I rarely gave my mother, May, credit for having feelings. I spent a great many years being angry, furious, apathetic, argumentative and embarrassed by her. Finally, I realized I had a choice: Accept her for what she was and that she loved me the best she could or banish her from my life. I chose the former route, more or less.
I recently found a letter she wrote to me when I was in my thirties and wanted to share it with you because it revealed a mother I never knew, on one hand, and a mother I knew all too well, on the other. Regardless, I had an effect on her that I never knew I had. The words in orange are what I inserted today.
My dearest daughter,
I’m sitting here in the middle of the night trying to sort out my thoughts of how to start this letter. It seems quite ludicrous to me when you write, saying we can’t discuss anything rationally, since every time I try to I hear a strident voice saying: ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ and I’ll give you one guess who repeats that phrase more often then I care to mention. (one didn’t discuss anything with my mother, so I stopped trying.)
Firstly, let me tell you that no one is 100 percent right or wrong—so don’t go on thinking we always think you’re wrong or we are right. Nothing is all black or white. Let us say we all have made big boo boos in our lifetime but not one of them has to be irreversible. (my mother never admitted she ever erred.) It can only be corrected by love and understanding. Hate only brings misery and no good can come of it. (absolutely true!) You say we hate Douglas (my husband at the time)—when have we ever been anything but fair and loving to him in the past years—sure there were times he could be trying to us, just as I’m sure he may have found that we annoyed him. But you have to admit we’ve always been civil. (true) As parents, we don’t dwell on it forever. You can’t live in this world harping on every little annoyance (something you find very hard to do.) they weren’t ‘little’ annoyances to me at the time.
In all the past years have we every given you any advice on how to live? The only time we felt it was necessary to do this was when you decided to have nothing more to do with your sisters. If you think back who started it in the first place—do you consider what they did to you earth shattering? Did they do you such an injustice that nothing can make you change your hate for them? You have bad-mouthed them many times—but they never have said a mean thing about you. You can believe that or not. (my sisters’ actions seemed to be earth shattering at the time, because I was miserable; now I know how much my misery caused me to overreact).
I hope that you will teach your children that they are brothers and sisters, even when they will have angry words or deeds. If one doesn’t continually stir up the ashes the flame will soon die. (wow mom!)
Let me ask you, Gerilynn, when some day your children will be old enough to ask you if you have sisters, will you tell them the truth or will you lie, because if you tell them the truth, then you’ll have to tell them what they did to you that was so terrible that you can never see or hear from them again. Do you think your answer will be justifiable so that they will accept it? (my sisters are my best friends now, so I did not have to worry about this; if I remained mad, I probably would have found a way to justify my insanity.)
After 40 years of marriage and raising three children to adulthood, I find myself in a very stressful time. It hasn’t been easy this past year for your father and me (my dad had financial problems at the time), but with the help of our brothers and sisters we hope to make it better. We needed help and our own came to the fore.
How come you snap at your father every time he either puts on the TV or falls asleep? (I felt my dad didn’t care whether we were alive or dead and, unfortunately, I didn’t empathize with his problems because I thought he made his own bed). How come no one ever yells at you when you fall asleep every time you come here? (good point). Is it so awful to be understanding? I told you we’re not perfect and neither are you. If you were, you’d have all the virtues like forgiveness, love, understanding, patience, etc. (I didn’t have them, but neither did my mother.)
I could go on but it would be to no avail if this falls on deaf ears (or eyes.)
You should know that we love you and yours—even though it seems otherwise to you. Someone you choose to put friends before your family. Just tell me where will your friends of today be 20 years from now? Your family will still be your family, forever (mom was right on here.)
You do as you like with you life—but remember that you were conceived in (love), not in hate, and if you would only try to keep happy thoughts instead of rehashing everything you feel bad was done to you. (my mother wasn’t the psychological type. She took the South Pacific song, Happy Talk, to heart. It took me years to realize I wasn’t going to change her.)
If this letter displeases you, I’m sorry, but I felt since we can’t talk directly this was the only way I could express myself.
I choose not to remember all the hurts. (not entirely true, since she stopped talking to her sister in law years later, when she felt my aunt did her an injustice, and she stopped talking to one of her oldest friends when this friend did something she didn’t like.) We get over them if we’re adults. Only children pout, but not for long. They soon forget.