I remember the day my mother shared with me a little bit of her story as a young girl.
She began with the statement, “Life would have been so different for me if my mother had lived. Her name was Olive. I almost named you Olivia, but I didn’t.”
Over a period of years mother shared a few scenes of her story. Her mother died when she was quite young. Her father was a successful business man with little time for mother and her siblings. He quickly remarried a woman who had a large family of her own. She moved into mother’s home, creating a very large blended family of children. Mother was left stranded in a maze of biological siblings and step-brothers and sisters.
Mother spoke of the harm she suffered at the hands of the new step mother. As I remember the stories she shared, the wicked stepmother of Cinderella comes to mind. Mother was expected to clean the toilets with a toothbrush. She never got them clean enough to suit. Her punishment included being burned, locked away in a closet and being refused nourishment while the rest of the children ate heartily.
Life became so difficult that mother ran away as a teen. She was brought back and told she would not disgrace the well respected name of the family. She was allowed to live elsewhere, earning her room and keep by cleaning while finishing her last year of high school.
I was given new information not long ago about my mother’s involvement with a married man in the small town where she lived. He was a man of great wealth with a wife and family. Mother was beautiful and traumatized. I can imagine her desperation for love was an invitation for more harm.
The man wanted to divorce his wife and marry my mother. She said she couldn’t do that. She longed for the love and acceptance of her father. This would disgrace the family, and she would likely be disowned.
Sometime in the midst of all of this chaos, just a few months from mother’s graduation from high school, she became pregnant with me.
I can imagine her feeling scared, trapped and desperate. Knowing these pieces of her story puts into perspective mother’s parenting of me.
“Valerie, if abortion were as easy back then as it is now, I would have aborted you.” Mother’s desire and attempt to abort me from her womb is understandable. Understandable, maybe, but the pain still lingers as I type the words.
I can put my own graphics and words to mother’s stories of harm because I lived them. She didn’t break the cycles of abuse. She abused me in the ways she had been harmed and traumatized. She didn’t protect me or encourage me to believe I had value. I became a target for others’ abuse as well.
“Forgive me” are words I’ve longed to hear from my mother. Of the few words exchanged between us, those were not among them.
Some days I long to go back. I wish I knew then the understanding I have now of story and how it grows us to be open or closed, trusting or feeling unsafe, self-protecting or able to care for the needs of others.
Mother was not prepared to care for me or my needs. She hadn’t known care in her own life.
Today I long to sit with her and hear her stories. What did she do with the grief of loosing her mother? Where did she hide after her scenes of abuse? How did she survive being hungry? What was it like to have the attention of a man who was unavailable to love her well? What were her fears as she walked across the stage on her graduation? What thoughts were raging in her mind as she stood next to a different man two months later preparing to say “I do”?
Mother has entered her eternity and those opportunities are passed. I didn’t hear the words “forgive me” from her.
My heart is sweetly tender. Instead of holding anger I want to offer her grace and understanding.
And in quiet moments, I wonder if I hear a whisper coming from wherever mother resides in eternity, the white veil separating us rippling gently as the words travel toward me ……”forgive me.”
Maybe it’s just the wind.
I’ll hold this all tenderly. God is still writing the ending to this story.
Valerie Avery treasures the journey of embracing all God has gifted her with including creating art and beauty using fibers, beads and nature. The bond of 46 years of marriage has created a legacy as mother to 5 and “Grammie” to 20. She is venturing into the world of writing and is grateful for a place to share stories of growth and hope. You can read more here.