September 30th is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 97. Even though she has been gone over 6 years, her final few months are in etched my mind. Her declining cognitive state was accelerated with a fractured hip and she was ultimately placed in the hospice program.
When and how does forgiveness happen or reconciliation for that matter? If I could achieve it, how would I know when it was reached? I was tired of wasting my energy on anger and blame, yet forgiving my mom was the farthest thing from my mind at that time in my life. All of our past arguments and her blatant conditions of love seemed to stand in my way. Of course, I had to do my own personal work regarding my resentment that I harbored toward her throughout my life. You see, Mom and I never had a close relationship. It was strained and distant at best. (Below are segments of Part VIII and XI from my book.)
I won’t soon forget my welcome back to the farm after spending two years in Africa in the Peace Corps before continuing on one more year in Tonga . Mom’s criticism of her 21 year old daughter began to flow the day I walked off the plane. “What’s that you’re wearing? My, what is all that funny-looking jewelry?”
Her interrogation continued into the evening. She pestered me with more questions. “What happened to your hair? It looks a mess. God, you’ve gained weight. Why are you going back to the Peace Corps again? Didn’t you have enough?” Dad was silent. Disapproval and harsh judgments filled my homecoming. I fumbled with my responses but quickly realized I had changed and grown in those two years, and clearly they had not.”
As Mom aged and her dementia progressed, she was moved to an adult family home for total care. Gradually her defenses melted and her tongue lashing ceased. During one of my visits, in what I hoped was one of her lucid moments, she said something remarkable. My mom—who once told me at age seventeen that becoming a nurse would be the worst profession, who criticized my hair, my dress, my cooking, and my choices—cupped my face in her hands and said, “You are so beautiful. I love you and I am so proud you are a nurse.”
At age sixty-one, I never thought I’d hear those words. Prior to that day, Mom never told me she loved me or approved of my choices. Possibly she harbored those thoughts all along. Perhaps she felt safe expressing them only when she neared the end of her life and had nothing to lose. If my qualities and accomplishments were competition for something she never had, that meant little to her now. Her approval and love were the hopes I had been clinging to all along.
As she lay on her death bed, I took her beautiful hand in mine. And for the first time I saw through the thin veil she wore all those years. I saw her as a child, a wife, and a mother who hadn’t receive the unconditional love and acceptance that she deserved her entire life. Only then could I say these words to her. “You are so beautiful, I love you, and I am proud you are my mother.”
I didn’t need to hear her say, “I’m sorry for all the horrible things I said. I wish I could have given you the love you deserved.” No, I would never hear those words from her mouth. Telling her “I forgive you,” out loud wasn’t necessary. At that moment, I looked into her eyes. I saw straight through to her soul. She was a mirror of myself. It was then I knew. Akin to knowing when you’re falling in love: it is a feeling, a surrender, an epiphany…the moment when the inner souls of two people meet.
Days from her final time on this earth, our two souls met. It was then I felt true and unadulterated forgiveness. In her semi-conscious state, I believed she felt it too. There was a peace and reconciliation between two needy souls that day.
Mom passed away peacefully and silently in July 2014.