for mom's pastor


for mom's pastor

Mom's memorial service is this weekend, and my mom's pastor who's known her forever asked me to tell him more about her so he can get a greater sense of who she was with family.

Hmmm. Ordinary request, ya?

How do I tell him....Do I even bother to tell him---what she was really like? How could I be sincere and honest, yet respectful of both her and me and objective about the big picture of her life...

....this is what I wrote:

could we 'open the floor' after the service is over and allow people to stand in their pew if they would like to share a memory? We did that at my uncle's service last weekend, and it was a wonderful way everyone could connect and share. I learned so much about my uncle, my mom, and my own babyhood from people's memories of us.

So--that said, I have been wracking my brains all to encapsulate vignettes that illustrate the essence of to strike the right tone between acknowledging her struggles, without inviting pity (she would hate that), and sharing the strength and faith she derived as a to sincerely acknowledge the gravitas of my relationship with her, without diminishing what was wonderful about it. How does one convey all these 3 minutes?!!!

If I come up with something, I would love to speak too. So far, it's not looking likely that for that to happen.

OK. For YOUR edification, and for your eyes only though...

Mom was a DREAMER and an IDEALIST. This was WONDERFUL, sweet, generous and kind of her. One always got a sense of possibilities and drew inspiration from her open mindedness. Truly wonderful.

AND, simultaneously, this great strength also led her into many difficulties. She trusted people who did not have her best interests at heart and was gravely disappointed and even endangered at times as a result.

Mom was incredibly naieve given some of the negative things she had experienced. She was always ready to trust and love, and give, even if it meant her own demise. How can one get angry by this? What a beautiful and lovely way of being.

Mom loved to have fun. She loved entertaining in her home, she loved people. She was genuinely curious and interested in others. She could strike up a conversation anywhere, any place. She developed connections quickly and many of her friendships were lifelong.

Mom was intensely focused on her family. She felt very responsible to participate in every single family function and to spend time with her older family members, even when she would have rather done her own thing. As an oldest child, she was part of the glue that holds a family together.

Mom was intensely spiritual and devoutely religious and very active in her congregation (when her health allowed her to participate). She felt very close to God and Jesus Christ and was very reliant on her faith to see her through her many health struggles.

She lived a life of tremendously transcendent peak experiences and also saw the 'dark night' of the soul first hand. Her solid faith saw her through and consequently she supported herself emotionally in remarkable ways. In some ways she was incredibly resilient and had more than 9 lives and in other ways she was unbelievably fragile and tremendously insecure. It was a very strange paradox.

It was evident in the later years of her life that she really struggled---emotionally, with her legal blindness (brought on by a 6 month stint of not eating, and only drinking vodka, and taking to her bed, not getting up, not bathing, not letting anyone in to her home to help her--resulting in a court hearing which found her to be incompetent and she was institutionalized), with her emphasema. But, she was a TROOPER. She put forth a LOT of effort to be cheerful, not complain and not just give up. It was admirable. She seriously wanted a lung transplant and an optic nerve transplant and to live to be 90.

And, as cheerful and strong as she could be, she also tended toward depending on others like me or her mom to do many things she could have and should have done for herself. Battling with her to develop herself and do for herself was an every moment of every day thing. I didn't mind doing anything and everything I could do---as much as I minded feeling like I was contributing to her disability and her actual loss of abilities. It was just a weird, weird difficult situation to be in---with near constant parent-child role reversal.

Mom was everyone's*** cheerleader and confidante (except mine). Ask anyone in the audience, they will tell you how inspiring she was to talk to. She was everyone's amateur therapist and spiritual counselor.

***(What I will never share, except with you and my husband is that I was placed in that role with her, starting around age 8! When I was 30, I said I couldn't be her 'therapist' anymore, and that I paid money to a professional for my own needs. Sad and weird that so many had this resource to go to in her, this backup support--but, she was unable to offer it to her own child!!

She relied heavily on me, heavily, heavily calling sometimes more than 5 times a day and additionally writing letters, sometimes more than one in one day, to discuss family dynamics, dating and marital problems, and problems with friendships, and later relied on me for major financial assistance)

Mom had a lifelong, every moment of every day obsession---even some of her last words were "...Your father..." ---- in the tone of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" ----- she was obsessed with him. Paranoid of his return to destroy our lives. Constantly vigilant.I know more about horrible things that happened in their relationship than she knows of the details of my 40-year life. Constant. Obsessive. Paranoid. She could never overcome what happened between them, nor own her portion of the responsibility. Consequently, she never had what I would consider a successful romantic relationship. Major defenses blocked real connection and initimacy.

I always felt very very sad for mom. What could have and should have been for her life. A potential I believed she cut off by her own not care for herself...smoking 3 and a half packs of cigarettes a day...not examining and having introspection to make important changes and better choices for herself...not getting out of abusive relationships...blindly believing in faith-healing with no effort on her part and just wanting the drugs. I took this to be the easy way out. I would often say there is no easy way OUT, the only way out is THROUGH, and you have to really feel it and experience it.

I loved her dearly and never was hung up on her mothering (except to my therapist--though I was deliberately distant in my 20s trying to establish myself). She always felt she was a 'bad' mother. I said she had enough on her plate and I just wanted her to feel better. I said I just wondered why she didn't want MORE for herself. More love, more connection, more rewarding relationships. Why did she stay doing things that were not good for her and why was staying more important than discovering and creating her actual dream life?

It broke my heart.

I have dedicated my life to healing myself. Becoming responsible in as many ways as I can handle and always pushing myself (with love) to become more responsible. To teach my son that you have to feel good and be content on the INSIDE, life is not just about appearances. I have the dream marriage of love, respect, authenticity kindness, inter-dependence, teamwork and enthusiastic support--warts and all. We are at least as, if not more, loving, kind and gentle to one another as we are to acquaintences and strangers. (this was not the case in my family--it was all about managing the illusions) My in-laws are tremendously wonderful and supportive and health conscious and we're extremely fond of one another. I've won life's lottery. Seriously.

I learned a ton being mom's daughter. From everything she did as well as everything she did NOT do. I loved her...actively as a caregiver, amateur therapist, 'parent-rified child,' I listened, I supported, I advocated for her to write her medical directives, as her power of attorney starting when I was 30. I went in to debt for her, spent over $100,000 to help her, housed her for the last year of her life. And I was ready to be her hospice nurse. Gracefully, she let go of her life 2 days in to that reality.

So--Pastor---what you will see Saturday is an incredible outpouring of love, loss, and a lot of appreciation from everyone who was friends with mom. You will not see what a contrast it was to be in an intimate relationship with my mom and members of both sides of my family. Tons of mental illness...manic depression, depression, suicides, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, alcoholism and substance abuse, battering, emotional and sexual abuse...and my dianosis of Attention Deficit Disorder.

In my life I have sought to match up the inner and outer---the public and the intimate---so that they're both as wonderful ---and as real---as the outpouring of love for my mom.

Am I grieving? No. Last time I grieved was when I was 8. I came to understand what the end game of all mom's self-destructive behaviours meant, and I begged and pleaded with her to make changes. I learned quickly that was not going to be and that I had little if any influence.

I could tell you stories that would chill your bones---like why I didn't think Hannibal Lecter was as scary as mom could be in full-blown mania. Her locking me into a sun-filled car in September, turning up the heater full-blast and as she ripped the buckles off my new shoes I got for my part as a pilgrim in Mrs. McCurdy's 3rd grade Thanskgiving play...harrowing stories that are NOTHING, nothing like what you will hear and see from her friends.

I believe Paul Newman called it mendacity in the movie Cat on a Hot Tin Roof...

So, for Saturday, we will set that all aside and just let everyone experience THEIR PUBLIC experience of my mom--the cheerleader, the muse, the inspiration.

With relief that the suffering is over and with enormous gratitude for my lasting connections with selected authentic, recovering and wellness seeking, supportive family members,

and with enormous gratitude that I can appreciate all of mom's strengths and gifts and see the whole picture with a little more perspective and emotional distance,

and with gratitude that I loved her as actively as I could, and many many people abjectly loved her, no holds barred.

(incidentally none of mom's siblings will be in attendence, nor her cousin who was closer than a sister...)