Category: Reconciliation

Ripped Off By Snarky Mom

Mom and I enjoyed our daily conversations and we became very close friends after my first trip to Michigan. We enjoyed spending time together. We no longer repeated the pattern of fighting in order to keep a safe distance from each other. We had little time left and we spent it on enjoying each other. We had a few disagreements but we focused on what mattered rather than what didn’t. 

The most important parts of my days were when we talked in the morning and in the evening during my commutes to and from work. We talked about memories from the past, what we had been learning, my work, her experiences with declining health, some robust political and philosophical discussions, and many conversations about God and faith.

Our relationship had deepened and I genuinely enjoyed knowing her. I had never bothered to notice that she possessed a keen insight into life, was delightful, witty, and had a great sense of humor. I had not looked for these parts of her because I always saw her as the negligent, abusive, unmotivated mom. Every time I discovered something new about her, I became more enamored with her. She had become a treasure I  never knew I had.

My discovery that my mom was an amazing, wonderful woman had a downside though: I felt an increasing level of anger.

I wondered, “Why am I so angry? Everything is going great.”

Gradually, I realized that I felt ripped off.

Sure, we had wonderful times together after we reconciled but part of me resented that I had to experience 46 years of snarky mom and only had a few months of awesome mom. Why couldn’t we have had this kind of relationship sooner? Why did it take cancer for us to focus on what mattered about each other? How unfair was it that cancer brought us together and cancer would soon separate us? For the better part of forty years, we were at odds. For just a few months, we were best friends. And cancer would inevitably bring that friendship to an end.

Friends often asked me how my mom was doing and based on whatever the current news was, asked how I was handling it. I described the anger I felt about having a snarky mom instead of a friendly mom and a few friends said that I was lucky. Like me, they experienced distance in their relationships with their parents. In several cases, one or both had died before the relationships could be repaired.

Several of my friends knew that my dad had mostly been absent from my life and that he and I had resolved the past to the point where I was with him when he died and assured him that I no longer felt resentment toward him.

I heard variations of the same message: “I’d love to have with my parents what you have with yours. We can’t talk to each other without fighting. You’re really lucky to have this time with your mom.”

I didn’t consistently feel lucky, though. I felt gyped.  After hearing some friends say I should feel lucky, I felt like I was being greedy by wanting to have had more closeness with my mom and dad. Feeling greedy led to feeling selfish and guilty.

I tried talking myself into a sense of gratitude but I didn’t feel thankful that I had an absent dad and a snarky mom. I was happy to have worked things out with both of them before they died but I couldn’t get past resentment for having crappy parents.

Mom and I talked about this. She regretted the lost time as well but her focus was on enjoying as much of her remaining life as possible.  Every time we talked, she told me what was new to her about the things she had seen so many times before. She saw how the sun shone differently through the tall pine trees in her yard. She enjoyed how her cats, Ollie and Teddy, hunted and played in the grass. She sat on the porch and listened to the breeze. She had friends over and laughed about forgotten stories. Her intent each day was to separate herself from her suffering and enjoy what life presented to her. She had no time for regret.

Maybe because I thought I had the luxury of time or maybe because I’m a slow learner, but I couldn’t get a quick handle on my resentment. It didn’t matter what my friends did or did not have with their parents. Their perspectives were instructive but the fact that I had what they didn’t made little difference in my ability to accept 46 difficult years.

One of the best decisions I made was to be open about this with mom. She too had wished we could have worked things out sooner but, it was her knowledge that her time was short that persuaded her to spend her energy and time on thankfulness and goodness instead of rehearsing all the coulda-woulda-shoulda scenarios that, if she had just acted differently, things might have been better.

We constantly deny our inevitable death. Part of that denial is the belief that the horizon of death is far beyond our view and that time is abundant. It’s entirely different when you know for certain that your time is short. I read once that denial makes us think that we have a lot of time left but when a person becomes progressively in touch with their mortality, they think of their death every day. Not in an obsessive, fearful manner but in a way that leads them to recognize that death can come on any day in any form. Living with death as a potential part of one’s immediate horizon is what allows one to more easily set aside hard feelings and focus instead on what is good.

Isn’t that strange? You might think that you see things more clearly when you perceive that lots of time remains. It may be instead that you see life more clearly when you are pointedly aware that time is much shorter than you would like it would be.

Mom Reconciles With Her Brother

Where My Mom and Her Siblings Grew Up

I’ve always thought of my uncle as a man’s man. He was a hard worker, principled, loved hunting and shooting, and had a jovial sense of humor. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood involve shooting guns with him.

Mom and Lewis, however,  had a difficult relationship at various times throughout their lives.  Fault can be laid on both sides at different times in their history.  By the time mom was sick, they hadn’t communicated for many years. She and I had daily conversations and occasionally, her relationship with her brother was a subject of the calls.

I encouraged her to contact him to let him know that she was dying but she wouldn’t do it. She was scared of him and didn’t want the drama of an overt conflict. It was safer to have distance than to contact him and let him know of her cancer.

Mom made so many positive decisions that were focused on dying well that I couldn’t take issue with her position even though I disagreed with it. I wanted her to have an opportunity to reconcile with him but she was blocked from willingness by a lot of fear about being with him at the end of her life. 

Two days before she died, I pressed mom a bit more insistently to let me make contact with her brother for her.

“No. He hates me and if he came over he might hurt me.”

“I don’t know if he hates you or not, mom. He might be very angry with you but it’s hard for me to imagine he is so angry with you that he wouldn’t come see you.”

“I’m tired, David. I need to get some sleep.”

“Okay, but I’m going to ask you about this tomorrow.”

She was dismissive but I could tell the idea was gaining traction. Her issue wasn’t with a lack of desire to see him and to have some kind of forgiveness. It was fear of what his reaction would be.

The first thing the next morning, she said, “Okay, give me a few reasons why I should meet with him.”

I explained to her that if she died without giving him an opportunity to meet, he would lose the chance to make things right before she died. She had little to lose because she would be dead but he would have no choice but to live with permanent silence between them.

“Okay, that’s one,” she said.

“You would lose the opportunity to pass into whatever comes next with a clear conscience.”

There was silence and I felt an implied prompt to come up with reason number three.

“You might actually work things out.”

“What if he hurts me?”

“Why do you think he might hurt you?”

“Because of that night in the winter when he sat in his truck.”

She had told me this story before. Grayling is a small town nestled in what is essentially a large forest.  Especially during winter nights, her house can be an eerie place. It is located at the end of a dirt road that branches off a blacktop road. It’s a fairly isolated location and if there was any kind of violence, help would be at least 20 minutes away.

She said my uncle parked at the edge of her driveway with his headlights on and engine running. He didn’t come to the house but sat there for quite a while. She believed his motive was to intimidate her. Eventually, he turned around and drove off.

“Mom, what if it was something completely different from that? What if the reason why he sat there was because he was conflicted? What if he longed to see you and talk with you but was also very angry with you? What if he couldn’t decide what to do? What if he was torn between love and anger?”

She sat quietly for quite a while.

“I think he’ll hurt me.”

“Mom, here’s the deal. He’s in his 70’s. I’m pretty sure that if he threatened violence toward you, I could keep him from attacking you. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll try reason. I’ll say, ‘Lewie, you don’t need to kill her. If you just wait two days, she’ll be dead and you won’t have to go to prison.’”

She laughed and got quiet for a few moments.

“Okay…”

“Okay, what?”

“You can call him.”

Again, I was amazed by her courage as she faced her death. She had so much angst and anxiety in relation to her brother and yet I could tell it was deeply important to her that she see him before she died.

I called her brother to tell him of the situation.

“Hi Lewie, this is Dave Reynolds. How are you?”

“Hi David, I’m good. How are you?”

“Well, I’m okay but I’m calling you to tell you that my mom has lung cancer and will die within the next few days. She would really like to see you before she dies. Would you be willing to come visit her?”

It took a few moments for him to process what he had heard.

“I will come to see her.”

“She knows you’re mad at her and she’s worried you’ll hurt her.”

“There won’t be any trouble,” he said.

We agreed to a time that evening and hung up.

Mom heard the conversation but she didn’t quite believe it.

“So, he is coming over tonight?”

I confirmed the plan with her and assured her that he didn’t sound angry and that he promised there would be no trouble.

I think mom felt relief that one way or another, their relationship would have some kind of resolution before she died. Through the rest of the day, I tried to gauge how she was processing her reactions. She still had anxiety but there was also a loss of heaviness in her attitude.  Their relationship would no longer be based on doubt, fear and shame but on whatever they managed to work out together.

I looked forward to seeing my uncle. Though I hadn’t seen him for many years, I still had a lot of affection for him.

He and his wife Kay arrived on time. He had aged well and looked not much different from when I last saw him.  I was happy to see him and even in his 70’s, he was still a solidly-built, robust man. I was dreaming to think I could have stopped him if he decided to attack mom as she feared. My uncle could have easily kicked my ass.

Mom was wrapped in a blanket in her favorite chair. The sound of her oxygen machine made its assuring pumping and hissing sounds. I sat on the couch with Kay as Lewie drew a chair close to mom. I wanted to hear what they were saying,  but this was a conversation between a brother and sister. It wasn’t at all important if I heard any of it. All that mattered was that they talked.

He sat with his body oriented intently toward her. There was no defensive body language from either of them and the tone of their conversation was easy and conciliatory. I admit that I was a little disappointed when I heard a few snippets of their conversation. Throughout the day, I had played a fantasy in my mind where each of them explicitly acknowledged their own part in their estrangement and asked each other for forgiveness. Those words were never spoken.

Instead, it was a simple reunion of siblings who, after all their conflict, still loved each other. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen two humans do. They set aside their disagreements at an important inflection point to accept and love each other with unstated forgiveness.

The two of them talked for ten or fifteen minutes before Lewie hugged her and stood up to leave. I walked with him and Kay to the door and hugged him again.

“It was really great to see you. Thank you for coming. I’ll call you as soon as she dies.”

I explained that there would be a memorial but no funeral and made sure he understood that mom wanted him and Kay to attend.

It was dark when they left and the woods were covered in a blanket of snow. As I watched them pull out of mom’s driveway, I was struck by how that night looked similar to how I imagined mom’s story of her brother sitting in his truck during a dark, snow-fallen night. I was thankful to have witnessed a reconciliation that was quite a bit different than a story of late-night intimidation. I was thankful to have been witness to my mom and my uncle embrace each other with love and forgiveness.

When I turned off the outside lights, I turned around to see my mom beaming happily. She opened her arms to me and I knelt down to hug her.

“Thank you,” she said.

Resentment Toward Mom and Forgiveness

I found this in my notes today:

It’s difficult to fix a problem in a relationship while continuing to view the other person through the lens of their mistakes and holding on to your resentment. I used to think that life with mom was difficult because she was a bad mom.

There was something about her cancer that gave me a lot of empathy for her in a short period of time. It was like the news of cancer suddenly refocused many of my memories and I re-lived them in my imagination from her perspective.  I realized that while some of her choices ranged from blatantly wrong to not ideal, they made sense in the context of her life at the time. Still not right but understandable. And once I understood the possible reasons why she hit me or drank at the bars or was snarky with me – once I saw how I contributed to her stress – I found it a lot easier to forgive her.