I was just looking through some old photos of my mom with my sister and me when we were growing up. A notion struck me again that has come to me from time to time. The notion that sometimes I forget how wonderful she was because I get caught up in the way she is now. I know the old saying that we should live in the now, and I mostly agree with that statement. Don't worry about lost loves, old fights, the coulda, shoulda, woulda’s of life. But going through those old pictures helped me remember how I once saw her as a beautiful, kind, and powerful woman. And maybe it is a reminder that none of that really has changed.
This was not about wishing she was “that” person still, although I certainly have those days. Today it was about not thinking of my mom as days and moments filled with confusion, not remembering my name, not remembering her past, paperwork that has to be filled out on her behalf, or trying to translate whatever she is saying. Today was about the woman she was, that she still is, fresh again for the moment in my mind and heart.
She is the beautiful lady with the sweet voice. The mom who always had a hug or loving touch for me. The woman who cared so deeply for others. The intelligent woman who worked at a university, one of the best in the nation. The friend who laughed with me. The cultural attache who helped me to enjoy art and music and to see things in my own light. The mom who rarely, if ever, raised her voice, yet I knew when she meant business. The mom who read to me and rocked me and sang songs to me. That is the mom that I wanted to experience today.
As I scrolled through the pictures, something else struck me. In every candid photo with me, she was touching me. I realized that it had always been this way as I grew from a child to a woman. She held me in her arms on the first day we met, minutes after I was born. She helped me to not to fall off playground toys. She put an arm around me as she read to me. She tickled me and made me laugh. She fixed my skinned knees, which I had a lot of as a kid. When I fell she picked me up, both physically and emotionally. She was always there.
She touched me and kept me close when I needed it, but she also let me be me. I don't ever remember feeling that she was judgmental with me, although I am sure she was at times. I probably have blocked that out so that I can remember the times with her that I loved so much, and that is okay, especially now that she is different. I do remember her being frustrated with me, and she once told me that she had asked her own mother what to do about me. I had a lot of energy and when I cried, I cried big, but when I laughed, it was even bigger. I was very insistent about things. My grandmother told her that I was simply passionate. Passionate about my feelings, passionate about life and how I saw it and wanted it to be. I knew what I wanted and when I wanted it and that was just how I was.
I often think of that advice when I am frustrated with my own daughter. I am still a passionate person, and my daughter is even more so. My grandmother’s advice and my mother’s willingness to follow that advice and to allow me to be myself helped me to become a powerful woman. I will do the same for my daughter. We are powerful because we know what we like and it is not always what others like. We are strong enough to be comfortable with our likes and opinions and feelings. We are independent thinkers. Although I may not always express my views, I have them. My daughter, on the other hand, tells it as it is. She lets others know how she feels and what she likes. My girl and I believe that we can do just about anything on our own. If we aren't sure how, we figure it out or research it, or we ask for help, or we just make it up as we go, but we do it.
Like my mom. She drove cross country in her VW Karman Ghia in the early 60's. At that time this was unheard of for a young woman in her 20's to do. She was told over and over again, “You can't do that!” She didn't listen. She knew what she wanted to do and did it. My mom is smart, but she didn't always feel like it. She struggled in school, just as I did. We learn differently. We aren't conventional learners. We have to make many accommodations to do things. Simple instructions sometimes get boggled in our minds and we have to repeat them out loud to make sure we understand. We have to incorporate many of our senses in order to truly learn something.
My mom was able to graduate college, get her Masters in Education from the University of Virginia, and get her license in counseling, all despite her learning difficulties. It took a lot of work and a lot of help from those willing to get her there, but she made it. She was a teacher for 12 years, a mom, a volunteer. She headed breast cancer support groups. She ran a workshop for women trying to get back into the workforce after being at home for years. She helped them find out who they were and what they wanted to do, what they were passionate about. She worked in the Pain Management Center at the University of Virginia. She did counseling, biofeedback, and relaxation for those suffering from chronic pain. She volunteered and then worked at hospices. She never stopped learning. She read many books a month, she traveled, she took art classes, did yoga, and met with friends in many different types of group activities.
She was always a kind soul. She gave off a sense of peace and zen. My friends said they loved coming to our house because it was always so peaceful as compared to theirs. She opened up her doors and her dinner table to whomever needed it. There were many Thanksgivings and Christmases when we had friends or acquaintances at the table - the kids who couldn't afford to fly home at breaks in college, the Japanese students who had never experienced Thanksgiving in America, the friend whose family couldn't afford and didn't celebrate these holidays. They all were welcome at our table.
Her memories of those days are mostly gone. There are no more words of wisdom from her mother to be passed along to me. No more job at a prestigious university. No more stories of her experiences to provide some insight to her own daughter. No more drives listening to classical music piped in from NPR. Those memories have not been forgotten by me. Today I was able to remember the woman that she once was and really still is. She is still beautiful. She is still a caring soul. She still teaches me lessons, albeit in a different way. Today didn't take me to a place of wishing, wanting that woman that once was. Instead I reveled in her knowledge, her power, and her peace.
I found the following passage, written in my mom's handwriting, that I keep close to heart.
May your soul be at rest.
May your heart remain open.
May you realize your own true nature.
May you be healed.
May you be a source of healing for the world.
May your heart remain open.
This truly fits my mom to a “t.” She has lived this prayer and has passed it along to me. May we each find comfort when we need it, just as I did today, reminiscing about the amazing woman that I call Mom.