I suppose most mothers and daughters do, at least on some level. Books have been written about the dynamic. Any way you look at it, your relationship with your mother is complex. At any given moment, it can be as joyful as it can be difficult.
My relationship with my mother was no different.
I think that's because, as much as I did not want to be like her, the truth is that there are parts of me that are very much like my mother.
My temper, for one. My tendency to sarcastic humor, for another. My love of cooking and baking are some of the good things I share with my mother. And, my grandmother.
My mother wasn't a big church-goer. My grandmother went to Mass every day, and I went with her. My mother loved Jesus and often sang hymns around the house, but she had a real distaste for and suspicion of the institutional church. Hmm.... remind you of anyone?
My mother loved to write. My grandmother could only write in Portuguese and then, only at about a fifth or sixth grade level. My mother wrote letters to EVERYONE. Distant relatives. Old friends. Her siblings. Her children. The week before she died, I got an eight page letter from her, filled with chatty information about this or that. "The Epistles of Lydia," we called them when they came in the mailbox. She never complained about the extra postage.
She once entered a writing contest on the radio (long before we had a television set in the house, we listened to EVERYTHING on the radio). She won second place - $25 whole dollars - which absolutely delighted her, and us. She joyfully spent on some clothing for her four children and a new dress for herself.
My mother did not like either of my two spouses. The first was an addict - like her husband and her father and most of her brothers. Her instincts were good on that one. The second is a woman, which my mother simply could not get her head wrapped around.
I have always been super cautious around the people our children were "serious" about. Not because they were bad people. I just couldn't imagine anyone being good enough for any of our children. Turns out, they were very wise. I couldn't have chosen better life partners for them myself.
My mother also had a great devotion to Thérèse of Lisieux which, I confess, I will never really understand. My mother was Very Proud of being Portuguese and didn't much care for the few French immigrants in our neighborhood. Why she chose a saint of French heritage, I'll never know.
She told us lots of stories about the four years my father was away, fighting in WWII on the Pacific Front. She would say that she would pray her rosary in front of a statue of "Therese of the Little Flower," offering a fresh flower from of my grandmother's garden, and pray for my father's safety.
At this point in the storytelling, my father would say that, so many times while he was in "the jungles of the Philippines, the bullets would be whizzing by and not one hit me. It was . . . it was . . . a miracle," he'd say. "It was . . . . . . ."
Then, he'd look at my mother and they'd both smile and say together, "St. Therese."
As we got older, we'd love to join them. We'd all shout together, "St. Therese!!"
When we got a home of our own, the first thing on my mother's wish list was a shrine to St. Therese in the yard. My father dutifully made a shrine out of cement, painted it aqua, framed a 'grotto' in wood and slid in a piece of thick plastic to shield the statue from the elements. The plastic could also be lifted so that my mother could change the silk roses periodically, when they faded.
|St. Therese of Llangollen|
Once, a few months before her own death, when I visited her in the hospital, she reminded me that she had not left any money to me in her will. I had disappointed her, she said, and my "lifestyle" had "hurt a lot of people".
This, after I had traveled 5 hours from NJ to MA to visit with her. She was like that.
Like I said, our relationship was complicated.
But, she wanted to know if there was anything of hers that I wanted. At first, I thought it was a set up. One of my mother's classics. Whatever I said I wanted, she'd say was already promised to someone. The old pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you emotional trick so common to those who are spouses of those who have an addiction. It mirrors what they experience, living with an addict. I've come to believe that it's one way to communicate what they are experiencing internally - to make you feel what they are feeling because they can't express it with words.
As we talked, however, I realized that she was sincere. Maybe she was feeling a bit guilty about cutting me out of her will? Not that I wanted her money. Or, cared, anymore. She was entitled to her anger and if this made her feel better, to "punish" me through disinheritance, so be it.
She kept pressuring me, gently. It was uncharacteristically gentle for her. She must really not be feeling well, I thought.
"Surely, there's something of mine you want......to..... um....... remember me?"
Ah, now, this was different. This wasn't so much about a gift as about a memory.
Suddenly, I knew.
"St. Therese," I said.
"What?" she said, startled and trying to take in my answer.
"I'd like the statue of St. Therese. I'm sure no one else wants it."
My mother smiled. I think my response really pleased her - so much so, that she had to gather her thoughts before she put them into words. "Do you promise to take care of her?" she asked. "You know how much she means to me."
"Of course I will. You know no one else wants her."
"Good," she said, and then, "Done."
I knew, as soon as she said it, that it would never happen. It would, I was certain, be the next red hot item wanted by one of my siblings. And, indeed, it was.
My mother died five years ago, on July 29, 2008. I was at the Lambeth Conference in England at the time. It wasn't easy - and, one of my siblings didn't make the scheduling any easier - but I was able to get home just in time for her funeral.
And, no, I still don't have my mother's statue of St. Therese. Oh, I was given a little planter of St. Therese that my sibling insists is the one my mother intended for me.
It is not. The one I was given was one of the planters my mother had in her hospital room. I remember it well. It's not designed for outdoors. And, it's too small.
It really bothered me for a while. From time to time, it would make me angry. It wasn't about the statue. How dumb is that to get angry about a statue?
Here's the thing: I had made a promise. To my mother. A few months before she died.
It was the promise I made that couldn't keep. I hated to admit it, but it really hurt.
And then, I realized I had more control of the situation than I realized.
On the fifth anniversary of my mother's death, I bought my very own statue of St. Therese. That's a picture of her above, on a cement block for now, in between and among the boxwood rose bushes.
She'll soon have her own pedestal. God knows, she deserves one.
I also took out the St. Therese planter I was given, put one of my plants in it, and set it in my kitchen near the window. She and the plant seem very happy there. She certainly didn't deserve to be wrapped in bubble wrap in an envelope and stuck in my closet.
My family's dysfunction is not her fault.
Taking care of her and buying my own statue for my own yard is one way to keep as much as I am able of the promise I made to my mother.
My mother always taught me, "Never make a promise you know you can't keep".
I am my mother's daughter.
And you know, finally, after all these years, I'm okay with that.
It must be the miraculous work of St. Therese.
Or, maybe I'm finally becoming an adult.