I climbed the stairs I had climbed so many times before thinking about all the secrets and sorrows that were experienced in that room. As I walked in to the bedroom I had called my own for so many years, I saw her there on the bed. Her eyes were open and her leg was hanging over the bed. I reached over to touch her and felt a coldness I had never imagined. I also felt freedom. My mother was gone and a part of me was finally free.
I reached over and took the curler out of her hair. She would not want the funeral home attendant to see her with a curler in her hair. Death has a way of moving you to do weird things like take curlers out of someone’s hair even though it wouldn’t matter. I didn’t cry though I felt like I should. I began to talk to her and tell her I would take care of my dad. That felt like the curler incident, a rather movie scripted response that really did not make any difference.
My mother was a powerful force on this earth. She was and is a powerful force in my life. She was this amazingly intense contradiction. She was a determined, strong, and unbounded woman who lived valiantly through the depression and World War II and all the uncertainty that followed. She was also a devote Catholic who was filled with fear and anxiety believing votive candles and rosaries were essential to ward off any disaster. She would pray for everything. She would pray my father would keep his job, that his alcoholism would stop, and that she would have a happy death. I’m not sure what that means to have a happy death but she prayed to die in her sleep – and she did.
As I stood in my childhood bedroom looking down at her still body, a wave of calm came over me. I adored my mother. I despised my mother. I desperately wanted her love and pride and I wanted to both be like her and to be completely different. I was free now from that longing. She was dead and now she could never give me the love I needed and I could let go of the quest to earn that reward.
My entire life has felt like a quest for my mother’s love and for the meaning in my life. The searching has taken me deep into the creation of secrets and lies that would consume me and persuade me that my life circumstances could be better. In that same bedroom where my mother died she had found letters I had written to my first love. I kept the letters locked in a metal box. The lock evidently could be easily undone. I don’t know why she chose to search my room, find the box and read those letters but she did. I knew she did. At 15 years old the violation of privacy was enraging to me and also humiliating. My mother had entered a world that I had kept secret – a world filled with shame and fear for me.
We never spoke about the letters. She never asked me any questions or offered any counsel. I did hear her talking to my aunt on the phone about me. She was wondering what was wrong with me and why I was violating Catholic teachings. She worried I would go to hell. I worried as well.
In that same bedroom I had my first kiss and also thought about killing myself so many times. I was always pulled back by the Catholic teachings that said you would go to hell if you committed suicide. I was also pulled back by the deep love for my mom and dad and not wanting to cause them even more humiliation than I had already done. I gazed at my mother’s brown eyes, the ones I had loved, and felt as if I had been released and also enlisted as the general in an army. I was in charge now. I was the boss. Her judgment, her criticism, her praise, her accolades were all gone now.
The strange feeling of calm and peace that surrounded me as I stood with my mother for this final time were born of the truest love. My mother was a completely imperfect woman who was intense in every situation and I loved her and hated her. For the first time in my life, I could embrace the truth that she was everything to me and she was just a woman who gave birth to me and didn’t really know how to love me. The truth of my love washed over me and offered the most powerful freedom to manifest the life my heart had been waiting to live.
I held and do hold so many secrets. When my mother died I no longer was bound by the secret of the pain that filled our relationship. As most mothers and daughters, she hurt me and I hurt her. We were messy, imperfect, loving, and strong women who needed each other and often missed the call to be ourselves. After she died, the extra 90 pounds of weight I carried seemed to easily fall away and release the shame she and I felt. After she died, I let go of the belief my voice was unimportant and I became an expert public speaker, a school principal and eventually a coach and professor. After she died, I was able to love her and love myself. It is within the loving acceptance of ourselves and of those we struggle with that we are set free. I wish you the freedom to forgive yourself and those who love you and to see your brilliance, their beauty, and the unique you that is calling.