I spoke to two of my brothers last night about funeral arrangements. My oldest brother, Stan, is not attending the funeral. He cannot forgive my mom for her unkind words and actions.
I tried mightily to convince him to come. As the oldest, he is now the patriarch of the family. He needs to be there for ME - his "onliest and favorite" sister. He said I should contact Mary Kay for a job, because I was quite persuasive - but that he made up his mind years ago.
Our mother was often mean, her words and her fists wounded us. Her coldness and unforgiving nature made life at home hellish at times. Her litany of curse words and threats kept me sad and afraid. I never knew what would set off her explosive anger. It made me timid and apprehensive.
Since my three older brothers came long before I arrived, I don't know what injuries were inflicted on them. In December, Gary told me about the time that he was tied to the water heater for losing a dollar when he went to the store for bread. He was four years old. I'm sure that Stan and Terry have similar stories.
You don't ever FORGET things like that...but forgiveness is possible.
Likewise, my older brothers don't know what my younger brother and I endured, since they were adults and out of the house by the time we met our mother's wrath.
And I know, as the only daughter, I suffered my own kind of hell that was different from theirs. I could never satisfy my mother's expectations, nor could I anticipate the unpleasant result of any action or inaction I took. Common household objects were potential projectiles and weapons; saying 'no' was rewarded with a fat lip and bloodied nose.
She tried her best to mold me into an image that was to her liking - but I, though fearful, was still rebellious - as I tried to maintain my fragile self-worth.
At ten, she started calling me "the slut". The mind games continued well into adulthood. She would try to manipulate us by playing "divide and conquer", in an attempt to turn us against each other.
She had no success in that arena.
I was probably in my thirties before the sting of her words quit hurting me. As I moved to CA, I was far away from her influence. I had time to reflect, and was able to recognize that her problems had little to do with me.
I slowly learned to forgive.
But I never forgot.
It's the stuff of bestselling, tell-all memoirs - but I no longer let her treatment of me give me an excuse for MY bad behavior.
I can have positive thoughts of her. She could be funny at times. She loved her grandchildren, and treated them well.
She never acknowledged the negative stuff - when I'd remind her, she had no recollection of ever being harsh.
She never knew the truth of her actions; never considered what effects it would have on her children.
Still, I was able to recognize her many failings as deeply-embedded issues for her. Maybe she had too many children. Maybe she suffered from undiagnosed mental illness.
I was determined not to let my history with her invade my present anymore. I forgave her for all the embarrassment, all the pain, both physical and psychic, that she caused me. I was damn sure I wasn't going to repeat the pattern.
Forgiven, but not forgotten.
And in the gift of forgiveness, I found my power. I found peace. Resolution. And felt love for my mother (and pity for her weaknesses), probably for the first time.
I hope and pray that my brothers also find forgiveness in their hearts. For there, they will find a better life, and hope renewed for the future.
Lewis B. Smedes - The Art of Forgiving: When You Need To Forgive And Don't Know How
"Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future."