In the middle of my walk this morning, I turned and looked down the long sidewalk by Glen Iris Elementary and received a shock. Coming slowly toward me was an elderly silver-haired woman hunched over a red and black walker, her gate a very familiar shuffle. Rationally, I knew it wasn’t my mother, gone almost three years now, but the sight certainly gave me a jolt. I smiled at the woman, and continued on my way, my mind now spinning with memories of my mother.
It’s funny how in an instant like that, whether it be seeing something, hearing a sound, smelling a certain smell, can bring back such a longing for my mom. I miss her every single day, but have learned to tuck the sadness of loss away into a little corner of my heart. It’s a survival skill that all of us who lose a cherished loved one develop over time. Once that door opens, though, sometimes I just let the memories wash over me. Mom and I were very close, and I was her caregiver for most of the last eight years of her life. I came to know and love her in a very different way as our roles changed, and it was a beautiful thing.
It’s so easy to look back and romanticize relationships, filter memories through a rosy looking glass, but I have tried not to do that with my mother; our relationship was too precious, too real. Mom was far from perfect, and I am just like her in that way. She could be difficult and stubborn, but the vast majority of the time she was adorable- an incredibly funny woman with a huge and generous heart, who was also a great story teller. The longer she is gone and the more life I live, I sometimes think that I understand her more, have more compassion for her and the choices she made.
She faced so much challenge and heartache from her earliest days; health issues, poverty, divorce at a time when it just wasn’t done, left to finish raising her family on her own, loss- so much loss, change after change after change. When I was young it was easy to judge her, using my ‘superior’ perspective to say what she should have done in each instance. Ahh, youth. Of course it is easy to be an armchair critic, but understanding what she truly experienced changed all of that for me. I try to think of that whenever I’m tempted to judge someone else or feel superior for the choices I’ve made. I also remember the incredibly bad choices I have made, too.
Mom used to tell me, “Never judge anyone else until you’ve walked in their shoes. You never know what they have gone through.” As in so many other ways, she was right. If the years have taught me anything, they’ve taught me compassion- that Mom’s other phrase, “there, but for the grace of God go I” is a mantra that I need to ponder and repeat daily. None of us are above making mistakes, none of us are perfect, none of us can choose what life puts in our path – we can only do the best we can with the tools that we have when we experience each event.
That realization helped me to forgive my father for his neglect and callousness. It also helped me to see even more what an extraordinary woman my mother was. She always did the best she could with what she had. She was a wounded woman with many emotional and physical scars, but no matter her circumstances, she made a happy life, surrounding herself with good friends, laughter, and beauty. I can only hope that I will follow in her footsteps with such grace and humor as I stumble my way through my own life.
I am grateful that I happened to turn and see that woman who looked so like my mother. I don’t believe in happenstance, so I will take it as a little nudge from my mom at a time when I needed to be reminded about the importance of patience and compassion for others- and for myself. What a gift that my mother is still teaching me. She planted the seeds early on, lived the examples, and now time and life help to make some of those more difficult concepts blossom into understanding. Thank you, Momma.