When you’re more like your Mom than you realized

It was one of those phone calls you never want to receive …

With a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach, I called in sick and made the three-hour drive from Raleigh to the coast, wondering what awaited me. Earlier that morning I had received a call from my uncle telling me that Mom wasn’t looking good, and hadn’t gotten out of bed in days. “Just thought you should know, sugar.”

Looking back now, well over a decade later, I can see what my heart refused to see that day; she was dying, or as we say here in the south, she was “fixin’ to,” if people would just stop dropping by and interrupting the process.  People like me, cause I was not about to let her just fade away; not on my watch. I was determined to make her snap out of her lethargy. To fight. To live. It wasn’t like she was battling some deadly disease. She was just done.

Sorry, Mom. Not today. I pleaded, I bribed and cajoled, determined to get her out of that bed. She wasn’t having it; didn’t want to get up and wasn’t the least bit interested in chatty conversation. My cheery, “you’ve still got a lot of living to do” speech was not going over well. Finally, exasperated, she summoned the strength to prop herself up, and totally turned the tables on me, and I just this moment realized what a brilliant move that was. She may have been old and tired but she could still nail me when she wanted to.

Drilling her eyes into mine the way she did when I was sixteen and had missed curfew, she asked, “What are you going to do with your life?”

Wait … What? This isn’t about me, Mom. What am I doing with my life? Ummm –missing work, piling the miles on my car driving back and forth to take care of you, even though you insist it’s not necessary. Rearranging bedrooms for the grown children who have a habit of moving back home. Taking care of grandchildren. Playing mother to the world and now struggling to figure out how to gracefully mother my own mother. I’ve, uh, been a little busy.

Oh, I didn’t say that of course, but it was my gut reaction; her question got right to the heart of the constant nagging sense I always had of not being and not doing enough.

She’d tried this line of conversation on me once before, I remembered, started to impart some words of her hard-won wisdom, but she’d stopped herself mid-sentence. “Never mind,” she’d said. “You wouldn’t listen anyway.”

At the time I’d wondered what that was all about, but because I was busy, I shelved it, went back to taking care of the world and ignoring whatever dreams and talents I’d shelved when I became a mom. Those shelves were starting to buckle.

And that’s what she’d been trying to say. Her words weren’t an indictment, they were a plea to not repeat the very things she regretted most: not going after her own hope and dreams. Take care of the entire universe if you want, but don’t neglect you.

I wish we’d finished that conversation. What about you, Mom? You had a great voice; did you ever want to be a singer? And you could paint (you thought you weren’t good at it, but you were). What unfulfilled dreams filled your heart?

What she’d tried to tell me, what I couldn’t hear at the time, was to stop spending all my energy fretting and worrying about my kids (she knew how much alike we were). Trust God. Live your life.

She was right, of course, but just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, your kids have kids of their own and before you know it, your 20 year-old granddaughter is living in your spare bedroom and you find yourself wondering, “What is she going to do with her life?”

Well, I’ve finally decided what I’m going to do; I’m going after my dreams. This week I attended a writers’ conference. I want to grow into this writers’ life –pour it all out in words that encourage, make my readers laugh, and maybe even shed a tear when they recognize their own lives on the page. You did all those things, Mom –lived an artists’ life in the way you poured your life into us.

I invested in myself this week –I sowed to my heart and hopefully to my future. I listened to a lot of inspirational authors; my favorite was a young guy whose story moved me to tears and you know what his story was about? His mother.

So this is what I’m doing with my life, Mom, caring for my people and trying to tell my story, a story that returns over and over to you. I miss you. Happy Mother’s Day.

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