Hello, Anger.




...I knew it would come.

Have you ever noticed that no one dies who was less than perfect?

Everyone who dies is elevated to sainthood.

There is no room for complicated grief.  Just perfect memories of perfect people.

At her Celebration of Life, people kept telling me how much my mom loved me.

"She loved you so much."

I smiled. I nodded. I hugged them back. I told them how sorry I was for their loss.

And I was. I am.  She sounds amazing and I'm so sorry that you will have this hole in your life where she was. These stories are incredible.

I wish I could have met her.

And I wanted to scream.



I wanted to beat my fists into the floor and scream and break things and disparage her memory and...

I smiled.  I nodded. I hugged people back.

I can recognize and appreciate who my mother was to all of these people.  I can appreciate the deep affection and love that they had for her, and all of the good that she brought into their lives.

I am not mad at people who saw the good in my mother and who loved her for it.

But...

I found myself writing my own obituary this week. I implored my husband, "if I die first, don't let them make me perfect.  Tell them I was flawed and broken and struggling and succeeding and failing and trying and human. Don't let them put me on a pedestal."

And I cleaned my house for hours and days because everyone dies suddenly and my house has to be clean...just in case...

And I walked around the house dazed and I asked my husband," was I fair to my parents?  If my mom was so perfect and my relationship with her was just this...mess...was I fair? Am I awful? Am I crazy? Did I make all of this up? Was I fair?"

And he assured me that I was fair. That he was my witness.  That I was not crazy and that yes, I was fair.

This mess...

My mom said "our secrets make us sick" and I laughed.

My mom had a secret.  And I believe, and I will always believe,  and I know that she sacrificed her relationship with me in order to keep her secret.

When she died, people who knew her well but had never met me looked at me with disgust.  People assumed that I was an alcoholic, a drug addict, in trouble with the law, any number of things I must be that would lead me not to speak to this woman who was a saint among saints.

I must be a bad child.  There must be something wrong with me. I am terrible.

And through the years, I isolated myself from everyone because...everyone thought I should speak to my mother.  Everyone thought I should be nicer to her.  She was such a good woman and it hurt her so much that I wouldn't speak to her and why was I so awful and...

No one believes me anyway and she always said that I was a liar.

I just closed myself off. And now she is gone.  And there is no room for complicated grief. There is no room to wish that your mother would have actually loved you the way that everyone says that she did. When people tell me how much she loved me, there is no place to do or say anything but agree. There is no place to refute the perfection of the deceased.  There is no room to say that this hurts me too, but in a different way.

She is gone, a saint in Heaven. And I am her child in continuing isolation.

And no one dies who was less than perfect.








Sorting



The day after my mom died, the outpouring of love for her was incredible.  People said how amazing she was, how she took care of everyone, how she was like a second mother to them, that she had the most generous heart and on and on and on...

I was furious. Who were these people? Were they blind? Were they stupid? Kind? Generous? A second mother??? Did they even know my mom? Had they actually met?

That was Day 1.

I'm not there anymore.

I'm still navigating these waters and I find something new every day.

Today I was thinking about cruelty.

How my mother thought that I was cruel and I thought that she was cruel and how people who knew my mother and loved her so much could not understand how or why I could be so cruel to her and how people who know and love me so much could not understand how my mother could be so cruel to me and people who love me do not think that I am cruel and people who love my mother do not think that she is cruel and how on earth did we get here and it is

so. 
much. 
to. 
unravel.





I am not cruel. My mother was not cruel.  But we are broken. We are all broken. And I guess with my mom and I, that brokenness came across as cruelty.  Because to be sure, no matter what anyone else might see in either one of us, my mother and I could be very cruel to each other.  No matter how beautiful we each might be, our brokenness could make us hurtful.

Not intentionally malicious.  But still...cruel.

So there's that. I'm still working on that. I have nothing profound or wise to say, except how strange it is to try and see my mom and I's relationship through the eyes of others, and to simultaneously take her side and mine. And to try and find a place where there are no sides to take.

I'm not there yet.




But I am at brokenness. And vulnerability.

And here's where things are weird...

My mom and I, for at least a little while, were the same guy. I'm trying to wrap my head around that - that my mom and I, who generally could not be in the same room with each other without everything turning into terrible, were incredibly alike.

Broken and in pain, and trying to fix it by ignoring it and trying to save the world instead.  My mother was kind and generous and thoughtful and loving and took care of everyone around her. I cannot deny that. She would have taken care of me if I would have let her (I did not, and that was the right choice, as difficult a choice as it was for everyone involved. She was not wrong for wanting to take care of me. I was not wrong for not letting her). My mother wanted people to be happy, and if she could help them be happy, she would.  I didn't know this version of my mother, but I can see it and hear it from everyone who talks about her.  Literally, everyone.

Those people are not liars. They are speaking about someone that they loved and that they knew well. They speak the truth.

And I think that there are many people who might say the same about me - that I am kind and thoughtful and generous and loving and I take care of people ...

BUT...I now take care of myself first, before trying to take care of everyone around me. And I had to learn that the hard way, by completely falling apart.

(aren't all of life's most valuable lessons learned the hard way? And doesn't it piss you off?)

I think that desire to fix the world comes from not wanting to confront our own brokenness and pain. Because seriously...who wants to mess with any of that when instead, you can shove it aside and just have people love you and think that you are good?  And what would happen if people thought that you were flawed? Would they stop loving you?

It is best not to even find out.

I think that's where my mom was. And I think that, because I was there... for a really long time. "Nothing is wrong with me as long as I am good enough for everyone else."  I think my mom was everything to everyone for her entire life, and in being that, she completely ignored the parts of herself that needed the most attention. That hurt. And brokenness.

And I wish my mom could have opened herself up to that and just fallen apart, because as painful as that is, it is also such an incredible place of healing.

To say, "I cannot do this. I cannot help you. Or save you. I'm in pain. I cannot be perfect. I am flawed because I am human. I need help. I need to rest for a while."

And I wish that I would have had the courage and the wisdom to have recognized that struggle in my mom, and let her know that as angry as I was, if she would have asked for a lifeline, I would have provided it. I wish I wouldn't have been so arrogant as to think that I knew the whole of who she was, and that there wasn't anything left to know.


The things we realize when it's too late...
...let them be the things we carry going forward...
so we don't have to do this again.





So I am sorting through all of this. Finding out who my mom was and who she was not.  Fighting with her in my head. Trying not to fight with her in my head.  Trying to balance between my truth and the truth of others. Trying to be kind. Trying to be true. Trying to be fair. Trying to stay afloat on these weird, rough, and unfamiliar waters.

And knowing - you cannot be an effective lighthouse if you don't actually maintain the lighthouse.  A lighthouse that burns out cannot light the way for anyone.

And realizing - a lighthouse shines a light for all - even the people that you are angry with, the people you don't know, the people that you judge even when you're trying not to judge them.  The light does not switch on and off.

You have to keep the light on.
And you have to maintain the building.

I wish you Grace and Peace, today and always.
I am so grateful for you.








Guilt



It's a process, this letting go.

We don't exist alone. Our stories are so intertwined with the stories of others. How do we tell our own story and the stories of our pain while still being compassionate and respectful to the stories of others?

Did I say that I don't feel guilt?

My hands are shaking.

I was wrong. I was wrong about so much.

Here is the guilt...

Boundaries are appropriate and necessary...but I wish I would have set them...better?

"These are my boundaries and they are necessary for my survival and health, but if you decide that you want to battle this beast, I will battle it with you. Do not be ashamed. I will not judge you."

This is my regret.

This is what I wish I would have said.

This is the person I wish I would have been.

I call myself a lighthouse and I failed to shine a light for the person who needed it more than anyone.

This is a very painful lesson to learn. And I'm quite sure that I'm not done learning it...
I will do better.
I am so sorry.



A letter to my mother, the week of her passing



Dear mom,

You and I never got along. We were not so much oil and water as we were fire and gasoline.

I couldn't talk to you. I stayed away from you, not only to protect my own heart, but to protect yours. You could be hurtful. I know that I could be, too. It was best we didn't talk.

I didn't understand you. I never did. And I was quite sure that you didn't love me. I knew that you thought that you loved me, but I have never felt like you actually did. You might have felt the same about me. I wanted to love you...but I didn't know how.

I have spent my life trying to outrun the definition of "bad kid" that I have always been so sure was the family narrative. I am not bad. I am not bad. I am not bad.

I am not bad.

What is this mess?

I made my peace with letting you go years ago. I thought that when you passed it would be easier for me,  for the "bad kid."

As it happens, that's not how that works.

This week, I took up chain smoking and staring into space.

I've become very good at smiling and nodding politely when people tell me how much you loved me, knowing in my heart that it wasn't true.

Except...maybe it was true.

I don't feel guilt about our relationship. This distance was the only possible way. But regret...there is regret. Wishing things could have been different.  Wishing that you could have been more honest about your secrets. Wishing that I would have had more patience for what you struggled with. Wishing that it hadn't gone so far that there was just never going to be any closure or resolution.

Just distance. And hurt.

I am trying to navigate this. I am unwinding my head and my heart, I am holding all of this in my hands and trying to put it back together into something that resembles...something.

I don't know what this is.

My niece told me today that you loved my art and my writing and that you believed in me and thought that I had a good heart and I am just.....undone.

Here's the thing, mom: I think you had a good heart, too. I know you loved your kids and I know you loved people. I know you just wanted to take care of them. And your oldest daughter is opinionated and strong willed and doesn't take any shit and gets angry and apparently...you saw that I also have a good heart. Even if our good hearts couldn't line up.

I am angry at you. There are things in our past that you never wanted to talk about. Your oldest daughter shouts the truth from rooftops. We couldn't get past that, could we? But...

But, but, but...

It is so clear how loved you were. And how much you meant to others. And that says something.

I know who you were to me. But I also know who you were to others. And one truth doesn't negate the other. They reside simultaneously.

And so, this week, I am trying to know you through the eyes of other people. See you through their truth. And it's really beautiful. It doesn't negate my truth or experience. There are things that I will wrestle with forever. But my experience doesn't negate their truth and that truth is that you were loved and that you did love. And you did your best. I see that. I want you to know, I do see that.

I want you to know that when you and Anna were struggling, that I always told her that I wanted her to have a healthy relationship with you. I know you were scared that I would try to turn her against you, but I didn't want that. I never wanted that. I slipped up a few times. I got angry and said things that I immediately regretted, but I caught it and I always, always, always told Anna that I wanted you guys to be ok. That my relationship with you did not have to be hers, and I never wanted it to be. I didn't want this for her. I wanted you both to be ok. And it was. She knows who you are, she sees your humanity, your ups and downs and she loves you with all of her heart. And....

And it has...

It has just struck me...

That Anna was your youngest and so precious to you and...

...you entrusted her to me. Even though you were scared. Even though we couldn't communicate without crying and screaming at each other. You trusted me with your youngest daughter. You trusted me to do the right thing. So...

I guess you didn't think I was so bad.  And you know...Anna is this beautiful, strong, courageous, hilarious girl, growing into this amazing woman and that was nurtured in your home. So you can't be that bad.

I'm sorry that we couldn't figure this out while you were alive. I will always be sorry for that. But I promise you, I can let this anger go. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But I can. I will. And I thank you for the gifts that you gave me, even when I couldn't see them.

Bye, mom. Rest in peace.