Monday, January 24, 2005

Today's My Mum's Birthday

She would have been 70.

When I realized that little piece of information it really surprised me. That meant that she was 60 when she died. It seemed to me like she was older at the time. I wonder why that is? Maybe it's because she was so sick and weak. Maybe it's because I wasn't ready for that parent/child role reversal at the age of 24. Maybe it's something else.

Mum and I had an odd relationship. In some ways, we had so much in common. We were both born to older parents, I was an only child and she might as well have been (her closest brother was 12 years older), we had a bunch of the same interests, and I knew I could go to her with anything and she would be supportive.

But there was a certain distance in her that made it difficult to get really close. Oh, I never doubted that she loved me, and she never hesitated to show it. But it always felt like she was holding a part of herself separate from everyone else, and that that part held the key to really knowing her. I guess it was a defense mechanism in part - her father was an abusive alcoholic who left my grandmother when Mum was five, and, as horrible as it is to say it, my grandmother just didn't have time for the touchy-feely stuff when my mum was growing up. It was tough to be a single mother in the 1940's and 50's.

But that piece she held back, when she allowed a glimpse of it, was deep and beautiful and terrifying. It gave testament to how much more there was to her than what people saw, and how much pain she carried around with her without burdening other people.

I guess that's where I get that tendency from. I learned a great many positive things from Mum, but I guess I picked up her unfortunate traits as well.

I regret that Mum and I weren't able to stay as close as I grew older. Oh, on the surface you probably couldn't see it, but we were drifting. I guess that as I got older, that piece I hold back and that piece she held back continued to grow as well. Those pieces were enough to start to form a wall, I suppose. Fortunately that wall wasn't complete.

But I guess the fact that I couldn't face dealing with another parent's declining health had something to do with it, too. There was only two years between my parents' deaths. That isn't much time at any age, but it's a blink of the eye in your early 20's. If I'm going to be completely honest, I didn't deal well after my dad died, and as a result I wasn't there as much as I wanted to be for my mum. Add to that neighbors who questioned the decisions Mum and I made together about finishing my education, and extended it to question my worth as a human being, and well, I was pretty closed off at that time. I just couldn't face the fact that my mum wasn't the same person who carried my to the bathroom when I had pneumonia in first grade, or was the team mother for my softball team, or helped me move into my dorm room my freshman year of college. It hurt.

I remember when a home health care nurse was trying to get me to change the packing in an incision my mother had where she had a cyst removed on her back. I couldn't do it. I'm not squeamish, but I couldn't stand a) the fact that my mother needed such things, and b) the idea of causing her any pain. My had literally shook so much that the nurse gave up on trying to teach me, and I ended up vomiting.

I guess I wasn't the daughter I should have been.

Despite the hedgewall of our own creation, I loved my mum perhaps more than I can even wrap my brain around to write about. I hate that I only had 24 years to learn from her, to share with her, and to love her. She wasn't perfect, but she was a precious gift in my life. I thank God that he gave me the privledge of being her daughter.

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