This essay was published in Spirituality & Health magazine (titled Mother’s Day Reflection)and won an award in the memoirs category of the 76th annual Writer’s Digest contest.
My mother and I have been engaged in an awkward dance of reconnecting. We use email because it feels safe. I have time to choose my words carefully. Besides, I think that my mother is not ready to hear the sound of my voice again.
She and my father had an ugly divorce when I was five, and my father gained custody of me. A year later my father remarried and my visits with my mother stopped. I remember sneaking down to the basement when I was very young to look at the one picture with my mother in it. The others had been discarded, but my father missed this one and I was grateful. It proved to me that she was still real.
Years later I have processed so many feelings, including the anger I had at her abandoning me. I am ready to embrace my mother and become vulnerable enough to give her the chance to love me again. Or love me still, whichever it is. I think this reunion will be tremendously healing for both of us. I tell her this.
But then I don’t hear from her for a long while. I’m confused. I think I’m offering her the gift of a lifetime and I don’t know why she doesn’t respond. My heart is open and I have forgiven her. Why doesn’t she accept this second chance?
After several months I grow frustrated and angry. In one message she tells me of the terrible hole in her heart since she left my life. In the next message she ignores my offer to visit. I want to shout, “It’s me! Remember that little girl you left behind? The one who looks just like you? I survived and I haven’t forgotten you! Don’t you want me back?” But I sense that I have to be gentle.
Then one day I experience the incredible gift of clarity. It is difficult to explain the depth of knowing that came to me. I suddenly feel I understand why my mother cannot have a relationship with me again. Every time she even thinks of me she is reminded of that dark place inside herself that is so full of guilt and despair. She is fragile and does not have the tools or the strength to deal with her overwhelming emotions. She has spent years trying to keep this wound covered through various escapes. My presence in her life threatens to take away her veil of denial.
I often wondered how a mother could abandon her five-year-old child and go on. Now I believe that she can’t. She can’t do it and survive emotionally. My mother is not all right. She is consumed by guilt and my forgiveness will never be enough. She cannot forgive herself.
My heart aches with grief and I cry for myself and for my mother. I thank God I am strong in spirit and I know what I need to do. I send my mother one last email. I tell her I understand now why she doesn’t let me back into her life. I know that she would if she could. I tell her it is okay and I am strong and I will go on. I tell her I will always love her anyway.