The Mother Who Waited

The week of Thanksgiving, and I pause to recall the five days of solitude I took years ago at a retreat run by Franciscan nuns. I also joined them in their vow of silence for those days.

I committed myself to frequent silent retreats then, to write with more seriousness, by now relieved to end my long-lasting rebellion against my parents and their careers, both English professors and writers.

This particular retreat, in the dead of winter in Wisconsin woods, landed me in a one-room cabin heated by a wood stove. I’m a city girl and had to learn how to keep the wood dry and ready to stoke the fire. I loved the challenge, and rather than write that week, I meditated about my mother and our battle of a relationship.

This is the mother who endured a few decades of my rejection as I reminded her she wasn’t my “real” mother. This is the mother whom I plotted to gas to death, and also the woman whose face my fist grazed before it punctured sheet rock, my every bone shattered in my right hand.

This is the mother who stood by me no matter what, the mother who waited, as did my father, for me to come out the other side of hate, fury, and pain.

My parents adopted me around three or four from foster care. Before foster care I’d spent a year with my other mother in prison. When authorities removed me around age one, I unconsciously held out for over twenty-five years for my prison mother to “come get me,” held out without knowing it.

Fast forward through a disturbed childhood and a more troubled life as a teen and adult, a life of drugs, crime, and violence. When my mother was in her 70s and I was thirty-something, I finally “hired” her as my Mother. At last the girl my parents adopted, turned into their daughter.

This is the mother I never mention on-line. I don’t Tweet about her, or blog with stories about us (the way I do about my prison mother.) Not exactly a Facebook status update kind of woman.

At last I learned to release the past, to accept what I imagined for years would never happen — my return to live in prison with my other mother. At last I opened my heart to the woman who loved me day in and day out, even when, and probably especially when, I’d been estranged and absent for years.

Along with acceptance, gratitude replaced anger. Compassion and forgiveness healed our wounds. I learned the art of forgiving. I forgave my mothers, forgave myself.  The journey to achieve our redemption, my own and ours as a family, is the story of the memoir I’m working on.

For the two years up until this retreat, almost every weekend I flew to visit my mother, now in chemo treatments for ovarian cancer. I had to catch up for a lot of years. We’d sit and read magazines, watch TV, and nap together. I massaged her swollen feet, puffed from cancer now in her liver. We talked, something new for us.

I flew in on the Thanksgiving after my silent retreat in the Wisconsin woods and my mother sat, almost a pile of bones, in her wheelchair through the whole dinner. She scolded me when I tried to force feed her whipped cream. Some hours after I arrived that day, right after our family feast, my older brother wheeled her back to bed. She died in my hands, my father and brother on the other side of her hospital bed.

I’m grateful for our victory, the six or so years of our mother-daughterness. Without this, I’d be a different person, not a woman speaking in prisons, not a writer. Probably not a mother myself. She’s the woman who taught me to see humor even in the darkest of moments.

I’m convinced my mother waited until Thanksgiving, waited for my arrival, to die. Every Thanksgiving week I honor her, my mother’s stamina, her maternal endurance to wait for me for thirty years to accept her.

Sometimes attachment takes a long time. This is the woman I call Mother.

15 thoughts on “The Mother Who Waited

  1. bethkoz

    Man! Deborah, you’ve hit another ball out of the park! And now those readers of yours who have waited patiently for your return here, also know the wait was worth it!

  2. muttslikeme Post author

    Beth, thank you. It’s taken a while to write this, as you can imagine. Thank you for your patience, for reading, and for your appreciation of my work and writing.

  3. mindy

    Deborah, thank you for this. My daughters, too, are adopted, and altho’ neither had the tumultuous beginning you endured, they have each processed their losses in their own inimitable styles. One angry, one accepting, and both emotionally mature beyond their years. The gift of the bond with your mother proves that tenacious maternal love is a powerful thing, more potent than any drug. I’m so glad, for your sake and hers, that you found each other and had time together. Beautiful. Happy Thanksgiving.

    I hold on to the hope of your resilience, your re-invention, and the bouncing back, for me, yet to come.

  4. Deb

    Beautiful. This choked me up, and that’s a tough thing to do.

    So glad you came out the other side so I could get to know you. :)

  5. sue Hammond

    Deborah, with grace, beauty, and fierce honesty you bring this gift to us at Thanksgiving. For every daughter who ever pushed her mom away out of hurt, anger, sadness; for every mother whoever cried over the pain she caused a daughter or the pain she felt from being rejected by a daughter, this beautiful piece reveals the healing that waits down that long dark tunnel called self-forgiveness, self love, self-acceptance. And now, you are a wounded healer yourself. I needed your words, this redemption song tonight. Thank you.

  6. muttslikeme Post author

    MINDY, I hope the best for you, for the bond and love I’m sure you deserve. I am surely proof this can happen under any circumstances. Please do hold on to your hope. I admire any mother like you, like mine, who withstands the battles, adoption or not.

    DEB, thanks for reading, and glad we ever met. And good thing I survived or I’d either be dead, or in prison and then you’d have to visit me.

    SUE, You are welcome. What a beautiful comment you wrote. Yes, our tunnel was dark and long, nearly caved in at times and yet, we did it. Your words soothe me some, this time of year when I ache about the loss, the pain I caused her. Thank you.

  7. Toby

    You brought joy to your mother before her death. There is a yiddish word for this–you did a mitzvah. But not just for your mother, but yourself as well. Breathe deeply now and in peace.

  8. Kima

    Now that I am gone,
    remember me with smiles and laughter.
    And when you need me,
    put your arms around someone
    and give to them what you need to give to me.
    There are so many who need so much.

    I want to leave you something –
    something much better than words or sounds.
    Look for me in the people I’ve known
    or helped in some special way.
    Let me live in your heart
    as well as in your mind.

    You can love me most
    by letting your love reach out to others,
    by embracing them and living in their love.
    Love does not die, people do.
    So, when all that’s left of me is love,
    give me away as best you can.

    ~ Author unknown

    Thank you for sharing your heartbreak, and redemption, so honestly with your reader’s. You’re mother would be extremely proud of the woman you have become. Even more, she would be proud of the mother you have become. In that, she lives on every single day. Much love, dear.

    1. Vee

      I have a niece that is struggling because of the loss of her mom. I read this and instantly knew I needed to copy it and send to her. This was a Godsend today. Thank you..

  9. muttslikeme Post author

    Kim, so moving, this poem, and most of all your words. Thank you.
    Painful, but important for me to remember because she never knew me as a mother. I’m saddened by that, and that my kids never knew her, other than through me. As you said, “lives on every single day.” Grateful for your presence, and comment.

  10. RangerLady

    Doing some catch up reading. Great experience doing so. All this reminds me I must share what I experienced as an angry adoptee, then healed from and grew. It’s taken years. You’re sharing is important. Thank you for doing so. Thank you for being a part of His plan. You are important and your mother knows you more now than ever before. She is watching. Blessings of Peace to you and your family.


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