize how much bravery she has. I admire her strength of conviction, and the tenacity she had to face who she was, and face this life, and instead of cowering to the pressure to be like everyone else, my sister is blazing a trail and making her life beautiful.
If I could have even have of her courage, I would consider myself beyond blessed; when I am fearful about the choices I face, or when I am down and exhausted with life, I think of her and I realize how much more I have to give. Because she never gives up on pursuing her dreams. I want to be more like that.
We all have a journey to travel, and for the most part we do this alone. But there are reasons for the people we know, and the people we meet. Some of us get lucky to meet several great people in this life. Some of us are lucky to call them family…
I know several people, and I love many, but none so have my heart quite like the girl who was raised beside me. None so much as the one whom helps me marvel at life, and see things a little clearer. Because I’ve known her since her birth, and I believe our relationship is a testament to what real family looks like; we were destined to be sisters.
Please, cherish the time you have with your family. Appreciate the phone calls, the conversations, and the embrace of a loved-one… We are here and then we are gone, and it happens in a blink. Do not take the moments lightly, but instead, cherish them, because, after all, that is what life should be about.