Monday, May 27, 2013

A mother's love

There seem to be two competing schools of thought on the matter of returning to the place from where you came: you can never go back and you can always go home.  I'd always put myself in the former, practically speaking because I don’t have my happily married, aging parents living in the sunlit house where I spent my formidable years. That house never existed. My parents weren’t happily married though they did manage to last more than 35 years together. My father passed away almost four years ago, and since then my mother has moved four times, most recently under my roof and then to share a home with my brother.

If a tinge of cynicism or resentment came through when I described my familial situation, you read right. My feelings about it all are the hard truth that I just recently came to acknowledge during the two and a half months my mother and I shared a home for the first time in fifteen years. As someone who intellectually understands that looking at the world and living from a space of lack is simply not good in any which way, it was a pretty devastating blow to come to grips with when I recognized that, emotionally, there is a child within me who is in pain over a perceived sense of lack, and I have much healing and growing to do in this area.

For as long as I can remember, I have been independent and self sufficient to an extreme. Couple that with intelligence and a “wise beyond her years” persona, and I never had trouble advancing in life or holding my own. When you’re known as the smart one, the strong one, the one who gets things done, people start to forget that you might need someone to be smart and strong and get things done for you from time to time. But more importantly, you yourself can start to forget that. I’d have moments of feeling this way, but they were always fleeting, and then I’d draw on my resolve, my spirituality, my firm knowledge of the fact that no one is responsible for my happiness except for me to keep moving forward.

Then my mom came to stay with me temporarily, and the game changed. It was an interim period between her moving out of the nearby apartment I’d set her up in a little over a year prior to now moving across the country to be a full-time grandmother to my brother and sister-in-law’s tiny little miracles.  This was an exciting time for our family as a whole. They were buying the sort of dream home you raise a family in that their kids might look back on one day as adults and recall backyard cookouts and neighborhood shenanigans. My mother was finally going to have a sense of purpose in her role as “Bubbee” (grandmother in Yiddish) after years of struggling hard to find steady ground and meaning. And I was going to have the freedom to travel more, maybe relocate and live my life the way I want to as a single, early 30-something without concern over mothering my early 60-something mom.

My initial enthusiasm for mom coming to stay under my roof wore off quickly. My house is setup for one, not two. And for every ounce of self-sufficiency I possess, she possesses an equal if not greater measure of need. Her life long battle with severe and chronic depression and anxiety has left her far less competent as the years have gone by than she was when I was younger. And even the little things, like a trip to the grocery store, preparing a simple meal, cleaning the house, became tasks that required detailed instruction and hand holding. All of a sudden, mothering my mother wasn’t a metaphor, it was a reality, and I wasn’t dealing with it anywhere near as gracefully as I’d imagined I would be able to.

Here I was, established in my yoga practice, a regular meditator, a proponent of conscious, healthy living, non-judgment, kindness and compassion, and the person who deserves the best of me, the person who brought me into this world, was getting my dark side. In response to her near constant need and genuine confusion over things I deemed so basic, my fuse was short, my patience ran thin, I’d snap too quickly and then find myself feeling terrible for having been so short on grace and compassion toward her. And yet she showed such tremendous grace and compassion toward me.  She didn’t snap back. She was endlessly considerate of the fact that I had a million things to do and her needs and tasks were just a few among them. She simply tried her very best to give all the love she could, help in whatever small ways she was able and whether consciously or not, was patient while I worked through the wounds of my inner child that were being revealed in order that they could be healed.

One morning just a few days before her departure, I had a massive breakdown. Sitting at my altar, chanting mantras to the Divine Mother, I was overcome by tears. There was no gentle trickle happening there. This was my body racked by sobs, breath gasping and heaving in my chest, hot tears spilling down my cheeks onto the prayer shawl wrapped around me for protection. This was crying the way a despondent child cries for her mother. I was that child. I still am. Only now, I know why she is hurting, and I can help her heal. I can bring her to her mother.

I realized in those moments of grief and sadness that I was refusing to accept my mother’s love, grace and compassion because it didn’t come packaged in the way I thought a mother’s love should. At some point throughout the years I created this perception of lack and alienated myself from my mother's love.  I’ve carried the pain of that separation inside for all this time. The emotional scars remained even as my intellectual understanding of these things changed. And now it was as if a dam had burst open in my heart, the darkness flooding out and the light flooding in.

My mom may not have what it takes to take care of me in the traditional sense, but she has more love for me than anyone on this planet. She is my cheerleader, my teacher and my confidant. If I’d let her, she’d bring nothing but that light into my life, the Divine light she carries within that I was refusing to see. Sure, she’s still going to need me a little more than I might want to be needed, ask questions that I think she really ought to know the answer to, and do things that might cause a mother to get on a daughter’s nerves. But I can choose how I perceive her and our relationship, I can choose to see that I do have someone I can count on for love and support, I do have a home I can go back to, and that home lives in her heart. My mother gave me that gift, and will continue to give it for as long as we live. For that I am so very grateful.

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