Everything about the conversation was out of the ordinary for mom. Talking about feelings, past regrets, mistakes … these things didn’t come easy for her. And the times she did reveal anything of herself, while a surprise, it was not an invitation to ask questions or probe.
It also wasn’t the time to think she was kidding and, gasp, tease her about it.
I remember the time I asked mom about a particular opera that she played, often, whenever working around the house. Even though her taste in music covered a broad scope of genre’s – she listened to rock, danced with us to top 40 – her preference was classical and opera’s. Much to my surprise, instead of simply answering my question about the opera, mom started telling me how much she would have loved being on the stage … singing opera.
I sure regret what I did next because it squelched what could have been an enlightening, and definitely interesting, conversation with my mother.
Yep. I burst into a guffaw. Neat word, huh? It’s perfect for describing my laughter. But, really, I thought she was kidding around with me. She wasn’t. And that was the end of the conversation. Oh, mom was fine with it all and she understood the laughter was not mean-spirited, however, needless to say, that put the kabosh on the moment and she didn’t bother sharing anything else with me.
Mom and I had what I tend to call an interesting relationship. Though we could have fun, chatting and laughing, when together I never knew what she felt or thought about me. This is a facet of our relationship that I would call interesting – we could chat about anything as long as it didn’t involve our feelings about each other. Yes, we chatted often but never really talked.
So, there mom and I were, having a nice afternoon together. It was late Summer in 1995 and she had been battling metastatic breast cancer for several months. There had been a lull in the conversation so mom decided to fill it with a long penetrating gaze directed right at me. I can still see her dark brown doe eyes looking at me when, out of the blue, she asked a personal question. That’s personal with a capital P! Our afternoon of chit chat came to an abrupt halt and, to my surprise, promptly turned into a mother / daughter talk.
To say I was shocked would be, well, would be about right. I was shocked mom would ask a question that would put her in a vulnerable position – something she was always careful to avoid with me. She asked one simple, but straightforward, question. Because it revealed she was aware of some of the insecurities that had cast a long shadow over our relationship I am sure it was a question she had given much thought.
“You never felt I loved you, did you?”
Simple. Right to the point. How should I answer? Just as simple and straightforward? I mean, the question really only called for a yes or no. But, then again, a yes or no can be the same answer. Yes, I never felt you loved me or No, I never felt you loved me. Why did she ask me such a question?
She knew the answer. I think she has always known the answer. She had been more discerning than I gave her credit for and she understood far more about me than I ever realized. In fact, a little while after mom died I started thinking, in some ways, she understood me better than I did myself.
After I had stared at her for what seemed like hours, but, in reality had only been a few long seconds, I decided to answer her with my own simple, straightforward question. I knew it was a gamble – she could stop things right there and we go back to having an enjoyable afternoon chitchatting and laughing. Or she would move things forward and we would have a long overdo talk.
There were no tears. No histrionics. We talked in the same manner she had asked her question – simple and straightforward. At the time I had no idea how much this talk with mom would affect me. It wasn’t just about the two of us talking … it went beyond words … it had to do with the fact that for the first time in all our years mom extended her trust to me.
I consider that trust as a big part of the last thing she ever gave me. Her trust. And what she revealed in our conversation helped me use that trust – to let go of the feelings I had been using to keep a wall up between us – as well as being able to extend my own trust to friends with whom I feel especially close.
Actually, just being able to share my experiences, feelings, thoughts, and opinions as I do here is, in part, because of that late summer afternoon conversation. Some of the things mom shared with me helped me see what a waste it is to hold on to negative feelings/thoughts because they will, inevitably influence how we embrace life, how we view others as well as how we feel about our own self.
Mom had discovered that for herself, but, in her own words, much too late! Her illness had opened her eyes to so many things about her life and she was angry with herself … angry at, again in her own words, poor decisions and missing out on so much! And, in my opinion the biggest gift of all, she didn’t want to die without making it clear that she had loved me very much.
Go figure. I was growing up at 31 years of age. Well, um, okay, perhaps I should just call that moment a huge growth spurt. Whatever, the little girl inside was finally able to let go of the questions that had been haunting me for most of my life. I like to think that mom knew exactly what it was she was giving me that day – however, in all probability, she simply wanted me to understand some things from her perspective … it was more a matter of her needing to settle some things between us, as she had said, before she died.
Yes, the last thing my mother ever gave me proved to be a life lesson that, among other things, has had a powerful impact on the way I now interact with those I love. How I extend my trust in close relationships and the frequency I express my feelings. It’s sad when I think how much our stubborness cost us. You know, my sister, CJ, used to tell me my stubborn streak was forever leading me to cut my nose off to spite my face. So I just want to know why I still have the schnoze I had as a kid!
I have wondered if mom had not been sick if we would have been able to have such a talk. Had illness been some sort of emotional catapult that allowed mom to reach out as far as she did that day? It really doesn’t matter what motivated mom to talk to me. I’m just glad she did.
Interestingly, I had a dear friend ask a similar question of me. How much has illness impacted my life emotionally, spiritually, mentally? Would I be “where I now am as a person” if I had not been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease or the breast cancer? Are you thinking that would be an interesting topic to write about? Me too.