So far, this month of May has brought many surprises, trials, and revelations. Quite amazing since we are only a little over a week into the month! On the heels of my realization that I have been my own worst enemy for most of my life, having been full of self-pity for the hands I have been dealt, I knew Satan would attack me in any other way he could find. Knowing how free I felt from a lifetime of emotional bondage, he decided to attack my health. Still recovering from my knee surgery and trying to continue personal physical therapy, I was hit with severe allergies; the kind that take everything out of you, including losing my voice, body aches and headaches. A full week later, I am just now feeling human, thanks to new prescriptions and a good ole steroid shot in the butt. No kidding, it was worth it!
Spending a week in bed with nothing much more to do than think, and for me personally, trying even harder not to feel sorry for myself, I pondered what I wanted to write about on this Mother’s Day weekend. My ex-husband’s parents have been my surrogate parents for thirty-one years, so yes, I did send my ‘mom’ by marriage a Mother’s Day card. But surprisingly, I found myself thinking about how after all my hurting while growing up and my toxic relationship with my own mother, I have not obeyed God’s commandment to honor my mother or my father.
My parents made so many mistakes, but no one knows better than I how easily that can happen. We are humans, born into sin, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to clean up the messes we make each and every day.
When I read “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren for the first time, the very first paragraph was a true slap in the face for me.
Later in the chapter, Pastor Rick goes on to explain that good or bad, right, or wrong, God knew the two people it would take to combine the exact DNA that would be needed to create the very people he intended for us to be. Some of us may have won the family lottery in how we were brought up, a home filled with secure parents who shared their love and guidance all through the growing years. Others, like myself, grew up in a family that was less than perfect, and for this writer, it was the source of great pain to where it has taken me nearly six decades to overcome.
So here I am, a child of the Living God, the Creator of the Universe. And he has told me in his commandments that I am to honor my father and my mother so my days may be long upon the land which the Lord my God is giving me. (Exodus 20:12)
My mother, Frances, was born in Fresno, California in September, 1936. One year later she was blessed with a younger brother, James. The children would lose their father to a heart attack when my mom was only ten years old. My mother’s mother remarried eventually, to the only grandfather I ever knew. Together they had my mom’s younger sister, Patty.
My mom met my dad, an enlisted man in the Coast Guard, and they eventually married. When I look at their faces in old photographs, I can’t help but wonder if my parents should have ever married. It wasn’t until after my mom passed away that I learned she had been in love with a married man and found herself pregnant. I don’t know the details, but I believe she was made to give the baby up for adoption. She stayed connected with the adoptive parents, because after they passed away, my mom’s first son, my half-brother, contacted us, his unknown siblings. He hoped to meet his birth mother, but she had already passed away. He had no interest in pursuing relationships with us, and I haven’t heard from this brother since. The hardest part of this story for me to grasp is that my mother took this secret with her to her grave. I have always wondered if she could have found happiness in her life if she had just shared her story with someone. I cried and mourned for her, having kept this hidden away her entire life.
The photos above are my mother with my oldest brother Jimmy. I cannot find any other photos of my mom holding the rest of us like this. I know moms are usually the ones behind the camera, but I think it’s interesting that there are not more ‘motherly love’ type photos.
Together my parents had four children. Jimmy, the oldest, and firstborn son to my dad, then Susie, then Mike, and then me. My older siblings had the benefit of seeing more of the ‘good times’ between my parents. For me personally, being the last to arrive, I remember the fighting. My parents divorced when I was in the seventh grade… The same year I had to go to three different schools. Back then, I thought that was the worst time of my life. It was so hard, but it was from this point that I can see what my mother may have gone through as well.
My father had a drinking problem, so I know that must have been difficult for my mother. His being in the Coast Guard caused us to move often. Too often. My mother had excellent bookkeeping and office skills, so she was always able to find a good and decent job. Unfortunately, when my dad was transferred, she too would have to leave a job that she had grown to love and say goodbye to friends she had made. My dad was often out to sea for months on end, so she was left to take care of four kids on her own. I know firsthand how difficult and lonely that can be. My mother had to work, so there was no time for breakfasts together, drives to school, class parties, etc. I’m sure she wasn’t aware of it, but I felt completely invisible to both of my parents while growing up.
During their increasingly turbulent marriage, my father had an affair, ironically with his high school sweetheart. She is the one he should have married from the start, and eventually did. I have a younger brother because of the affair, and we are in touch today. He is the spitting image of my dad. I can only imagine the betrayal my mother felt after this, and I imagine she never did get past it, having witnessed the downward spiral of our family. My dad abandoned us, his first family, for a bright and shiny new family. I know all of us felt betrayed, but in different ways than what my mother must have felt having been his wife.
The years following my parent’s divorce are a dark and hazy blur, of which I don’t even like to think about. My mother was not a happy woman, and she did not take care of herself. She and I had a rocky mother-daughter relationship, to say the least. Aside from my father not being as helpful with our needs and supporting my mom financially as he should have, she had grown to be a very lonely and sad woman. It was extremely hard for me to be around her. She was completely alone as she watched her four kids leave home, scattered to the wind. All of us left mostly to get away from the miserable existence frow which we all felt trapped. Even now when I think about some of the bad choices I made back then, I’m not sure how I survived. All I knew was that I did not want to live my life that way anymore.
When my mom and dad divorced, we did the visiting on alternating weekends, and it was horrible. Eventually my dad moved away to where he found work after retiring from the Coast Guard. Ironically, he ended up working in Iran of all places, right before the fall of the Shah of Iran, and before the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. They urged all Americans to leave Iran as soon as possible. He left the Middle East right before the Iranian hostage takeover occurred, returning to his home state of West Virginia. That was when he reunited with his high school sweetheart, and they married. He had officially abandoned us and started his new life. When I was eighteen, my dad developed stomach cancer, and while in the hospital, ended up dying from a heart attack. I asked my boss for an advance in pay from my job to help send my sister to go to his funeral and serve as his ‘original’ family representative. I had just seen him for the last time a few months before. He was only forty-seven when he died.
I was married at twenty-six years old, met Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and my mom was able to meet Chelsea, our first born. I do have pictures of mom holding Chelsea at her first birthday party. I was pregnant with our second child, Samuel, when my mom ended up in the hospital, due to heart problems, just like her father had suffered from when she lost him at only ten years old. God allowed me a chance to spend time with her in her hospital room. She kept going on and on about how she thought God was giving her a second chance. Being a fairly new Christian, this was wonderful news for me, and I tried to talk with her more about it. Suddenly, it was as if a darkness entered her room, and she stopped the conversation. She said she was tired and wanted to go to sleep. I left her hospital room in tears, grieving over the way our positive conversation had ended.
As I drove home from the hospital that night, sobbing, I pleaded with God that if my mom was never going to change, to just please take her home. She was miserable, we were all miserable, and it was just so heartbreaking, I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. The following day while I was at work, my sister called me from the hospital to tell me our mom was gone. She was only fifty-seven years old. After my initial shock and despair, I was keenly aware that we must be extremely careful about what we ask from God. I will say, however, when I really knew she was gone, the anger and hurt feelings I had for her in those last days just disappeared. It was over, and I felt a great relief. Her pain was finally over, and I felt like I might be able to breathe again. It has taken years to get over the toxic relationship I had with my mom. I still hear her voice in my head at times, which isn’t always good, and I dream about her often.
I have shared all of this with you to show that despite all the ‘stuff’ that made up our crazy life, I can now see the many things that made my mom so sad, and why she might have felt hopeless so often. She lost her daddy at such an early age. Her mother remarried soon after her daddy’s passing. She constantly battled her weight and went through the drudgery of not being perfect in high school. She gave away her heart and her body to a man that could never be hers to love. She married a man who was still in love with someone else. Later on, I noticed that my mother bore a striking resemblance to my dad’s girlfriend back home. Oh, the choices we make in life.
The time has now come for me when I wish that I could ask her questions about her life. Why didn’t she share with us the story about her first baby? If she had taken better care of herself, she could have met him later in life, as a grown man. My mother really was a beautiful woman, but her inner pain and bitterness was always evident in her demeanor. She didn’t have to be lonely. Why didn’t she seek God? I felt God tugging at my heart all the time when I was a teenager, and into my early twenties. Had he tried to reach her? I would like to know those answers. I know how much divorce hurts, and how hard it is to face when your ex-spouse remarries so quickly. I could have used my mom’s ear about a month ago.
And so, it is with a grown daughter’s heart, looking back on the life of an extraordinary woman who had lived through such an uphill battle. During all her struggles, I watched her lose over one hundred pounds on Weight Watchers, only to fall downstairs and break her leg. She gained all her weight back. She even went to school to be an Air Traffic Controller, but unfortunately, was hit with another blow when she didn’t pass the final tests. She taught herself how to knit and crochet, and I still have the afghan blanket she knitted for us as a wedding present. She knitted Chelsea a baby blanket as well, of which I also still have. I have the little red dress she made for Chelsea at Christmas, the year before she died. My mother taught herself how to paint, bake, and decorate cakes like a professional. At the time, I viewed her hobbies as competition for her affection, but I know now they were things she needed for herself to remain sane.
I like to believe my mom and I could be friends if she were still alive. I think she would have been proud of the life I have lived. I know she would have loved to meet all three of my kids, to see the adults they are today. I’m sure my divorce would have broken her heart as it has all of us, but she would have been a good support to have around. I do remember my mom’s laughter. When she was a little girl, she looked like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. She had the same dark hair and strikingly beautiful blue eyes. Sometimes I watch old television shows or see movies and I think how much she would enjoy watching them. She would have loved to have visited Ireland with me, to see where her family’s roots began.
I honor my mother today, perhaps for the first time in my life. She endured many hardships but rose to the challenges the best way she knew how. She gave birth to five children. Who knows what her firstborn son has accomplished in this life? He seemed to be highly successful when we spoke the one time. At the time I am writing this, she has six grandchildren and four living great grandchildren. Who knows what will result from these lives? When I imagine the terrible pain she must have endured alone, and for a very long time, I feel the need to ask her for forgiveness that I was not a better daughter to her while she was here.
I really do love and miss you, Mama. I honor you today and wish you a very special Mother’s Day. I pray we will see each other again one day.
All my love,