So our collective life has come to a place that neither of us ever expected: About 2 months ago I visited Mom.
Yeah. I know what you are thinking. You’re wondering how the hell I could open myself up to that ocean of pain ever again. You are questioning whether I have done this out of some deep, old need. And some part of you is also feeling a bit betrayed. Why the fuck would I ever acknowledge the woman who came at me with a knife when I was just a little kid?
Those answers are tough to put into one journal entry. I guess I should just tell you about what caused this and how it went.
Back in November of last year, I wrote her a letter. It was born of a true desire to provide her with some sense of closure for our lack of a relationship for the past 22 years. I told her that I felt like I understood her better now… the difficulties she had raising all of us with her own haunted past and a marriage that was disintegrating. I didn’t tell her that what she did was acceptable. It wasn’t. I simply acknowledged that she had a great struggle and I had a better understanding of how challenging it is to be a parent.
I didn’t expect her to write back. She did.
She thanked me for my letter and asked to keep in touch.
We exchanged a few letters – mostly about the kids (whom she has never met). She even sent me a Solstice greeting card and expressed appreciation of my path into Buddhism.
Then, in one letter, I mentioned that we were in the state for a sports tournament for one of the kids. She wrote back and asked if she could see me. I spent a few days thinking about it. I even went to see my Therapist – who I haven’t seen in over a year – and talked it through. I came out knowing that I could handle seeing Mom if only because I was prepared to walk out if she became hurtful. I had no expectations.
When I did visit her, we had lunch together and talked about my work and about the kids. We talked a little about Buddhism. Then we went to her apartment and she talked about the past. She layed a lot of blame… she blamed her parents, her marriage, my Dad… even herself. It was like watching someone touching a hot stove… wanting so badly to connect with the vulnerability and yet terrified of the pain it causes.
I listened. When she blamed Dad, I felt my insides grow tight… so I breathed and imagined myself opening and relaxing into the pain. It helped.
Then she was trying hard to think of a word that I thought I knew and so I said the word. She looked at me with her brow furrowed with strong disappointment and said coldly “No. That’s not it.” She looked off into the distance, trying to remember, then gave up, looking down at her hands and mumbling about her memory.
When she looked at me with anger, I felt a jolt of anxiety. But I was able to open again quickly and just watch her. When she looked down and blamed herself, I suddenly realized that she was not angry at me. She was angry at herself. She just didn’t have the ability to control how it manifested. Which was exactly what I struggled with for so many decades.
My heart softened and I truly felt for her. She is in her 80s… she likely won’t ever be able to let go of that anger and pain that she thrusts into herself each time she fails to be perfect.
When it was time for me to leave, I stood and bid her well. She reached out quickly and grabbed my hand. She stared into my eyes and I realized she had tears in her own. She said to me in words edged with desperation, “I am so sorry that I could not be the mother you needed me to be.”
I wasn’t sure what to do. So I hugged her. I told her that I would see her again. And I left.
Later, I reflected on her words and realized that her apology was something that, a long time ago, would have given me some sense of closure. On this day, it did not. The reason, I realized, was because I had already forgiven her.
Somehow… somewhere… through this ever-so-long process… I had found what I had actually been searching for all these years. I had found a release from my past.
Let me clarify. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still have flashbacks. PTSD doesn’t just “go away”. It’s just that when those images and memories come up, the feelings aren’t as powerful. And now I have the ability to be present with those feelings without adding a story to them or trying to bury them or wrangle them into some other emotion. I can be with the raw feeling and honor it with my direct and sustained attention. After a short while, the emotion dwindles until I cannot locate it any longer. And then I do this process again when it returns at a later time.
I also think that this journal has been a very big part of the healing process for me. Talking to you, my younger self, in a compassionate and understanding way has helped me to develop a sense of loving kindness to myself – long ago, today, and for whomever I am in the days to come.
I still have no expectations regarding this relationship with my mom. She might very well call me in a fit of rage from her vulnerability hangover and tell me to go to hell. Yes, that would hurt. And yes, I would handle the feelings, draw boundaries and define what’s an acceptable relationship, and then walk away if necessary.
Right now, her emails and phone calls are filled with an ongoing desire to explain why she did what she did. She wants my forgiveness. I will find new ways of telling her that I have forgiven her, over and over again. But sadly, I don’t think it will give her the relief she so desperately wants.
What she really wants, I think, is to forgive herself.
So here we are, Kiddo. Full circle. A journey of a life time: Finding the strength to pull away and then slowly forging the courage to reconnect.
Where you are right now, you may not understand or agree with where I am right now. You still have so many wounds to heal and the very big marathon ahead of truly, deeply, accepting your humanness.
When you have been underway for many years, you will finally grasp where I am and where I am headed. This journey actually isn’t a destination. It’s a process. It’s a long, slow, terrifying and beautiful swim through the ocean of my fear. And as I find the courage to dive down into the darkest depths, I am beginning to see that under that fear is profound sadness… and under that sadness is something so vast that it is beyond my comprehension other than to give it the simple name of absolute tenderness.
There. That is the birth place of our true courage.
I hope you will come swim with me.