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On Thanksgiving Day, the second anniversary of my Mother’s death, I had the rare privilege of seeing the Davis County Clipper do a feature on the two women who helped me with my book – Michelle Pierce (the designer) and her Mom, Louise D. Brown (my editor).  A special thanks to reporter Tom Busselberg.   A big fan of newspapers…I just know my Mom has read the article :)

See the story here:

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My Mother died on Thanksgiving Night of 2006.  Yet this will be a joyous holiday for me, because I chose to settle things with Mom before she died.  If you haven’t done so, do it now.  Whatever the history, no matter how horrible her crime, find a way to forgive.  Trust me, this is a selfish act.  You will be doing it for yourself.  Oh, yes…it will make your Mother much happier too (big smile).

My Mom and I…what to say.  Our relationship was tumultuous, competitive and sometimes felt downright mean.  We were polar opposites.  Yet a soft little voice warned me I’d better get my ducks in a row before her death.

She didn’t have long.  It could happen right then, or six months from now.  Her heart was failing. What magnificent, yet untried tool could bust through this ugly crust of mutual dislike built so meticulously in five decades?

And if I did break through, would she misunderstand?  Make fun of me?  Assume I was admitting I was wrong and she right?  Would she see my open armor and take advantage with a verbal jab? 

Even more frightening, would she suddenly assume I agreed with her on politics…that I’m ready to rejoin her religion? 

This task was like tatting.  Highly delicate.  One bad move and the beautiful lace is forever scarred.  My Mother was a formidable, opinionated woman.

I began in small steps.  I visited more often, always bringing a nice treat (one of her weaknesses…sweets).  Disarmed by this, she would fix me my favorite childhood meal, grilled tuna fish sandwiches.  Or we’d sip glass after glass of tap water and she’d talk about books she’d read, parties she’d attended, gossip from her volunteer job.  Whenever politics or religion came up, I nimbly diverted her train of thought with a funny story or joke.  This took a lot of work initially, but she finally realized I had unbuckled my holster…and let it fall to the ground.  Her one gun did not a good gunfight make.

This process of forgiving was a selfish act.  I was healing me.  I was also forgiving myself for the mean things I’d said and done to my Mother.  My ego stood in the way and I had to dismantle it. 

1. What difference did it make if she didn’t love me like I wanted?
2. What did it matter that she loved one of my siblings so much more than me?
3. So what if she thought the way I lived my life would prevent me from going to heaven?
4. What difference did it make that I didn’t really like her personality, nor she mine?

And finally…(and I find this very amusing now)

5. What difference did it make if she still insisted weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq…even after George and his administration admitted that wasn’t the case?

In the big staredown with death, none of the above mattered anymore.

As the summer heat grew heavy, her health began to decline.  I became her chauffer to a number of medical facilities.  At times, she appeared ready to die right in the waiting room.  Her heart was failing and the doctors had run out of ideas, and medicine.  This softened her in an unexpected way.  Here was Mom, facing her end.  All I could do was listen.  I was hardly experienced in end-of-life fear.  My gift:  I kept my belligerent mouth shut, and proceeded to get to know her for the first time in my life.

As children, we expect our parents to dote on us.  We expect to be the center of their universe.  Our hearts break when we learn otherwise.  Such is the sadness in growing up.  There is a sudden moment in time when you transform into the parent, allowing your parent to rest and prepare to die.

One late lazy afternoon, we sat in the backyard.  In a rare moment of  rare vulnerability, she asked me to read the words to a religious song called, “Where do I Turn For Peace?”  I sucked in a nervous, tense breath, worried the conversation was again headed for religion.  Then my dear inner voice told me to get over it.

I read the poem with all my heart.  My life change in that second, just as dramatic as Helen Keller saying “water” for the first time.  My stocked-full-of-lead backpack suddenly fell off my shoulder.  The act of surrender massaged my back, one nearly broken from the weight of anger.  

As I scanned the lyrics, I felt her looking at me, studying my face, as if for the first time.   And I was giving her permission to do so without saying, “what are you looking at?” Perspiration gathered uncomfortably on my eyelids…and they fluttered with embarrassment.  I could feel it.  She was looking at me, loving me, regarding me as her precious creation.  This raided my heart with near shock.  It felt so Damn good, I took my sweet time reading the piece.  I wanted to feel her heartfelt gaze.  Was this the beginning?  Could we finally “make peace?”

Back at home that night, I poured out my heart in two poems and sent them to her immediately.  She called back, enthralled…because I hadn’t written poetry since I was a child, when I couldn’t really write,  She, a typist, had been my scribe.  Long ago in poetry we had found our peace pipe.

Our visits became more joyous, despite how terrible she felt.  I suppose our newfound relationship may have encouraged her to live a little longer.  But that was not to be. 

Hospice was prescribed, and for two weeks she lay dying.  I coaxed her through it with the most sincere effort I’ve ever pledged.

Now, Mother’s Day is deep-hearted.  No sad memories for me.  I made peace with Mom, and she with me.

And so, dear reader…work things out with your Mom.  You’ll never regret it.

Strange Embrace
-by Linda Athis

The most loving embrace
I ever gave,
was over a toilet.

There sat my Mother
unable to speak,
pleading for response
from a body shutting down.

Our eyes met in fear.
We did not share
what we both knew.
Death whispered near.

I’m sorry she said,
as if she caused this,
had cruelly wished a curse
upon me, her caregiver.

In that second my heart split,
ripped raw by a mean and jagged knife.
My stronger, youthful arms reached out,
fiercely wrapped around her bony frame.

And there we paused
in a deep, strange embrace.
Resting, loving, weeping
for all things left unsaid.

-end-

More poetry like this at forgivingmom.com

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November has arrived, and with it one of the most powerful memories I have. My Mother died Thanksgiving night.  I’d often wondered how it felt when you lost someone on an important holiday.  Now I know, and I wrote the following poem – reflecting on a most wonderful passing…

Thanksgiving Surrender  by Linda Athis

How sad,
people say,
when I tell them Mom died
Thanksgiving Day.

I stop them abruptly.
Correct their view.
What a powerful death
on a meaningful date!

We knew she was close,
when the holiday came.
Her wasting frame,
gray and heavy in shallow sleep.

At times, her eyes flew open,
shockingly skyward.
Hands gestured wildly,
lips uttered feisty whispered words.
Such a rough and tough debate
with something invisible.
An argument with a heavenly coax?

Three siblings, three shifts,
on Thanksgiving Day.
Sister the night,
Brother took morning.
Me midday.

I entered alone,
into sacred space.
No more grudges.
No more hate.
All peace treaties inked
by mother, by daughter.
But I must admit
I took one last stand,
and…
dared to crawl under bedcovers beside her.
Did I violate her tender space?
A mischievous smile swiftly lifted my face.
This time, she’s too weak,
can’t push me away!

For two divine hours
I rubbed her head.
Her contented snore grew deep and loud.
I watched her breathe.
Please…call off this fight.
Time to invite
surrender.

Then,
the final break:
An anxious brother, sister in-law,
restaurant turkey
tucked in their stomachs,
invade the room.

My eyes convey the news.
Not gone, no. Not gone yet.
I put lips to her ear:
Mom, I’m leaving now,
if you go before I’m back,
that’s okay by me.

Then husband and I
joined dear, caring friends.
We shared a turkey,
not much was said,
then sat on a deck and stared at the stars.
It was then
as we sipped soothing wine,
that she chose her time.

Thanksgiving nights
will now be deep-hearted.
No festival ruined.
Sheer joy in having
a yearly memory delivered,
and a white flag brilliantly waved.

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A strange event today.  It shook me up a little.  My PDA reminded me to buy a card and gift for my Mom’s Birthday in several days.  My Mom died two years ago.  My fingers did their duty, automatically moving to delete this “repeat” I had programmed into my lifetime calendar.  But something said NO! 

And so…I will not delete this nudge, this reminder.  It is almost like getting a direct message from Mom.  What a lovely experience  : )

I’ve done the same with friends who’ve passed.  I will not, cannot hit the delete button and remove their information.  They live on in my computer’s memory…and thankfully in mine.

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Yes I mean it.  I’m in a giving mood, I’ll even pay the postage.  Be one of the first ten people to post a comment to this site and I will send you a free copy of my latest book, “Forgiving Mom.”

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My Mother was rabid when it came to political debates.  She loved presenting a point of view to all of us (my brother, sister and me) and then encouraging us to debate it.  She’d sit back with a grin as we all got madder and madder.  The behavior puzzled me.

Several days before she died, my Mother, a “die hard” Republican who still loved Richard Nixon and still believed  weaspons of mass destruction were somewhere in Iraq (long after the administration had said otherwise) looked at me and said, “Well, what do you think of our current leadership in America?”

“Mom,” I said gently, “I’m not talking politics with you (we hadn’t discussed them for more than a decade….and it gave us both some peace).”

Mom knew I wasn’t fond of George Bush or a Republican party that could be so mean-spirited and get away with it.

But here she was on her deathbed, asking me about George Bush.  When she realized I wasn’t going to answer, she answered for me.  What a deathbed confession!  A little sideways and indirect…but I knew exactly what she meant.

“As Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’ ” she said.

Mom…I wish you were alive today, to see the political drama that lies ahead.  I know your eyes would be ablaze with excitement.

Now, a poem I wrote when I wasn’t even voting age (1970).

The Day After Elections -by Linda Athis

A cold wind rattles tattered campaign signs.

Wall street wakes with a fear of the past.

“The winners are winning,

the losers are losing!”

Please put down your placards, flags and buttons.

Playtime’s over men.

Go back to your ten commandments…

’til the next campaign year.

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I received a wonderful post from Linda Jara.  She wrote a poem about an experience in her youth, and told me I was free to share it with you.  Thanks Linda.

I Missed you

Mom wasn’t there and Dad wasn’t there
My class performed a musical
I looked out but couldn’t find them

It was only sixth grade
But I felt a strange emptiness
I didn’t want to seem important
I wanted them just to see my joy

Dancing with the boys
Being lifted up by the waist
In a dance move
Us singing “Silent Night”
In German

For me it was terribly romantic
But something went missing
And it was them

 

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