Mother’s day is a hard day for my husband. His mother passed away several years ago due to complications from the chemotherapy she was receiving for the treatment of breast cancer. It damaged her heart to the point that she needed a heart transplant. The attempted transplant was not successful and a mechanical heart was implanted. She suffered several strokes shortly after and died within a week of the surgery. Her untimely death is not the only reason that Mother’s day is hard. It is a tough day because he has had to learn to forgive a person who was not sorry.
A mom of two boys by the age of 17, she missed out on the normal experiences of a teenager in the mid 60’s, and often told her sons this. She frequently left the boys with relatives, dumping them off for weeks at a time. It is testament to the poor living conditions that he had with his mother that the days of living with grandparents and a few times with an aunt and her partner were some of the best times of my husband’s life, and the people he credits for giving him some semblance of a normal childhood. She was mentally and physically abusive, and had some of the things happened in this day and age, the boys would surely have been removed from her care. The addition of a stepfather and later on, two half-brothers did not help the situation. The younger ones were favored but even they didn’t escape some of the abuse. My husband tried to run away multiple times and ultimately left for good as soon as he turned 17, joining the army with his mothers written permission.
Seven years later, when I joined the family, things had only improved marginally and although my he never complained about his upbringing and rarely said anything negative about her, I could see the situation clearly. She was not a big part of our lives through the years, and her death only bothered me because of the grief that it caused my husband. He mourned her passing even when he was handed a letter at the funeral, written by her before she entered the hospital to await her transplant. The letter was not the apology that I initially assumed it would be. It was a list of his shortcomings and the hardships she endured in her selfless attempt to raise him and his brothers. I watched him burn the letter that night, and I saw him cry. There would be no absolution, no explanation, nothing that said “I did the best that I could.”
Yet, he misses her, especially on her birthday and Mother’s day. Maybe he misses her good points, she was beautiful, and witty, and at times, generous. But I think he misses most, something he never had. A relationship like I have with our son. I wish that he had with her the easy friendship that I have with our boy. The shared jokes and favorite TV shows, the ease with which he shares things with me that sometimes I don’t really want to know. I wish that my husband had that with his mother. I wish he had a lifetime of sweet memories of her instead of the painful legacy she left behind. I wish that she had left a different letter. I think he just misses having a mother, good or bad. He loves her and has forgiven her, although she never asked for it.
It is a strange thing to behold as a nurse, and as an observer of human nature, how children love their mothers. Selfish and abusive or unfeeling and negligent, these things do not prevent a child from having the desire to be with his mother. They long for them, and call for them until suddenly they don’t. Until finally, the child is old enough to protect himself from the pain of rejection. The heart hardens and a wall develops. A wall that a future partner will spend a lifetime trying to knock down. A wall that a mother, nearing the end of her days, lonely, and with a lifetime of regret, could dissolve with a few words… “I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’m sorry, I did the best that I could.”
Afterword: I almost didn’t post this piece. I asked my husband to read it because I wanted to get his permission since it is his life, and his story. He told me initially that is was alright to post, but I could tell that it made him sad. He doesn’t want his mom to look bad. I actually had a different title in the beginning, and some unkind comments. We talked about it and I changed some things. Tines, thank you for letting me share with others a small piece of your amazing, crazy life.