I am revisiting a story…a narrative.
It is the narrative of my mother’s death.
And while my most recent novel, Pink & White, focuses on father-daughter relationships, I also have a mother. Had a mother.
I say I’m revisiting the narrative because I believe the retelling of emotionally-potent events changes with time, maturity, and wisdom. I don’t claim to be mature nor wise, but I do know that time has passed. 24 years, to be exact. It was on this day, 24 years ago, that I got this call: Your mother is in a coma; you’d better come.
History is subjective, but it is based on understanding or lack thereof.
As a very young child, I may have looked at a redwood tree, pointed, and said, “Tree.”
As a school-aged child, I would have said, “Look, there’s a redwood tree.”
As a teen, I might have noticed that that part of the redwood tree’s bark was burned, and said, “Huh, that’s weird…the trunk of that redwood tree is burned.”
Post-college, my insights about a redwood tree could have gone something like this: “See that redwood tree? It has a trunk that is burnt. Notice that it sits in the middle of several other smaller redwoods. That’s because a damaged redwood sends out shoots to preserve itself.”
In all of these narratives I am speaking of a redwood tree. All of them are correct. All of them changed with time. The tree did not change; I changed.
And so, too, has my perception grown and changed about my mother’s life and death.
She died because she did not take care of herself.
She died because when she didn’t take care of herself, her emotional well-being also plummeted.
She died because when she was emotionally and physically not well, she took a lot of prescription drugs that had dire consequences.
My mother died from complications of addiction, unmanaged diabetes, lack of activity, mental health issues, and from giving up on life.
I was not close with my mother. Our relationship was tense and painful and complicated.
I am a mother; a mother who has made mistakes; a mother who had to face her own addictions, and find recovery; a mother who could’ve followed the trajectory of my mother’s life.
Father Tom Weston, a Jesuit priest who is well known in recovery circles, says that we who have left behind a life of drug and alcohol abuse are not recovered, but rather, we are recovering.
I am five years away from the age my mother was when she died, and that is chilling. It seems impossible.
I will visit her grave this week, and bring her tulips. Father Tom’s reflections about recovering from alcohol and drug abuse ring true, and I am applying that truth to my mother’s and my relationship. This week as I sit upon her tombstone, I might whisper something like this, “Hey, Mom…I’m forgiving you.”