“I wish I had something to give you,” my mother’s husband said as we sat across the red-checkered tablecloth at the pizza joint. We picked the restaurant because it is halfway between his home and mine. His home was also my mother’s home, until she passed away last November.
He was talking to me about family heirlooms. Twenty years is a long time to be without anything that belonged to my father or my grandparents. I would have loved to touch my father’s high school diploma or carry his passport around in my purse. I would have cherished a plate of my grandmother’s – one that I ate on during the years that my family lived in Chicago where we dined with my father’s parents often.
I stared at the man across from me, my stepfather of ten years. This man, who was more like a stranger before my mother’s sudden illness last October, shared important information to help me understand my mother better. In turn, I told him things he didn’t know about her. Together we were trying to connect the dots of her life – why she did what she did and how it could have all turned out this way.
So much has happened in the last six months since my mother’s death; I am still digesting it all. I have recently become acquainted with first cousins on my mother’s side who enlightened me about the circumstances surrounding her upbringing. Her childhood was filled with struggles and sadness and devoid of the role modeling needed to become a good parent in the future. It is as if my life has been one long puzzle that could never be finished, because so many pieces were lost, buried or forgotten. And now I am holding the outliers in my hand.
So what do I do with all of this newfound information? The answer is so simple, yet it gets caught in my throat every time I try to say it. But it is time. I must forgive her. Not just a little. Not just for the unmotherly things she did to me even after she died. I have to forgive my mother for ALL OF IT. And forgive myself for reacting negatively to behavior that only caused more pain.
I have had to let go of my vision of what a family should look like and how parents should behave toward their children. It is not always one size fits all when it comes to being a mother or a father. In my mother’s case, she didn’t have the tools. She grew up in a complicated house and no one was present enough to teach her how to be a good mom. And things were not always perfect with my father, but I do believe that they did love each other. I have to believe that her resentment was never about me; just directed toward me because it had nowhere else to go.
In my eulogy, I addressed our broken family, but I I focused on cherished memories. My mother would rise early to get Egg McMuffin breakfast sandwiches for my best friend Linda and for me on Sunday mornings. I had a mom who would pick me up from a party at all hours and take six of my friends home without complaining. My mother was a grandmother who loved my children very much.
Even though I may not have been given any family treasures at my mother’s request, I have memories. And I am trying to do this whole parenting thing just a little bit better. I am certainly not the best mom in the world, but I know that nothing will ever drive a wedge between my girls and me. I know this because I won’t let it happen. If they are mad at me, I’ll take a pillow and blanket and sleep on their doorsteps until they let me in.
As I sat across from him, my desire to hold onto my family’s things began to dissipate. As much as I want to light up my tactile senses with stuff, in the end it is just stuff. Stuff I would probably purge when I downsize someday. Boxes full of things won’t bring my dad back or mend my relationship with my mother. But forgiveness will change me – and that is what matters most.
This Mother’s Day I am going to treat myself to the very special, very coveted gift of forgiveness. After all, it will last a hell of a lot longer than a bouquet of roses.
Mimi L. Golub is the Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Living the Second Act, an online magazine for women in their 40s and 50s who are seeking the truth. She is the author of the someday-to-be-published novel, Boxed In. Mimi is also the writer and a staff editor of From Our Kitchens, a nonprofit cookbook that was released in 2018. In her spare time, Mimi loves to workout, drink tequila, and volunteer with many local causes. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband and has twin girls who have left the nest. You can find her former work on: tequilainbed.com