Sophia shoved her grandmother’s burgundy luggage bag into the overhead compartment and sat back down, listless, waiting for takeoff. That burgundy bag was last year’s Mother’s Day gift from her mother, the kind of thing that is passed on from mother to daughter for generations. It was going to be a long trip. Leaving her children so far behind was an odd way to spend Mother’s Day, but there was no help for it. Her own mother needed her one last time.
There was no good way to prepare for a funeral, of that she was sure.
Images of 45 years worth of Mother’s Days, birthdays, and holidays flashed with jarring clarity across her mind. Replays of the painfully brief conversations with her mother rang in her ears. The many times she’d seen a card or thought of sending a gift, only to let the moment slip by because of the effort involved. Too little, too late. There was no time to make amends, no time to go back and repair the relationship.
Her mother was always so careful about those things. She’d made sure to call on birthdays and holidays and had never once failed to call on Mother’s Day. Often there was a small gift given at great personal expense out of too meager funds. And yet, none of that had been enough to soften the heart of her daughter.
Death, though, produced what life and consistent effort could not accomplish. Death provided a clarity that was absent, separating the things that mattered from the things that didn’t. How often she’d chosen to focus on the things that didn’t matter rather than appreciate the things that did. And it wasn’t just her own mother she treated that way.
Sophia looked back over the course of her life, examining how often she’d chosen her career over her family, her little entertainments over time that might have been spent with a friend, convenience and comfort over the difficulties and hardships of building real relationships.
And what did she have to show for all of it? An empty nest, a marriage on the knife’s edge of divorce, and pathetically few friends who knew much more about her than what she did for a living and where she lived. She kept every relationship at arm’s length, never allowing anyone to get close enough to her to see more than the superficial.
She could blame her mother for that. Her mother was manic depressive and sometimes suicidal. When the “fun” mom was around, life was full of surprises and laughter but that “fun” mom could disappear at a moment’s notice to be replaced by the inconsolable, angry mother who found no good in anything around her because she could not find anything good in herself. The mother who evaluated everything based on what it was worth and what it would cost her because she didn’t know how to value herself. The mother who could never be satisfied with herself and certainly not with her daughter.
That relationship, the feeling of inadequacy it produced, was a part of what went into this refusal to allow herself to be seen or known. It was part of why she’d chosen to prioritize her career and her entertainments, the things she could control, over relationships, which she could not. It was odd how clearly she could see this now. She’d lived her whole life without realizing it. It was as if Death reached through to remove a blindfold she’d worn so long it just seemed part of her.
There was no denying the pain her mother caused her. There was no denying the realities of the messages she’d absorbed from a mother so broken she simply couldn’t love her daughter the way her daughter needed to be loved. But as much as the trouble might have begun with her mother, it certainly hadn’t ended with her.
She’d carried that brokenness into every relationship since she’d left home. She’d kept her mother at arm’s length, too. She’d never allowed herself to look into those eyes and risk another instance of rejection or pain. She’d never allowed herself to open her arms up wide enough to be embraced by her mother out of fear that her mother might hurt her if she did. She’d never given her mother a chance to change, never acknowledged her attempts to keep a relationship going.
Truthfully, she’d treated her mother with the exact same disdain she’d received as a child. Nothing her mother did was ever good enough. Nothing her mother said was ever right. She’d remained angry with her mother for the many failures and become her mother in the process. It was easy to see it now, though she’d certainly never seen it that way before.
And all of this anger and this pain she’d brought right into the lives of her own children and into her marriage, too. How often had she ever praised her children’s accomplishments or told them how proud she was of what they’d done? How many times was it that the only time they heard from her was when they’d done something to anger or upset her? And how often had she allowed pain from other areas of her life to spill onto their innocent heads? More often than she could count.
Her poor husband who’d tried so desperately to get her attention, to beg her for time spent together. The vacations she’d promised him but could never break free from work long enough to go. So he’d gone alone or with friends. The bedroom they’d shared with a television, a laptop, and a cell phone that never left her side. It was hard to focus on one another in a room with so many distractions, but maybe that was the point.
Romantic liaisons between them were so infrequent that she could count them on one hand over the last three months. She was always too busy, too tired, or too upset to relax and allow herself to enjoy his presence. He was just one more thing on her to-do list, until he’d gotten tired of being penciled in between appointments and decided to find a woman who would make him a priority.
As she sat dejectedly thinking all of this over, a flash of inspiration hit her. Another insight bringing with it stunning clarity. She could change things. The relationship with her mother could not be changed. That chance was gone, that opportunity was missed. However, the chance to fix the relationship with her children was still there.
Things might not be fixable between herself and her husband. Maybe that relationship was dead and gone. But maybe it could be fixed. Maybe if he knew and believed that she was ready to change, that she’d seen the damage her decisions had caused and the problems they’d created, he would reconsider. He’d loved her once, and he’d stuck with her for 22 years. Maybe he could love her again.
Come what may, she knew she had the insights she needed to break free of three generations worth of emotional baggage. She could begin to undo the damage and to build bridges back into her children’s lives. She might even be able to repair her marriage and salvage what was left of it from the wreckage she’d made.
Sophia’s eyes misted and she felt a calm peace settle over her. She caught a faint whiff of the perfume her mother always wore and smiled. No one could ever say no to her mother once she’d made her mind up to get something done. How like her mother to strong arm Death into delivering one last Mother’s Day gift.