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Seeing the light, feeling the heat

April 3, 2021

Today I told my mother I love her, for the very last time.

She isn’t suffering, but instead slowly unwinding and soon she will be gone from this earthly plane and we will all be the better for her journey through this world because of the people she touched and the hearts she healed.

As I lay next to her this afternoon and stroked her hair and whispered in her ear, a voice came up out of the depths of her dementia that said, quite clearly “I’m so glad you’re here.” And somehow, I knew that she was speaking directly to me, Steve, in that moment, despite not recognizing me moments before. It was a wish come true to hear her speaking directly to me one last, heart-churning, precious time.

I find myself reflecting on whether I have any regrets in this tender moment, and what comes to mind is that I have always regretted never being able to convince my mama that she was, indeed, a most excellent mother. For most of our adult lives, my brother, sister and I have asserted over her protestations that she was a wonderful mother. We tried everything to finally convince dear Frances with a heart as big as the world, that she could take herself off the hook and rest confidently in the knowing that we turned out beautifully. Each of these smart, funny, talented, humble and loving beings emerged from her womb and have made our way admirably in the world as a direct result of her love and care as our mom. Our roads, like those of all humans, have been bumpy and taken some twists and turns, but we have survived and thrived because of her.

But time after time she dismissed our declarations of admiration and appreciation, always pointing to her own perceived shortcomings, regrets and mistakes. Those conversations almost always ended with her in tears of guilt and us in knots of frustration and powerlessness. We know in our hearts that we are right, to this day, and all we wanted in those periodic battles was to finally lift the veil of self-loathing and perfectionism that weighed her down and made her cry. We only wished the best for Mom: to be happy and free from at least this particular suffering. And we repeatedly failed.

For years we (my siblings and I) were taking on a battle with Mom’s inner critic that constantly berated her for not doing more, not loving more, not having more and not healing more. That inner critic of Mom’s, like all our inner critics, is a sneaky and devious bastard that leads us to believe that it is all there is and the only voice to be believed. But today I realized that we have often overlooked the voice underneath that one, that was Mom’s genuine, heartfelt desire to share compassion, kindness, love and healing with everyone she met. Why did I not embrace that even deeper voice of human kindness and celebrate her tender heart instead? Mom is/was a lover, a companion, a free spirit with an eye for humor, beauty, grace and redemption in virtually everyone she counseled, sponsored, took in or touched in some way.

How did I miss this all these years while I was busy trying to convince her that she was, indeed, enough? “That’s just mom,” I would say when she spent an hour on the phone late at night with some recovering alcoholic who needed a shoulder to cry on. I’d roll my eyes when she was late at work tending to someone in crisis or exercising the patience of Job with someone whose pattern of self-defeating behavior was repeating itself before her eyes. What I learned from this was that kindness is a solid bedrock of being human, that compassion is always there (if sometimes forgotten) and forgiveness is always possible if the heart is strong and open. I am an optimist, a believer in the best of everyone, as a result of being raised by this amazing woman.

And Mom’s fingerprints are on more people than I could ever count, including those people’s partners, children, grandchildren and colleagues. I sat these last few days with my siblings and heard my dear sister say that, even after 30 years of being a cop and having recently weathered a horrific mass shooting that killed a colleague and friend, that she still firmly believes that people are basically good people who simply want to be happy. What more obvious example could you want to demonstrate the strength and resilience of the human heart that Mom fostered in us . . . and so many more?

I remember Mom having a little sign on her desk when she used to professionally counsel people that said, “people change, not when they see the light, but when they feel the heat.” We tried for so many years to help her see the light, but I stand here today fully confident down to my bones that she felt the heat of our tender beating hearts and somehow she came to know that we were one of many success in her long and colorful life.  You done good, Mom. Go sweetly to sleep with ease in your heart that we’ve got you covered. We’re good. Thanks Mom.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendy Gorlin Tayer permalink
    April 4, 2021 11:29 am

    That was very touching Steve. Thank you for sharing these heartfelt sentiments. All the best to you.

    Wendy

  2. Joel Grow permalink
    April 7, 2021 2:14 pm

    Beautifully written, Steve! Thank you for sharing.

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