When my mother died, I could not speak at her service, I was not allowed to share my memories of her. I suppose the person in charge of the service had their reasons for this. Although at the time, I felt this was an injustice (as in fact it was), I was never really very angry about it. Actually, I think if I had been offered, I might not have known what to say. As a younger woman, I felt that I didn’t know my mother very well.
But I think, as we grow older, we begin to understand our parents in ways that are not possible when we are younger. And as we raise our own children, we begin to understand things about our parents that we could never understand without walking a mile in their parental shoes. Many years ago, an older woman in the church shared her story with me. Her mother had given her and her siblings over to foster care where, sadly, they endured much abuse. She ended the story by sharing that she had been angry with her mother for most of her life for that reason. But, as she matured in Christ, she realized that her mother was mentally ill and incapable of caring for her and her brothers and sisters. She lamented not understanding that before her mother died. Her story impacted me greatly. It was probably the birthplace of what would develop into an entirely different perspective than I previously had on my relationship with my own mother and even on motherhood.
In raising my own children, I have come to believe that mothering children outside of a relationship with Christ must be the most heartbreaking and difficult experience a woman could endure. I mean, where would we go with the overwhelming disappointments, constant anxieties, or the real-life objective fears that inevitably plague motherhood? And these things do not even touch on the other difficulties of motherhood, like contending with our own innate brokenness, constant failings, and nagging insecurities. Outside of Christ, the sweetness of motherhood would quickly be dissipated by the realities of life in a fallen world. I have often wondered how did my own mother do it?
Although life was in many respects very hard on my mom, she loved to laugh and have fun. When I was small, she made up a counting game called The Button Game. It was fascinating to me and my brother and sisters when she would take the metal tin of buttons out of her sewing cabinet and offer to play a round or two with us. She was an amazing seamstress, and she had hundreds of extra buttons collected from old clothes or purchased at Saftler’s Sewing Store (Whitman, Massachusetts). Essentially, I think the point of the game was to trade buttons. We would try to collect all of a particular type – one color, one size, or maybe a unique shape (star buttons, heart buttons, school-house buttons). Sometimes we just traded a specific button because it was pretty – or the coveted button that night (Coveted for whatever reason, I do not know. I mean, really, who can fathom the minds of 2,3-and 4-year-olds?).
My mother loved to sew. She made us dresses, clothes, blankets, dolls, barrettes, and the most ornate costumes (and I do mean ornate). She was very hard-working. She worked nights most of my younger life. Once when all the nurses were striking at the hospital she worked at, she took extra shifts because my father was unemployed at the time. The strikers did not like her disloyalty to the nurses’ union, so at the beginning of her shift, they greeted her and the other nurses taking shifts with expletives, rotten fruit, and harassment. Yet, none of that deterred her from her work.
In many ways, my mother was a very quiet woman. I remember sitting on our couch watching her sew or read. She loved to read, study, and tackle complex analytical problems. Most of her study was in the realm of psychology. She was a psychiatric nurse that eventually became the assistant director of a large rehabilitation center for AIDS and HIV infected addicts on the South Shore of Massachusetts. In this position, my mother became a loving parent figure for countless addicts. And, sadly, because they were all infected with AIDS, she watched each one of them die a painful death.
She was no stranger to her own personal losses and sorrows. One of my sisters died of SIDS. It was a night that she had been at work. I remember finding her, my sister, motionless and still, very unusual for the baby. I went and asked my parents if she was okay. Following them both up the stairs, I witnessed my mother holding my sister and weeping (as I have never seen a person weep before or since). What sadness this was for my parents – especially my mother.
She had dark penetrating eyes, high cheekbones, and a big smile. She was very Native American in her looks and build… there is so much that could be said. But, I guess, in short, if there were three words I could use to describe my mother, they would be strong, intelligent, and beautiful. I do not know how she could raise five children outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. And, if I could talk to her again, I’d tell her that I owe her a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid and that I love her.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mum. Happy Mother’s Day.