It’s been sometine since I posted this, and now seems like a good time to repost. I’m hurting from being rejected (again) by my birth mom (more on this later), and it helps to remember what my mom—my real mom—taught me, and to reaffirm the legacy she left me.
THIS IS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO KNEW AND LOVED MY MOM:
Top Ten Things I Learned From My Mother
(In No Particular Order)
She always told me that love is the only thing that really matters. You can lose your possessions, your job, and your health, but you can always hold on to the love. And in the final analysis, it’s the only thing that makes life worth living.
Decorate your house with bookcases, because you can never have too many books! Nothing ever seems quite so bad if you can curl up with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa.
Class is not determined by money or social position; rather, a truly classy person is one who goes out of her way to make others feel comfortable and special. Classy people are warm and gracious.
You’ll never get old if you are always interested…
The summer after my mom died ten year ago, I discovered a cache of letters, poems, and old photos I had never seen before, many of which dated back to her high school and college years. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to discover that my mother–my mother!–had once been as immature and silly as I remember myself being during those years. Well, almost. There were other surprises awaiting me as well.
I think I was somewhere in my twenties when I realized that my parents had actually been people before I came into their lives. Interesting, intelligent, fun people, growing and experiencing young adulthood just as I was at the time. My head almost exploded at the thought. “Well, of course,” my mom said mildly, barely looking up from her mystery novel when I shared my discovery with her. My dad just looked at me. “When I was your age, I was fighting a war, ” was all he said, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open and my world tilted on its axis a bit more. Ever since, I’ve been hungry to learn more about them, the young woman and man who became my parents.
My mother’s letters and poems have helped me understand how she dealt (actually, she didn’t really deal) with the sudden loss of her father in a farming accident when she was 20. Reading her prose makes me sad that she never followed up on her youthful ambition to be a writer, and makes me more determined than ever to somehow, someway, realize my dream of becoming one, chronic migraines be damned! Looking through her papers I am continually reminded that although I may not be her flesh and blood, I am so much like her I might just as well be…The passionate love poem she wrote to my dad shortly before their wedding, well, I just have to keep putting that one aside because I can’t wrap my mind around that one, nor am I entire certain I want to!
But most astounding and overwhelming letters that I found were the ones I had no inkling existed, the letters she wrote to God when she converted to the Catholic Church in her early twenties. My mom was a real Christian; she lived the Beatitudes and was warm, generous, joyful, and loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental and kindness itself. But these letters reveal a depth of love so overwhelming that it is shocking, in the the same way some of the more mystical writings of the saints are shocking. It’s a good reminder that not all saints are canonized, that even those we love most have hidden depths, and that, indeed, we are all called to holiness.
For All Souls Day, some flatlay collages and family photos in loving and grateful remembrance of my beloved family and friends now home with God, especially my grandparents, my Uncle Al (who died in January), and my amazing, wonderful parents.
Eternal rest grant unto them, Oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace . Amen.
I once, years ago, had a terrible experience with EMDR. It is powerful stuff. I had a therapist who was harsh and pushy and obviously not well-trained in the techniques for using EMDR in therapy.
I don’t remember much of the abuse, or the rape. I was so traumatized that my memories remain fragmented, unprocessed by my brain.
But they are still there.The guilt, the shame, the crummy self-esteem, the grief…
I’ve made huge strides in therapy over the last twenty years. But I cannot really get past the trauma stored in the little gray cells of my mind. Hey, I can’t even deal with losing my beloved mom and dad, and they’ve been gone for 7 and 21 years, respectively. So, I am trying EMDR this summer. My therapist recommended I wait until I am with class for the spring before starting; it can cause nasty PTSD flares, and I don’t want to deal with class and trauma simultaneously.
I am frightened, though. I don’t want to deal with those memories. I’d much rather my brain just pack them away and let me get on with my life. I keep repeating to myself the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” So because I want to live my life fully, instead of cowering in the shadows waiting for the next trigger to spark a flare out of seemingly nowhere, I will face my fears, and do the thing I think I cannot do.
Impossible to believe. I’ve lived without my father for two decades, despite all of my wondering on the day he died how I could last a day without him. A testimony to the resilience of the human spirit, I guess. And to the importance of cherishing our memories of those we have lost, in the knowledge that goodbye is not forever. Below is a repost of a tribute I wrote to my dad on this anniversary day several years ago:
He died face down in the cold, wet, new-fallen snow twenty years ago today on a shivery, white, mid-January Minnesota day. A day much like today. He was a husband and a father, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, a cousin, and a friend. And although Tom Brokaw hadn’t coined the phrase yet, he was one of the “Greatest Generation” the United States of America ever has known.
He was born in 1919, the third of eleven children in a large, exuberant German-Catholic farming family. He was forced to leave school after fifth grade, at the age of ten, to go work and help support the family. That was the year he and his older brother Leo shared one pair of shoes; one day Leo would wear them, the next day, Leo’s little brother got to wear them. In his teens he worked in the CCC–the Civilian Conservation Corps–sent all of his pay home to his folks, and remained a New Deal Democrat until the day he died.
He was sitting at the kitchen table filling out his card for the Selective Service (i.e. the draft) the afternoon he heard over the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Within a few years, he would take part in the bloodiest nightmares World War II had to offer: landing in the third assault wave on Omaha Beach, spending Christmas Day 1944 in some of the fiercest fighting the Ardennnes saw during the Battle of the Bulge, helping liberate one of the sub-camps of Buchenwald in the Hartz mountains of Germany (a work camp, not a death camp, was all he would ever tell me, adding a moment later that there wasn’t any difference).
When he finally came home in September of 1945 and discovered that his mother had saved all of his combat pay (which he’d sent home for the family to use) in a bank account for him, he used the money to buy the place where the family had been tenant farmers. He, his dad, and brothers founded a construction company too, and built many of the barns and houses in the Rush City-Pine City area of Minnesota, a number of which still stand today. He was the son who stayed home to farm and look after his mom and dad, putting off marriage and family until his parents decided to move into Rush City to live with his sister Julie. He was always the doting older brother and uncle, though, the tease, the one who made sure every niece and nephew had a Christmas present. He was the reason his little sister Jo refused to let her boyfriends come visit her at home–she knew she’d NEVER hear the end of it once her big brother found out a boy liked her! (Funny, his daughter had the same problem many years later…)
But in 1963 he married the girl he’d had his eye on for more than a decade and they settled down together in Minneapolis. They adopted a tiny daughter of five weeks in 1968. He almost died five years later, when he suffered his first heart attack, but luckily, it was mild and he lived another nineteen years. He lived to stick by his wife through two separate bouts of breast cancer, to take care of his daughter when she had three back surgeries for scoliosis at the age of seventeen. He lived to teach his little girl to fish, to show her by example that nothing in the whole world ever comes before the people you love. He took her to the Shrine Circus (unaware that she was terrified of clowns), the State Fair, and, every year, to see the Christmas lights in downtown Minneapolis. He stayed up with her all night when, at eighteen, the boy she thought she loved stood her up to go out with the campus floozy.
He was my father. His name was Leonard Henry Resch, and I adored him beyond reason, beyond words. And twenty years to the day he returned home to God, I still do. I always will. To have him as my father was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. Thanks, God, you may have him back now–as long as you promise that some day, I’ll see that twinkle in his eye again, and I’ll get to kiss him on the forehead once more. That we’ll all be home again. Together, at last.
We all reach times when we suddenly feel that we have more to bear than we can handle. Thank goodness I’ve lived long enough to know this is fact, because for many years, I thought I was all alone, that I was the only one who ever felt inadequate, or selfish, or so overwhelmed that all I could do was crawl under the covers and pray that morning would be a long time coming. Tonight is one of those times. I tell myself I am being silly, as I sit here typing away next to our Christmas tree. I remember every single ornament: who gave it to us, or where we bought it and where and why. There were presents under the tree, until Fiona started trying to unwrap them. (They now repose in an undisclosed location until Christmas morning.) Every day more Christmas cards from friends and family arrive in the mail, reminding me that George and I are part of a whole community of friends and family.
Yet all I can do is cry. Last Friday, as we all know, a very sick young man killed 20 children and 7 teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. I’ve been immersed in discussions/disputes about gun laws, treatment of the seriously mentally ill, grief for the parents and families left behind, as well as for those little darlings who will never graduate, not even from grade school, never travel, go to college, get married. And for some reason I am having an even harder time than usual dealing with the absence of my own parents this year. My dad was like a little kid about Christmas; he and I always had so much fun together, decorating the the tree (always the day after Thanksgiving), going downtown to see all of the Christmas lights and the mechanized displays in the department store windows, especially Dayton’s. Caroling with mom and other parishioners from Incarnation. And every year, until I was 24, sitting between mom and dad at Midnight Mass, hearing the ancient words “For behold I bring you tidings of great joy…” Going up to the Creche afterwards to see the Baby Jesus lying in the manger, and in later years the Choir always sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah immediately after the conclusion of Mass. Holding hands with mom and dad as we prayed in the “words our Savior taught us, Our Father who art in heaven…” and most of all, singing the old, familiar carols, especially my favorite, Silent Night, Stille Nacht, written in Germany so long ago. Now there is new family, warm, loving, caring family. I have a husband, whom I love very much. But I haven’t been able to go to Midnight Mass since I lost my mom. This is, without a doubt, the hardest time of year to be childless. We keep running into one roadblock after another with our efforts to adopt, until I have to shut myself alone in our bedroom so George doesn’t have to listen to me crying in hysteric despair. Yes, I feel selfish bringing up our loneliness for a child when I know parents out in Newtown are grieving their lost babies. But grief is grief, and it deserves to be honored and spoken of, regardless of the circumstances, or who is doing the grieving, or why. I’m particularly overwhelmed by my upcoming neck surgery. Less than two days to go now. And I feel so alone, I guess everyone does when they are facing surgery or something similar. Because no one can experience it with you. George is spending the day with me; Friday he’s taking me over to my Aunt Jo and cousin Melinda’s house, so they can fuss over me, and Sunday my birthmom is coming over to baby me. Plus, I am receiving the Catholic Sacrament of the Sick from one of my favorite priests tomorrow. So I have all of my ducks in a row, so to speak. but I still feel sick to my stomach every time I think about it. Part of my issue here is, yet again (this question has been popping up everywhere the last few days) is WHY. Damn it all, I am sick of being in pain every single blasted day of my life. Why do I have to endure more? Yes, I know other people have it worse. but I have have never understood why that is supposed to make me feel better. I’m supposed to be happy and grateful that at least I’m not suffering the way other people I love are? I don’t think so. I guess this is one of those times of, maybe not doubt, so much as feeling so desperately alone. This is why I ask for prayers, because right now I’ve lost the ability to form the words myself. I guess my tears and my writing tonight will have to be my prayers. I guess a partial answer lies in something I told a friend the night of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, when we were struggling with the question of why, of how, an event so hideously, cosmically wrong could happen:
You just sound upset, that’s all, hon. Don’t apologize for that. As to why this happened…can there possibly be a satisfactory answer? We live in a violent society. We can work for peace and justice. But does that help right now, at this very moment? All we know for sure is that God weeps with us, and that in the end God will wipe away all of our tears, and we will all be together again. And I always remember that Jesus wept when Lazarus died. He understands our feelings of grief and loss, because He experienced it too.