What I learned from my mother

I’m still processing my mom’s death, but since it followed a ten year decline in to paranoid schizophrenia, part of me feels like I should be farther along.  In some ways, after all, I’ve been mourning her loss for years. I mourned the absence of a grandmother in my children’s lives, the fact that she was “here” but couldn’t hear our triumphs and setbacks like she used to, the fact that every visit took her farther away from me, but not so far I could find any closure. 
Once she was medicated out of the terror-inducing delusions, she was still left with delusions. I had a mom, but not my mom, or at least it didn’t feel that way.  Her passing is allowing me to close some doors and open some that were too painful to deal with. It was too hard to think about the happy memories when I was faced with her suffering at every visit. But now that has passed, I can redirect my thoughts of her to the good ones–and there are many–and give myself permission to roll around in them. 
Upon some reflection, I feel like I’ve had something of an epiphany. I think I got my mind from my dad—my curiosity, my sense of wonder, my joy in learning.  But I know I got my heart from my mom. 
The middle child of seven, she grew up around kids and couldn’t wait to start her own family.  When she miscarried twins at 22, the doctors declared her broken and unable to have her own children. That broke her heart, but when it healed, or when the desire to raise a family overcame the failure of Plan A, my parents adopted two children.They told themselves it was better, even, because they could choose how to plan their family—a son first, then a daughter. So they made it happen. And she loved those babies like crazy.
Then she had me at 35. She didn’t believe it at first, the “broken” comments about her body still as fresh and wounding as they had been years before. She asked the doctor if one could be “a little bit pregnant.” But there I was.  And she loved me like crazy, too.
She loved lots of people and lots of things–painting and music and reading and traveling–and she was a model for me for how to have a heart open to the world.  Mostly, though, above all else, she loved her family:  her parents and siblings, and then her husband and children, her heart growing with each marriage and birth.
I found an anniversary poem she wrote for my dad on their 38th anniversary, where she described their family like a complete set—first came a blond boy, then a red-haired girl, then a little dark-haired baby. Genetically, of course, we’re all different, but she described us so sweetly, like a lucky kid getting all three colors out of the gumball machine. This was all framed in an ode to her husband—the best prize she’d ever won. She loved us, and she made it her life’s goal to make a loving home for us.

And she did. Warm, supportive, comforting, cozy, cinnamon-scented, celebratory home-life, I learned from her. And I am ever grateful.

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