Sometimes, you read a book, thinking it applies to a certain area in your life, and then you let it mull in your heart for a while, and you realize that it really didn’t have anything to do with what you thought it did in the first place.
Last month, I read Mitch Albom’s “For One More Day”. It’s the story of a man who’s mother has passed away (yes, I seem to be reading alot about death), and how he gets to spend one more day with her and relives key moments in his life. As I read the book, the concerns I have about divorce and the impact on children came up alot, and that’s where most of my focus was…..I was reading it more as gaining another perspective on how children and adult children perceive and live through divorce. But the premise of the book is, if you were given one more day with someone you love who has passed away, how would you spend it?
Of course, I immediately thought of my father, and fantasized about all that I would say, picturing a day for him & I to share, making the moments count. And I thought about this for a long time. I didn’t think of my mother……not right off the bat. My father was easy to love…..my mother, well let’s just say I had a harder time being the daughter for her that I think she needed.
When I was a kid, I was abused by a priest, who was a close family friend. Two years into it, I gathered up my courage and told my mother. For reasons that I’ll never know, she chose not to do anything about it. When I told her, she looked at me, she repeated what I had said, and turned away. That was that. I never brought it up again, until I was an adult. I knew this person was still out there and was possibly aggressing other girls, and because I felt responsible (if only I had kept telling all those years ago, maybe other girls would’ve been spared), I reported him several years ago to police, who then launched an investigation, which resulted in 13 other women coming forward. There was a preliminary hearing, then the actual court, then the sentencing. He received 2 years less a day and served about half of that in prison.
I’m not saying this to garner pity, neither am I ashamed, although it’s not something I go shouting from the rooftops. What happened to me has certainly impacted my life in ways that I’m still discovering, but it by no means defines who I am. I don’t see myself as a victim or a survivor, but I do see myself as a fighter. Even if all I’m fighting are my own demons.
Prior to the case going to court, my mother had acknowledged what had happened to me, but said she couldn’t remember me telling her about it way back when I was 11. I think this was one of the hardest things about that whole scene, and I carried so much unreleased anger directed at her for nearly 35 years as a result. In my eyes, I always felt that she had chosen to protect him over me, and I could never understand why. Now that I was a mother myself, I couldn’t imagine being passive and shutting my eyes to something like that.
But I’m not here to judge her, I’m just stating how her actions (or inactions) made me feel, and how it has affected my sense of worth, because holy mack, if my own mother did not see me as being worthy of protecting, who on earth would? And how would I ever be able to regain that self-worth on my own, by myself?
On the Sunday before I was to testify, my mother called me at 5am. At the time, she lived further north, about 2 hours away….I had been up for a while, thinking about the next day and mentally preparing myself for what lay ahead. The house was peaceful, everyone still sleeping. My mother’s voice was soft and quiet, and as she spoke, I could tell she was smiling alot, so as not to cry. I remember, she said. She remembered when I told her all those years ago about being abused, that she hadn’t known what to do, and she had prayed so many nights for the abuse to be erased from my memory, hoping that I would just forget about it and move on with my life. She asked for forgiveness, and added that she didn’t expect any. At the time, my heart was breaking for me and for my mother, and I had waited so long to hear those words from her that, naturally, I said of course, I forgive you, Mom…..it was a quiet moment, where neither of us cried (she wasn’t a big fan of tears, my mother), and where some ground was gained, some peace sewn up to patch the rips and tears of our mother/daughter coat of love that we had discarded so long ago, but that we unknowingly needed now to keep us warm in the storms that were brewing on the horizon.
I know I was sincere when I forgave her that day, because I knew that the power of forgiveness is not so much for the one who did wrong, its healing power is also for the one who extends forgiveness. And I so wanted to heal from all of this, from this lifelong burden of resentment and anger. But in the years that followed that phone conversation with my mother, I still felt such pain about it all, and I was disappointed that my forgiving her wasn’t making me feel better. I was still so wounded.
Today would’ve been my mother’s 79th birthday. She passed away nearly four years ago, six months after my father. She was a smart and funny woman, but she always had her guard up. I don’t think she lived the life she wanted and many of her dreams were squashed. What she said to me that morning, that she hoped I would just forget about it all and move on with my life…..that indicated to me that she had serious wounds of her own that she had forced down deep inside of herself where nobody could find them. And in that moment of being confronted with the knowledge that someone she had completely trusted betrayed her in a most despicable way, in that blinding flash that she must’ve had when I said that so-and-so is doing this to me, in that deafening moment, she chose the safety of walking away. But I don’t think it was to protect him, as I’ve always felt. I think it was to protect herself, to bury even more whatever hurt she had suffered. Whatever it was, my revelation to her about being abused would mean she would have to unearth her own demons, and I think it was too much for her to face.
Some of us stay and fight, some of us fly away……both are acts of courage.
I choose to spend “one more day” with you, Mom. Let’s go pick strawberries, and you can steady yourself on me as we walk. I’ll feel your shaking hand on my arm as we make our way to the best spots, and you’ll tell me some jokes to make me laugh. I’ll tell you about the kids, how they grow so fast. I’ll tell you that I wish you weren’t missing who I am now, I think you would like me. We’ll talk about Dad, and I’ll tell you about finding my true companion. I’ll complain about my job and you’ll complain about living in a nursing home and we’ll both complain about the mosquitoes in the strawberry fields. And you’ll listen just like you did, during that last year of your life…. I remember watching you when others would talk to you, you would listen to them like whatever they were saying was the most incredible story you ever heard, your eyes would go wide and you would smile and everybody would feel good. I know I felt good, feeling that what I said to you mattered. After filling our baskets, we’ll drive back, and I’ll turn to you and say, Do you remember when you called me, early that morning, and you asked me to forgive you? And you’ll look at me with your brown eyes, softer and kind of droopy now with age, giving you a sad-puppy look. And pressing your lips together into a smile to stop the tears from coming, you will say: Yes, I remember.
I’ll put my hand in yours and say: There is nothing to forgive.
Now we are both released………
Love, Chantal xoxoxoxo