My mother and I knew it would be our last time together. Those of you who have been in the presence of a loved one who is dying know how everything is stripped away at that moment but raw emotions, raw truth. In our cathartic farewell, I told my mother that there were a few things I needed to tell her. I had spent years focusing on my mother's shortcomings, but the reality of death caused me to become acutely aware of the gifts she had given me.
A friend of mine once wrote, "We all have such entirely different gifts to give our children. The mother who loses her patience at the drop of a hat with a whiny preschooler might be the kindest listener to a troubled teen." My mother had K-12 down pat. Not only was she my personal hero when I was a preschooler, she was my best friend and confidant when I was a teenager. It wasn't until I was a young adult that things didn't seem to click -- at least not in my eyes.
The hospice people told our family that my mother needed to see me before she could fully release herself. It didn't take long for me to realize that she had several more gifts to impart to me, and it had just as much to do with my own release as hers.
I had learned much about tenderness, compassion, and trust from my mother. The fact that I was painfully gullible and lacking in any street smarts when I embarked on my journey into adulthood no longer mattered to me, and any resentment I had towards my mother for raising such a "sheltered" daughter now seemed insignificant. The only thing that mattered to me at my mother's bedside was to acknowledge the powerful gifts she had given me, a legacy of tenderness and compassion that her mother had passed on to her. But most of all, I wanted to apologize for all those years she must have felt my distance, my coolness, my apathy. She then bestowed me with her most powerful gift of all. She told me that none of that mattered because she always knew that I loved her. We just held each other, fully present, fully accepting each other, and crying our eyes out. The time had come for me to impart a gift of my own.
Five years ago, after I wrote about my daughter Kathryn, who was born with profound brain damage, Nina of the TENDER TOKENS fame, sent me one of her pins inscribed with, "Tender is a Mother." That pin was sacred to me. It came at a time when I needed to be reminded of the value of remaining tender.
As I thanked my mother the last time for her tenderness and gentleness, I pinned the token on her bathrobe. In the final days before my mother's death, four of my siblings each had their private moments with her, each one adorning her with something of significance for them. By the end of the week, my mother looked like an ancient Girl Scout.
My mother died on April 12, knowing that all that mattered was that we loved each other.
I now look at my teenage daughter's responses towards me differently. I, the mother who could rock my colicky baby for four hours at a time, am not quite so adept at being the disciplinarian of a very "free-spirited" teenager. And as far as my being my daughter's confidant and best friend, I don't think that is how she would describe me! But who's to say we won't be best friends when she's 23 or 43? Perhaps one day my daughter will pin me with the new token Nina sent me to replace the one I gave my mother. And all that will matter will be that I imparted to both my daughters the greatest gift any mother can give her children: unconditional love and forgiveness. And if I go out looking like an ancient Girl Scout, so much the better.