Mother’s Day Gift

My mother was an anxious person. She panicked easily (and often). There were drugs in the cabinet to help her with this. Librium was the main med, I think. She was also a sad person, an envious person, a doubtful person, an insecure person, a fearful person. When things were going well and life was balanced, she was charming and funny, but it was far too easy to knock her off balance.

She did not like me very much. I think that was always the case. I don’t think it happened later in life as the result of teenage independence fights. I think it was — early on — the status quo. I was a “colicky” baby and it made my mother feel that she was a failure. Very insecure people have an exaggerated idea of their own importance (a paradox) and so my crying and discomfort were all her fault or me doing something to her. She also relied on me, from a very early age, to help her. Helping her was a thankless task, but I loved her and saw it as a privilege to step in where she felt unable. I even made phone calls for her when I visited her in Montana. Once her stove broke, and she just used the one functioning burner until I got there and could call a repairman.

When my father died, my mom broke inside. It was horrible. He’d lived with ever worsening MS for 20 years. In the last years, we cared for him at home as long as we could. I couldn’t bear the thought of him being “sent away to die.” As a kid, I had no clue, really, what was happening. Finally he went to live in a nursing home. That should have alleviated some of my mom’s burden, but it just meant she had to drive on icy streets to visit him, and that terrified her.

When my dad died, she was a tangled mix of emotions. Since she lived in her own world, in which she was the center, she was increasingly trapped. Without my dad there to need her, to praise her, to love her, she felt she no longer existed. She retreated further into Librium and Bourbon, passivity and darkness. She was unreachable for a long time.

Then, somehow, it seemed miraculously, she rallied herself. She sold the family house (built for my dad, a special house for disabled people paid for partly by the Veterans Association) insisting it be sold to a disabled veteran. She moved from Colorado Springs to Denver where my aunt lived and not as far from where I was with my husband in Boulder. She tried (and fairly succeeded) to build a life.

Still, as dependent as she was on others, the life stood on shaky ground, and as time went on, life’s normal disappointments dragged her down again to the dark place where, finally, I think, she surrendered not only her life but her soul.

Yesterday, in the process of cleaning out the garage, I opened the box marked (by my mom) “Family Photos.” I don’t have any family that will want these photos, and I had determined to throw them out. There was a plastic bag with letters in it that my mom had saved. Many were letters from me to her while I was in China. There were a few letters from my brother, I kept them. Letters from her friends. Not my business. There was a letter from the man who had been the minister to her family all my mother’s life. He had baptized her (and her sisters) in the Little Bighorn River. He officiated at my parents’ wedding in 1948, he had done the funeral for my father in 1972. His name was Chet Bentley.

Rev. Bentley had suffered one of the greatest losses any human can experience; the death of a child. His son had fought in WW II. He’d survived and was coming home. Just a few miles from Crow Agency, less than 30 minutes from home, he was killed in a car crash. My mom, telling me this story, said, “I don’t know how Rev. Bentley survived that.”

The letter to my mom answers that question. It opens with, “O Helen, what in the world are you doing to yourself?” The rest is an impassioned plea that my mom pick herself up and find meaning in her life. He writes about the importance of will. He quotes Scripture (minimally) “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” He then writes, “It takes effort, it takes a change of mind sometimes and an act of the will, as well as reliance on the Divine Power. You can do it, Helen. I believe you can. I’m praying that you will find something to live for – in yourself, in Martha Ann and in some thing to you want to accomplish…”

I have wondered if this passionate, inspiring letter was the reason, the motivating factor, behind my mom’s effort to find her feet again.

After finding the letter and thinking about the times I met this man, I wanted to know more about him. I “Googled” him and found this amazing bit of history. It told me things I didn’t know — such as the Crow Indians refused to let the government put the Japanese who lived on the reservation (and there were many) into the internment camp at Hart Mountain. It’s a beautiful, inspiring piece of western history in which this passionate, kind man played a large part.

14 thoughts on “Mother’s Day Gift

  1. That was very interesting. It is often surprising what we discover later. My mum was a great worrier, and if she had nothing to worry about, she would worry about that as well. She died at the age of 74 with a heart attack and my dad survived her by many years. I think if it had been the other way around things would not have gone well. I was convinced by certain signs I noticed, that she had the beginnings of Alzheimer, but I never mentioned it to dad – he would not have understood.

    • My mom also worried if she had nothing to worry about and when that happened, she made things up to worry about. She definitely had dementia at the end of her life, not long, but I wonder if she hadn’t just burned out her poor brain. 😦 Anyway, I have (I think, hope) eliminated all the emotional booby traps from my garage.

  2. I was just beginning to really know my mother when she died. I think we might have been good friends as adults, but life doesn’t necessarily give us that choice. My father was not an option.

    • Thank you, Beatrice. I’m done with the photos (thank goodness). The memories are difficult and that letter has a lot of meaning to me. I’m grateful she saved it. ❤

  3. Three years after her death and we are still dealing with all the pain that she caused. Your first few sentences described my mother in law to the tee . We are now discovering who she really was .. I wish you patience and understanding ….

    • I’m very sorry for what you are contending with. I had to discover what — who — my mom really was, too. Thank goodness I have had close relationships with her sisters and they were there to guide and help me through a labyrinth that still has the power to tear me to the core if I think about it. I’m grateful to them for helping me unmask the reality she created. I am sure she did the best she could (in any case, it’s more useful to think so) but there was a lot of flotsam and jetsam in the wake of her selfish little life. Good luck with your journey.

      • Thank you I totally agree amidst a lot of crying and anger we are slowly putting our lives back together if anything it has brought my sister in law and me a little closer ..Good luck with your journey I also remind myself she did the best she could with what she had

        • ❤ 🙂 I am still cleaning out the garage and today I found a photo of her when she was happy that one time 😉 I kept it and threw out most of the others. The way I see it, I have to make sure that all that does not pollute the rest of my life. I'm grateful for having been oblivious most of the time it was going on.

          • I agree in a moment of anger I said some pretty bad things about her to my son who was her pet ..he turned around and said mom I know she wasn’t perfect but in her little world she thought she was I didn’t want to break her bubble .I want to remember the grandma that was happy and crazy and that everybody loved 😦 cant argue that

            • Nope. 🙂 Ultimately we just have to find a way to live our own lives and hope to do better. Somewhere I read that “forgiveness is accepting your inability to change the past.” That really resonated for me. I could visualize shrugging my shoulders and walking away, giggling, “Tomorrow is another day, Katie Scarlett!” 😉

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