On January 15th everything was seemingly normal. By evening on January 16th, everything changed. It’s been 18 years since the tragic evening when my mother died. She was 36 years old. It’s been so long since I have shed a tear about my mother passing. The shock of the situation is over. After all, I have lived more of my life without her than I did with her. Yet, there’s still a profound heaviness each year on this day. It’s a day when I’m willing to let my memories collide with the potential of a life with her in it. I don’t often entertain the question of “what if…” as I find little value in looking at the world in impossible outcomes. She’s dead and she’s gone, of that there’s no doubt. For years I thought it was a bad dream of grief and anger and guilt. I prayed for resurrection. I prayed for another conversation. I prayed for relief and release.
The finality of her death set in a number of years ago and I opened my eyes to reality. It’s been my experience that tragedy has a way of leaving an indelible mark on those who suffer with the tragedy. Not all deaths are tragic, but my mother’s was. The worst part is that when death happens, the impact of the relationship doesn’t die with it. That’s the most difficult aspect of death. You just find a way to be comfortable living with suspension of the relationship in light of the brutal finality that is separation in death. Christ has brought me rest from the burden.
But, today I allow myself the freedom to wonder, “what if…”
What if my mother didn’t know how much I loved her because of my frustrations with her addiction?
What if my mother would have been successful in getting treatment for her depression and addictions?
What if my uncle Danny wouldn’t have died months earlier and her sadness wouldn’t have accelerated her addiction?
What if my mother could see my siblings and me now?
What if my mother was around and she could help my aunt and my cousins take care of my grandfather?
What if my mother could see my children? Would she see herself in my daughter as much as I do?
Some questions lead me to laughter thinking about what life would be like. Other questions lead to a bit of sadness. But, I wonder.
What I don’t wonder anymore is whether or not my mother loved me. Though I can’t speak for all people who love those facing addictions, my temptation was to believe that my mother loved her addiction to alcohol more than she loved me. My rather elementary [and ignorant] understanding of addiction was that if I would simply explain to my mother that I didn’t want her to drink anymore, she would abstain out of her love for me. Since she didn’t do it, she didn’t love me, or my rather distorted thinking told me. But addiction doesn’t operate in the expanse of logic and rationality and deductive reasoning. This is why addiction can be so troubling: it leads you to do things that you don’t want to do, but have little control over. It’s compulsive and abrasive. It’s not rational. It’s love misplaced.
My mother loved me, in spite of her hurts and hangups. She loved me. She didn’t always know how to deal with everything raging within her. She was pregnant at 15 years old. She was divorced and had four children. She didn’t marry men who valued her uniqueness or her partnership. She wasn’t unlike many people I know who are a bit lost in the high tide of the seas of life, but unlike many I know: she had four children. My mourning for my mother always accompanies compassion. Her life wasn’t easy. I don’t know what I would have done if I was her. But, I know my mother loved me. And, as I reflect on her death, I tried to remember what she gave me in life.
I miss you, mom. You are loved more passionately than you ever knew or understood.