Grief has knocked on the door of my heart many times in recent years. This heartache is not because of a physical death but rather because of a thriving existence that has willingly yielded to one of decline. Over time, I watched my mother throw her hands in surrender and give up, leaving me with so many questions and very few answers.
I have friends who have beautiful, picturesque, friendships with their mothers. As they talk on the phone weekly, have inside jokes that still make their sides split, and talk about their upcoming visits, they are filled with cheerful memories to last a lifetime. This grieves me. I am thrilled for my friends, but sadly, my cheerful memory-making ended years ago, when my mother abdicated a life of flourishing. I wish I understood why.
I didn’t notice it until the day I received a phone call from her shortly after having my second child, a curly-haired little boy who was the spitting image of his mother. As I hung up the phone that day, I realized she never once asked about my kids. She asked about my husband and me, about our new positions at work, but never about our children. I found it odd that a grandmother wouldn’t ask about her grandchildren, especially since we lived so far away. I shrugged it off at the moment, but over time a new picture began to take shape of a mother who gave up, who succumbed to a life of melancholy. It continues to leave me confused, wishing I understood the reasoning behind this somber choice.
My mother was a seeker of adventure. Traveling the world, she saw places like the London Bridge, the vast tulip fields in the Netherlands, the pyramids within the borders of Egypt, and so much more. The sights, tastes, and smells of foreign places lit a fire of excitement within her. Having children may have put a pause on her worldly travels, but she took the time to take us on state-side adventures instead. As we explored history, studied nature, and tasted foreign delicacies, she passed on a love for the quest. But that mom is no more.
I just don’t understand. She pursued dreams that had gone dormant over the years. Taking art classes at the local community college, going backpacking in the heart of bear country, performing on the stage, and creating a healthy community of friends all of which taught her children that dreams take all shapes and sizes. She demonstrated how we pursue dreams to fulfill a longing in our hearts, but dreams— when aligned with God’s dreams—can also positively impact the world around us. Oh, how I wish she would dream again!
My children will never know the woman who raised me. They only see a woman who has lost the desire to grow, a woman who is unwilling to try, and afraid to make an effort. I wish they saw the woman who wasn’t afraid to stand nose-to-nose against the opposition, willing to stand for what’s right, and boldly swim against the current of culture. I wish they saw the woman I knew . . . and still love.
I yearn to understand why she gave up. My “you just gotta pull yourself up from your bootstraps” mother is no longer with us. This grief looks different than others. I don’t mourn the death of a parent; I mourn the loss of what was. Adult children caring for aging parents is not for the faint of heart. With so much to grieve, it can be easy to bury what once was in order to protect ourselves from pain.
I may never know why, but I will always carry what was: a woman who left a legacy of dreams and adventure and who loved her girls well.