Again, a rather lengthy segment. Perhaps take a break for coffee . . . or English tea?
I had lost all I had ever hoped to find. The man I loved and had led Bible studies and church worship with for years, he abandoned me two weeks before Christmas, right after we cut down our tree. The next October, I sat watching my mother get married, again. And I was alone.
She started her new life in her living room with just family and best friends, vowing “till death do we part”, again. The next month we all met, again, in that same living room, to give thanks for God’s goodness. I sat at her table of couples, single, and felt not one bit of thankful as we feasted on God’s gifts prepared with her hands—turkey stuffed with her special sage dressing, mashed potatoes with homemade gravy from roasted drippings, buttered corn, sweet potatoes sauced with butter and brown sugar, and the dish she always made just for me on Thanksgiving—the only kid who would eat—scalloped oysters.
I had no appetite and could hardly swallow my own saliva let alone food. She was joyous. I was grieving. She was celebrating new life. I felt like a dead woman walking. Family was smiling outwardly, talking small talk, laughing. I was crying inwardly, a torrent of woe, a jumbled mass of questions unanswered. And a comment was made.
I don’t remember what was said. All I remember is the moment I snapped. I snapped at all around the table. I snapped on the inside like a fallen twig of yesteryear, dried and brittle. The pressure of life had compounded and burdened more than I could bear. And I broke clean in two, right there at Thanksgiving table. Embarrassed and guilty, I excused myself and left the house. My racing heart sent racing messages down through my aching body and my legs started to run. I ran through the neighborhood weeping words from a place I had never visited before—that original sin place where the first humans realized Eden was no more—paradise lost. I looked at that primordial soul place and shuddered, wanting to turn away, wanting to run, but not knowing where.
How does one run from oneself? How does one hide shame and fear and their soiled soul? And how does one be real and live real when all inside is dying and others are celebrating? How do you DO that? I didn’t. I separated. And honestly, I still do sometimes. Sometimes soul places are so different, so separate, the opposites repel like magnets facing the wrong direction. No force can combine at that time. In that time, all I had—the only One I had to go to—was God. And it was during that time, I found God—again. Because when raw and ugly come into the presence of God and give Him real, not dressed up, that’s where true life begins.
When you play little girl dress up in your English Grandma’s silk dresses and rhinestone jewels and the two of you sit down to high tea sipped from porcelain cups with real lump sugar and milk, it’s sweet. We had tea together—high tea,Grandma and me, complete with crumpets. And that’s what I thought life would be like every day—silky smooth and pretty and sugary sweet. But life isn’t always a tea party in an English rose garden. Life is sometimes dirty and death stench surrounds and you wonder if you’ll ever come out of the ditch alive. Outsides can cover our dirt only so much before pain bleeds through eyes sorrowful and frown lines set in hard, grooving heart truth. Clothes and jewels can adorn but countenance? Countenance cannot be dressed up. Countenance shines, or it does not. Dull and lifeless eyes and skin over aching bones betray all we try to hide. And nothing, not one thing, can fig leaf countenance. I was broken and not thankful.
Thankful? For what?
How does one give thanks when life is falling apart? I didn’t feel thankful when my mother was joyful. In fact, I didn’t want to be with her at all. I didn’t want to smile at the man who should have been my father in that chair at the head of the table. How dare he step into our lives and lie down in her bed and take my dad’s place? How could he?
Do kids ever get over parent replacements? Sure, we can learn to accept. But do the scars of ripped relationships ever disappear? Do we walk with souls scraped through the days of our lives knowing that nothing is permanent, especially “till death do we part” promises? Who wants to promise after feeling the promise that bore you is broken? And us kids—we’re supposed to sit there in the pew or the chair and be happy about broken promises and believe in new ones vowed? Even kids can see crazy.
But calm comes after the storm. Damage is done, but calm can still come. Mom settled into her marriage and I settled into my singleness. Five years elapsed.
“I’m engaged!” I said on the phone with my mom. I had recovered and grown and was ready to try love again, with insides still quaking fear.
“I’m not coming to your wedding if you invite your father.”
Really? After all these years, was all still about her? Her feelings? Her needs? Her wounds unhealed?
“OK. Well, I’m inviting both of you and he’s doing the photography and I sure hope you decide to come.”
And I left it at that. I had learned a very expensive lesson. Years of weekly therapy with a very pricy tag taught me to let go of whatever response Mom might have. I had to let go of her reactions if I wanted to hold onto my sanity.
So she came to our wedding after all. And she soiled herself. In her gorgeous, expensive, beaded pink dress—she soiled herself. She was so nervous to be in the presence of my father, her ex-husband and his third wife who wore the big diamond ring Mom had wanted but never received—she soiled herself. And I tried so hard to keep boundaries between me and her. But I wanted to wrap her in swaddling clothes and bring her close to my breast and mother her and tell her in calm, soothing words that it would all be alright—that SHE was alright. Because, beneath her hard exterior, there was a woman-child still crying, desperate for love, though she was remarried. Because one can be married, even again, and never feel loved. That’s what past trauma can do to a heart and soul unhealed. It robs and it scars and but for the grace of God—emotional trauma can sentence one to death while living—seeing, smelling, hearing true love but never being able to touch, to embrace, to fall freely into love’s arms without hesitation.
Through the years, my husband, my steady ship in stormy seas—he kept encouraging me to stay the course with Mom. “Battleships don’t turn on a dime,” he would remind. And she was a fully-gunned ship alright. Steer clear or get shot. So we treated her with kindness while keeping safe distance when necessary. I prayed. And prayed some more. And Todd and I worked on reaching out and giving when and where we could in life-giving ways, though our ways of loving didn’t feel quite so loving to Mom. We were rocking the boat of the status quo. But when one rocks with love, boats settle . . .
Join me tomorrow for Mothering Mother, Part 3?