The Day my Mother Died

Death brings perspective. It forces us to reflect on our relationships and priorities. With the news of my mother's death came thoughts of both sadness and gratitude. Sadness over a life that was ruined with alcohol, gratitude that by the grace of God I had escaped a similar fate.

It was a fun day on vacation. We had just finished touring Cade's Cove, a beautiful valley and meadow in the Great Smokey Mountains. The cabins and buildings and structures date back to the 1800's, set amidst beautiful scenery and the occasional wandering bear or deer. After driving about three miles out of the valley cell phone service returned and I heard my voice mail tone. I pressed the button to listen and heard the voice of my younger brother, "Bart, it's Jim. Mom died last night." Boom. Just like that. I didn't even know she was sick!

More surprising to me than the news was the lack of emotion that came with it. I felt nothing,  no sense of loss, no grief. I think it was because my mother had not been a part of my life for so long. She was an alcoholic who had abandoned relationships years earlier. I had not spoken to her in 6 months and only one or two times in the 5 years prior. It was as if I had just been informed of the death of a stranger.

As I hung up the phone I thought back to my last conversation with her. During the call I had explained to her my reasons for not calling more often. While an explanation should not have been necessary (she had abused me as a child and abandoned me as an adult and it was a wonder I called at all), it was for my mom, so I told her,  "It's like we live in parallel universes. When we talk you make comments about the way you raised us kids, as if you had been a good mother. You say you are proud of me and speak as if you deserve some credit for how I turned out. You do not realize that every day of my life is a struggle to overcome the damage that you did to me. I do not need you to apologize or make it up to me, but if you are going to have a relationship with me, you need to understand me, and to understand me you will need to understand the pain that you caused."

"I don't want to do that," was her reply, "that will hurt." This was my mom. If it was difficult or painful, she wouldn't (or couldn't) bring herself to do it. She consistently looked for an easy way out.

I thanked her for at least being honest and we said good-bye, and that was that. We never spoke again, which is why her death simply finalized a fact that had been true for years, the woman who had given birth to me would never be a part of life.

In spite of this sad truth I have not been left motherless. There is a woman who has loved me as a son, loved me for who I was and am, a woman who understands my struggles and pains and who loves me just the same, and who, ironically, was with me that day when I received the call, my mother-in-law. She has modeled what it means to be a loving mother and grandmother

The failures of my mother make me profoundly aware of the importance of a mother's love and appreciative of the mother my wife is. For 24 years I have watched with wonder and amazement as she has loved our children. Her delight in our children, her warm smiles and wonderful laughs at their stories and exploits,  has helped our children grow up knowing they are truly valued and truly loved.

Sadly, stories of broken parental relationships such as mine are not rare. Over the years I have observed many broken families and seen many estranged parents and children. Every time I see such a family I think of how much my mother missed, and how grateful I am for the relationship I have with the children with whom I have been blessed. 

If you have been blessed with a loving mother, make sure to say "Thank you." Mothers, give your children a hug when you can, tell them you love them a little too often and remember to thank God for the blessing of family, for their is no greater blessing in this lifetime.

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