Awakened by a text from the Beve this morning just after 7 AM. Seriously, Beve? Do you still not know me? And I answered it. Sigh. Awakened from a dream in which my dad was apparently alive. Had just been in a deep sleep for the last thirteen years. Boy, did we have some catching up to do. Somehow, Beve and I got it into our heads that we could clarify that whole time by taking him out for lunch. Just catch him up to speed, as they like to say (whoever 'they' is). But after I was so rudely awakened by Beve, and the dream was cut short, I started thinking about what we'd have tried to explain to Dad about the decade + since he died. Kids grown, graduated, in college, out of college, kids married, grad schools attended and completed, jobs gotten, jobs lost, more jobs gotten, moves across the country, moves back, moves across again. houses bought, sold, bought, sold. Illnesses, deaths. Mom.
Yep. Mom. What I'd tell him about Mom. A few days ago, my sister-in-law called me, said she's been thinking for months that she needed to encourage me to clean up my blog posts about Mom, then consider getting them published. So this morning, as I thought about what I'd tell Dad about Mom, that conversation with my sister-in-law was also in my head. Dad knew I--we all--had difficult relationship(s) with Mom both growing up, and more especially once we were adults and parents ourselves. I think that was the hardest time. Mom hated, really hated the way I parented. It both angered and threatened her that I did things so differently than she did. She felt like I was judging her every time I didn't make SK drink milk (even though SK is lactose-intolerant), because she always made all of her children drink milk at every meal, when I didn't make E take naps (E would lay in her bed, flat as a pancake, trying to obey me, but unable to sleep,even as a two-years-old), when I didn't make my children finish every single bite of food on their plates. Mom either got mad at me for not doing it right, or retreated into "I was a terrible mother," in reaction, when I disagreed with her. Believe me when I say that the years of my children's childhood were extremely difficult between my mother and me. She wrote me terrible letters that I never responded to, said terrible things, that I tried not to take personally, told me to "stay out of it, it's my house," when we were visiting them. I hated being there, hated being around her, and yes...hated her.
And my father knew this. Obviously. At some point early in my parenting life, I felt--with Beve and God--that it was important that I stand up with Mom. This caused some pretty hellacious scenes. I used to say it wasn't a trip home if I hadn't made my mother cry. "Mom," I'd say. "I'm their mother. Shouldn't I get to decide what they eat and how much?" "It's my house, my rules," she'd answer. "And I say they need to finish everything on their plates." "But food helpings are arbitrary. If you get out a scale and determine the daily allowance for kids their ages, I'd make them eat that, but as it is, my system (making them take the same number of bites of things they didn't like as their age) is as good as any." "I must have been a terrible mother to have made you eat all your food," she'd answer, and start to cry. Then go off in a huff. Ah yes, the leaving the room in a huff. I learned that from her.
(Just so you know, these conversations were held when the kids weren't around!)
So this was the tenor of our visits during most of the last years of my father's life. At exactly the same time that my father had become and was growing as a Christian. My relationship with him, which had always been good, was also growing better and better in those last years of his life.
I wonder now if he started praying that things would change between Mom and me. Maybe. I have to say that they grew far worse before they got better. After Dad died, Mom became almost unbearable for me for several years. She was sooo needy, so unreasonable, so entrenched in any position. And she'd over-react catastrophically to the smallest of slights. Or non-slights. I remember once, not so very long ago, when she was staying in this house, that she wanted to show me how a tree out back formed the shape of a cross against the sky. Unfortunately, at exactly that moment, the oven timer was going off, some pasta needed to be drained, the front doorbell rang, and several people in the living room were trying to also claim my attention. Mom got so hurt that she burst into tears and stomped down to the other end of the house. At the time we didn't know that she was on the cusp of Alzheimers, but looking back we should have. There are so many of those moments. So many times when I thought, "If she's not crazy, I must be!" One of us had to be.
But during these same years since Dad died, I've also been praying to love her. Praying hard for the love that God surely has for Mom to swamp me so that I could love her too. And I remember the moment when I realized I did. Love her, I mean. It was after a brunch at E's apartment at WSU. Mom was sitting off to the side, and was upset about something--as usual. And, without thinking, I knelt in front of her and put my hands on her knees. Asked her what was wrong. Really asked her. Really cared. Felt compassion for my own mother. The same mother whom I'd despised for as long as I could remember.
If that's not answered prayer, I don't know what is. And this is what I'd tell Dad, at a dream lunch. Not the terrible, horrible, agonizing parts of Alzheimers, though I'd tell him all that too. But that I love her. That I love her so much now that I hate that she has to go through this. That I can't bear it for her. As I've said many times, as I told my sister-in-law the other day, it's the redemptive part--the redemptive journey-- of all this. The only redemptive part. Here is my mother--sitting in a wheelchair with bits of food on her blank face, juice splashed down her clothing, her hair long and greasy and pulled back by a barrette, holding a stuffed puppy--and I love her. The woman who stood upright with a stern frown on her face (my mother's face in repose was always a frown), with her hand held up like a stop-sign, keeping me from doing something--that woman I still find hard to love.
And God knew it would take this. That's the sad, hard truth, that he knows what it will take for each of us to get to the right place. I always said that I didn't want her to die unloved, and I really believed she wasn't loved all those years after Dad died. Not really loved anyway. And it took this. I'm both sorry about that, sorry it took that, and glad that it took, if that makes sense. And I'd tell Dad this: I love my mother. And that's miracle enough for this day.