Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Mother And Me

This is a long, complex story about my mother and me, and also about:

God's absolute power and love, 
the forces of spiritual darkness, 
and His amazing power to overcome that darkness and bring goodness and light into our lives. 

And sad as much of this story might be, I promise you a very happy ending. 

Everyone's life story begins at the moment of birth, and my mom's birth was touched by tragedy

She was born with a twin, but her sibling was stillborn.

Now, we know that babies in utero experience many sensations of life.

They respond to their physical surroundings
They move about and rearrange themselves in their cozy space.
And they most definitely react to the comforting sound of a beating heart.

And so I wonder about that.

I wonder what my mother experienced when the sound of her sibling's heartbeat was silenced.
I wonder what she sensed, alone in the womb with her lifeless twin
And after my mother was born, I wonder how my grandmother's grief for her lost child affected the early minutes, hours, days and weeks of her bonding with her surviving infant

I don't think any of it was good.

My mom's childhood was, by all reports, happy and comfortable. Her parents were patient and loving, her small-town upbringing idyllic, her accomplishments many. But an undertone of darkness weaves throughout her stories from these days - my mom did not like herself, and even decades later, found endless fault in her young self. I've thought long and hard about my mother's formative years, and I can only conclude that the sad circumstances of her birth cast long shadows over her sense of self

It was as a young twenty-something that she met my future father, and another wave of darkness undoubtedly entered her life.

* * * * *

My mom had always kept her lip buttoned about their courtship. But as the dementia broke down her walls, she shared with me more and more details. She never meant to marry my father, she told me. But he begged, even cried, when she hesitated at his proposal, and in the end, she broke down and accepted.

The first few years seemed to pass happily by as they set about making a home and a family. But six years into the marriage, my father was caught cheating and boldly continued his philandering ways for the next ten years.

I remember the first time I became aware of their fighting. I was a little girl, three years old, and one night I woke up and headed to the kitchen for a drink of water.

A tiny thing, I recall standing on a chair to reach the faucet and holding my cup underneath the running water without being able to see what I was doing. I climbed down and stood in the middle of the kitchen, quietly drinking.

My parents' bedroom door was open, a light was on, and their silhouettes were projected onto the wall ahead of me. As I drank, I could see their figures silently moving, and I slowly realized they were grasping each others arms, pushing and shoving each other back and forth. Straining my ears, I could hear a fiercely whispered argument taking place; clearly, they had no idea I was nearby, and were hoping to keep us children from waking up.

This was the first of dozens of late-night altercations that disrupted our lives over the next decade. The decorum of that episode quickly wore thin, and I was often awakened from a sound sleep to hear my mother screaming, crying, yelling, begging him to stay, and my father quietly but firmly attempting to escape the house.

I realize now that he would go to bed as usual, but then when my mom was asleep, he would try to slip out of the house and travel to his mistress's bed.

From the start, I appointed myself the peacemaker of the family and the referee of these fights. As soon as I woke up to the chaos, I would leave my bed, place myself between them, and try to break up the physical contact. Sometimes my mother would threaten to hurt him; sometimes she would threaten to hurt herself. Always, my goal was to get my father out of the house, and to comfort my mom. Sometimes, he would drive off within a few minutes; other times, they would fight for an hour, maybe stopping and starting up repeatedly. Sometimes, my brothers would cry out from their beds or even come in and join me in the turmoil. I would escort them back to bed and do my best to calm their fears.

These were bad times. I suppose they occurred in bursts - there may have been months of silence, and then a series of episodes every few nights. I recall that when I was in fourth grade, times were particularly bad, and I was very concerned for my mother's well-being when I was away at school. Day after day, sitting at my desk, the anxiety would gnaw away at my stomach until I told the teacher I was sick and asked to go home. Eventually, Mrs. Sutherland deduced the problem, and called my mother in for a chat. "Is there anything going on at home that might be causing Diane to worry?" she asked, and I can still see the look of horror and shame that swept across my mother's face as she feared her secret might be revealed.

After sixteen years of marriage and ten full years of cheating, my father left. I recall that the day brought me sweet relief but my mother entered a new phase of self-shaming and profound embarrassment.

* * * * *

Decades passed. My mom built up a successful and satisfying career as a teacher. I grew up, married a faithful man, and begat a new generation of sweet little girls. But my relationship with my mother suffered terribly.

Looking back, I understand now that my mother's self-image, fragile from the first days of her life, had been deeply damaged by my father's infidelity. As her only daughter, my life seemed to be everything she had wanted for her own life, and my success and happiness deepened her shame. To compound the problem, as much as my mother hid the story of her failed marriage from absolutely everyone in her life, she knew that I had been by her side for the whole ugly mess; I had seen it all.

The darkness deepened between us, and as my daughters grew, they also became subject to my mother's frustrations. I decided to take a big step back from this conflict zone, and our relationship became distant and cool.

Fast forward to 2013. My mother's slowly emerging dementia had been on my radar for a decade, but until that point, she was still able to maintain her emotional defenses. It was in the fall of that year, as her ability to care for herself became an issue of daily concern, that she and I began to talk on the phone. Twice a day, every day, a dozen hours a week at the very least.

An interesting thing began to happen. Due to the disease, my mother's walls began to come down. She began to talk openly with me about her childhood, her fears that her parents loved her sister more, her feeling that she was never good enough. She also shared more about my father - many of her middle-stage hallucinations involved him coming back to hurt her, and over and over, I reassured her that I would never let him hurt her again.

* * * * * 

Slowly, eventually, painfully - and with the help of a sensitive and insightful caregiver - I realized that my mother had been fighting forces of darkness for most, if not all, of her life. The loss of her twin, her husband's betrayal had made her vulnerable to deep, dark energy.And in the profound desperation that comes from knowing that I was powerless to help her, I began to pray for her.
I prayed over her home, passing from room to room, blessing each door knob and light switch, invoking God's name over every inch. 
I commanded the dark spirits to leave her alone.  
I know. That sounds intense, doesn't it. 
Before this experience, though my faith in God was strong, I was dubious about"spiritual darkness." But as a part of my awakening, I perceived a real and tangible energy that was doing my mother harm. I experienced the commanding power of God's spirit as I never have imagined possible and I prayed for my mom's protection with an intensity that did not come from me. 
And I begged our God of mercy and healing and infinite love to heal my mother's pain.
Now. I am certainly not willing to say that I worked a miracle, or that my prayers turned the tide of unhappiness in my mother's life.

She still has advanced Lewy Body Dementia, and her life is a fading shadow of what it once was.

But I can say with absolute certainty that my relationship with my mother has been fully, completely and dramatically healed.

As crazy as it sounds, my mother's battle with dementia is the best thing that ever happened to our relationship. Now, whenever we get a chance to talk or spend time together or even when I'm just thinking of her, I can feel a loving mother-daughter bond that I had never experienced before. Despite her wildly debilitating illness, I instinctively seem to know how to reach her and how to comfort her, and for the first time, she can express happiness and satisfaction with me.

* * * * *

Am I glad my mom was afflicted with this terrible disease?

No. I wouldn't wish such tragedy on anyone.

But there is no question whatsoever in my mind that God has moved into this ugly place and used her illness to bring healing and peace in a way that seemed utterly impossible.

And so I am thankful, not for the disease, but for our amazing God who took the broken pieces of my mother's life and transformed them into something beautiful, precious and whole.

* * * * *

Stories about my less-than-perfect dad:

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