Friday, December 4, 2009

The letters

A surprise package awaited me on the porch when I got home the other evening. A quick glance showed me that it was from my stepfather, but I couldn't fathom what it might be. My mother and he had so carefully planned everything before her passing that I truly thought I'd brought home every last item I was supposed to inherit.


And, truthfully, I wished this particular package had gone forever astray into some black hole in the U.S. Postal Service system.

Inside the box were letters and cards that she had kept. The cards were mostly from me although a few were from my brother, with dates ranging from the late 1970s to 2001.

It's the letters that are the real issue. These are letters that I wrote to her in the first few years after she divorced my dad, when she was living in Pennsylvania and I was still in New Jersey. Because when my mother left my dad, she did so without warning, without goodbye, and... without us kids. I was 16.

You can imagine the emotions of a 16 year-old girl in that situation. I came home from school to find all of my mother's things cleared out and a note left on the kitchen table. Going back, even at the distance of 35 years, and reliving the feelings of that time is extremely painful.

These letters that I wrote her were cheeky and artificially cheerful -- masking a deep wound that, while it has since scarred over, is still sensitive to the touch.

At the time, I didn't realize just how unhappy I was. In hindsight, when I look at the choices I've made over the years, I can see how deep and far reaching was that one event in our lives. Not that I'm not responsible for my subsequent choices -- I was and I am very much responsible for the way I have lived my life. I could have made better choices along the way.

Thankfully, I've been forgiven by my Father in Heaven. Forgiving myself, though, is another matter on which I'm still working. My choices over the years have created a ripple effect in the lives of others. And not in a good way. The Bible verse about the "sins of the fathers (parents) being visited on the children" is a very, very real principle.

This box of memories is an unexpected and unwelcome wrinkle in the grieving process. It has stirred up a huge hornet's nest of emotion for which I was totally unprepared. One thing that I do know for sure is that the ultimate destination of these letters will be a bonfire outside in the charcoal grill, which will bring some welcome closure and relief. But I also know that I still have emotional ground to cover before the fire can be allowed to consume the memories.

For those who perhaps are wondering, this is a subject I didn't really talk about with my mother. I knew she was hurting and that eventually she came to regret the timeline of her actions. I never wanted to compound that hurt in any way while she was alive on this earth. From the ashes of her leaving our family in 1974 there eventually rose between us a very fine friendship and a very deep love. And now? Now she sees it all perfectly, in God's light. Eventually, I will, too. I'm content with that.

And so it goes.

- Catherine


Joyce said...

I think when we grieve we try to anticipate things that will send us into an emotional whirl and to prepare ourselves for the 'hit'....the things that come out of the blue, by surprise, in unexpected places and at unexpected times...they are especially hard.

I'm glad you found peace with your mother. Thinking of you today!

Catherine said...

Joyce, you are so right. I hadn't thought of it that way, but I really had been carefully anticipating all the eventualities of the grieving process -- trying to ease my way through it.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

That event had to cut deep and to take years of growth and understanding for the healing process. All i can figure about this life is that is that God gives the Grace i need for all these fresh starts. That you and your mom grew in love and understanding is just beautiful.

Prayers and hugs.

bensrib said...

Cath, Joyce has you pegged. You had your grieving process all mapped out and planned with precision. Unfortunately, God has a different plan. Go with His; it's always better. Still praying for you. K

Christy said...

Wow. You spoke about your mom with nothing but love and kindness - I would never have imagined she hurt you that way. I'm thankful you've been able to forgive her. But forgiveness doesn't wipe away the hurt. I'm praying God can ease that heartache for you today.