Three days after Christmas in 1999, I found out that my mom had died her in sleep. The autopsy would later reveal both liver and heart failure. I have always found comfort in the thought that God had mercy on her and called her home so she wouldn’t have to hurt anymore. After my parents divorced, she battled depression and alcohol and spun out so badly that she literally self-destructed. I watched her go from this lovely homemaker who crafted and cooked family dinners and had a smile so vibrant that she could light up a room, to being this incredibly skinny stranger who wore low cut blouses and bleached her hair blonde. Her eyes lost all of the light that had ever been in them.
During the two years between the divorce and her death, I fought hard for our relationship and for her to get better. I always believed she could heal and find her way back somehow because we had God and I knew He could do those things. I clung to my faith in Jesus because I thought if I could believe it or pray it hard enough, that she could be her again. She remained aloof and distant from me, and if we ever spoke or saw one another, it was me that had initiated it. Eventually though, I become callous towards her. The pain of feeling rejected by her was too much. I saw her as an embarrassment and as a ridiculous addict who loved alcohol more than she could ever love me. I realized that I couldn’t rescue her and that maybe that’s what I had been trying to do.
After God had allowed my parents’ marriage to end, I began to see that He does not always do the things He is able to – like save marriages and heal alcoholic mothers. I had questions for Him that I didn’t ask then.
I thought that questioning His ways would make me a faithless Christian, and so I tried my best to ignore the nagging feelings I had about God in the light of her death.
My mom and I were not close growing up. My brother was born with major physical needs and she took care of him most of the time while I ended up forming tight bonds with my dad. Our relationship was awkward at best and I remember often questioning if she loved me, or even liked me at all. She rarely engaged me or played with me. I never felt good enough or thin enough or just enough and I never knew why.
Even so, I always admired her from afar. I would watch her at Christmastime – how she made the house feel magical with decorations and scented candles and how there was a certain kind of cozy about it that felt so good that I never wanted to leave it. I watched how she hosted parties and gatherings with ease. I remember loving how her laugh sounded like a melody and how she was the friendliest when she was in her flannel robe and drinking her morning coffee.
She had a powerhouse singing voice and I loved how her skirts swished whenever she wore heels to church. I watched her strength and resilience in dealing with my brother’s health issues, with doctors and countless visits to clinics and hospitals and surgery after surgery. I cannot imagine the heartache and worry and love poured out as she cared for my brother for the ten years he was with us. I have learned much about her story in my adult life. It was full of abuse, tragedy, heartbreak and trauma. There was no room left for her to carry the pain of my brother’s death and the divorce after everything else she had seen and known. Learning those things has invited me to extend her the grace I wish I had known when she was alive.
My mom was beautiful and she made beautiful things, and I’m mostly sad that I never got to tell her how much I thought so.
Sixteen years later, I get to honor her and her memory with my own life. When I sing or host parties and family gatherings, or when I make her famous almond bark pretzels at Christmastime. When I play with my boys and tell them I’m sorry when I mess up, and I never go a day without telling them that they are loved. I honor her by continuing to fight for my own life as I face my own struggles and addictions. I honor her by bringing God my questions and wrestling through my faith. I’ve learned over the years that questioning God doesn’t make me faithless. It brings me closer to the heart of Jesus and gives my faith deeper roots, even if He leaves those questions unanswered.
As a grown woman and mother, I can acknowledge the places she fell short and even be grateful for them. I’ve learned that my mom was supposed to fall short. She wasn’t supposed to get everything right. The same is true for me, and you, and every single one of us. Because if we didn’t, than we would never need or want for Jesus. And as much as we want to be Jesus to our children, we aren’t. We get to rest there, because He is faithful to pick up the slack, to heal the wounded places and bring light to anything that is dark. My mother’s life, the good, the bad and the very sad–all of it–pointed me to my Savior. I live and mother from these places, grateful for how God’s grace somehow covers all the cracks that were broken in her, in me, in us together.
Deeply rooted in South Texas, Jennifer Stamness is a sunshine-lover, wife and mother to two young boys. She enjoys creating beauty in places like writing, music, decorating and throwing parties. She desires to follow Jesus into the unknown places He invites her to and is thankful for His abundant and amazing grace. Jennifer writes, dreams and shares pieces of her story here.