May 9, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland
This is a strange Mother’s Day tribute, but stay with me.
This is a photo of my Mom, who died in 2009. She and I had, at the very best, a tempestuous relationship. Mostly I was the black sheep; the kid who would was hell bent on doing things my own way. I also thought my Mom was brainwashed most of her life, as everything she said or did or though had to first go through the filter of her Catholic faith before she made a decision.
When I was a child, raised strict Roman Catholic, the concept of an afterlife was drummed into my thinking, and it wasn’t always a pleasant idea. Catholics not only believe in Heaven, but also Purgatory (a hellish waiting room/cell block where you do time for being less-than-perfect), and of course, Hell.
I say all of this to illustrate that I grew up scared to death of pissing off anyone and anything, because whatever I did was never going to be good enough.
After I became a mom, I realized my religious upbringing laid a terrible psychological burden on any child, which is why my children are Episcopalian and not Catholic. But I digress.
When I left the Catholic church, it wasn’t an easy decision. My history with it involves a lot of heartbreak and distrust (I was abused by a member of the clergy, and when I reported it, no one believed me), and much, much later, forgiveness. After 30 years of being away from the faith, I elected to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), which is required of those wanting to convert to Catholicism. I didn’t have to, but the priest I spoke with suggested it, not only because of what I went through as a teenager, but he suspected I hadn’t been catechized correctly.
(By the way, the priest was right: I remember specifically our school’s principal, who I used to call Der Fuhrer Sister Cyrilla, telling us that Jesus worked with Joseph in the carpenter shop “building confessionals.” Oy.)
After I went through RCIA, I felt better about Catholicism, but I was still not really comfortable with it, especially after one of my children (who was attending Catholic Sunday school at the time) finally came to me, and tearfully told me about being gay. My child was heartbroken, thinking I was part of the Catholic mindset — that I would reject my own child because I believed in the Catholic teachings.
I reassured my child that I would NEVER choose anything or anyone ever, ever, ever over my own precious children, that they came first in my heart and in my life.
And my child said, “And I know you are religious, and I understand that, but I don’t understand how the Catholic Church can say that I’m wrong, or a mistake.”
For those of you who feel deeply about a belief, a faith, and to have someone you love with all your heart point out the cracks in that faith. It came down to this: My child wanted to know if I actually live according to my principles. My child was watching: Could my child trust me? Could we have a relationship built on that?
It came down to this: I told my priest (who is a good friend, by the way) what my child told me.
Father Friend said the church accepts those who are gay, but “they cannot practice it.”
So, essentially, I said, “my child cannot be an authentic self. How is that acceptable?”
Father Friend said: “Uh….”
Then I said, “Father Friend, let me ask you: What do you think Jesus would say about this?”
And his response, literally, was: “Errrrrrrrrrr…….”
I’m not kidding about his responses, either.
That’s when I told him we were leaving the Catholic church.
After I left, my Mom found out I left the Catholic church with the kids, she didn’t want to talk to me anymore. If I denied the One True Faith, I was going to Hell. We were all going to Hell.
I got sober on April 27, 2007. But I started drinking at age 12, right after the clerical abuse started, because the adults around me drank frequently and often, and used the booze as a way to relax, forget, deal with problems, take the edge off of living an everyday life. Because EVERY adult around me did that as a way to solve problems, I saw booze as my solution, too.
When I got sober, my Mom was in the second go-round of colon cancer. It was found the first time in 2004, stage III-A. She had surgery and radiation (but opted out of the chemo for some reason), and was clear for a few years. But because she had had what was an advanced level of cancer the first time, odds were good that it would come back again — and so it did.
In the early years of my sobriety, 2007-2009, I was doing a lot of soul-searching and ‘house cleaning’ of ideas, behaviors, and so forth that weren’t working for me. In Alcoholics Anonymous, we try work the 12 steps in all of our affairs — and so — in 2008, I went to see my Mom to do part of my 5th Step.
She was surprised, and shocked when I talked to her about what happened that started my drinking related to the clerical abuse. It was a hard thing to bring all that shit back up, but what was harder to hear was that she didn’t remember any of it. “There was no way,” she said. Maybe she truly didn’t remember; maybe the medications she was on related to cancer had messed with her memory — I don’t know.
What I do know is that my heart felt broken for a second time about this whole thing. It saddened me, and brought up the feelings that I felt the first time I told her what was going on with the clerical abuser when I was 12: She didn’t believe me then. She doesn’t believe me now.
That’s a lonely feeling when your Mom doesn’t seem to have your back. I thought in talking with her all these years later about the very thing that caused the deep rift in my relationship with her, something would be filled, or healed, but that wasn’t to be.
My sponsor tells me that none of us are perfect. When we get faced with the flaws in our selves, we can either do what we can to make a repair, grow from the truth-facing, or we can run away from it — but I have to remember that every action has a consequence, and ignoring a truth also results in a consequence.
My consequence was that thing with my Mom never healed while she was still alive. I didn’t bring that 5th step discussion up with her again, because she was upset over it, and frankly, I didn’t want to feel that heartbreak all over again. I’m not a masochist.
If there was going to be movement forward between my Mom and me to heal that, it would have to come from her this time. At the end, I didn’t feel resentment towards her, just sadness. I realized she and I would never really be very close, and I had to accept that.
On the morning of November 19, 2009, I received a call from my Dad that Mom was in hospice, dying of colon cancer. I was nine months pregnant (I was not allowed to travel; this had been a twin pregnancy, and I’d lost one of the babies early on). I was due any day.
My sister had traveled from Oregon to be with Mom and Dad, and she called me a few times that day to give me updates. It’s hard to describe how all this felt, the sorrow of knowing my Mom was leaving, on top of the constant physical discomfort (I unable to breathe unless I was always sitting up in a certain position).
The stress was getting to me; so I turned my phone off and started meditating, to calm myself.
In my meditation, I was walking along a path in a big, grassy field. The sky was blue, the grass green, about waist-high.
Ahead on the path, standing to the side, obviously waiting for me, was a young woman. Brunette, fair-skinned, dressed in what looked to be the style in the 1960s. She was smiling at me. It was Mom.
I stopped, and she talked to me, smiling at me, lovingly. The look on her face was of joy, peace, love towards ME. I felt the love and peace — and acceptance! and belief!– emanating from her, towards me.
I don’t remember what she was saying, but I obviously understood it, and got it, because I was nodding at her, and saying something back.
Then, the lamp next to me, on the table, literally fell apart, and I jolted out of the meditation. My husband came in and picked up the lamp off the floor. “What happened to the lamp?” He asked. I said I didn’t know — it fell apart at the hinge, and it made me jump.
My phone lit up at that moment — it was an incoming call from my sister. I answered it — she told me that Mom had just died a few minutes earlier.
I don’t know if I believe in an afterlife or not.
I want to believe it. I hope there is one, because maybe, I can have the relationship with her I wish I’d had all along.
But you know what? I think I have it after all. I sense her around me every now and then; sometimes a little touch gently on my shoulder, reassuring me, believing in me.
And that I’m not alone.
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