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.