The piece below was written several years ago. This month marks the 22nd anniversary of my mother’s death. I still miss her….
I listened to the answering machine for the third time. She’d asked me to call if I ever had time, leaving her first and last name and telephone number. First and last name, for crying out loud! She knew what buttons to push. We both did. Well, this time I wouldn’t fall for the guilt button. I would call her back, but not today. I’d give her a day or two to learn she could no longer shame me into trying to please her. When I returned her call we had one of those stiff, passive aggressive conversations. We had too many of those. I would do or say something disappointing, and she would do or say something annoying. The problem wasn’t a lack of love for one another. The problem was I was hitting my stride in life just as she was losing her balance. It was time for me to pull away and claim my independence; stake my claim as a grown woman. I’d show her! And, I guess I did. This time when we said good-by I didn’t tell her I loved her. I always say I love you when I get off the phone. But not this day. Come to think of it, she didn’t either. We just said good-by.
I didn’t call again. I knew I needed to, but I kept putting it off. Then the call came to me ten days later on a Sunday evening. She had collapsed in the den from a stroke. She was in a coma and it didn’t look good. We’d better hurry. Nothing made sense to me as we packed the car and began the journey from San Antonio to Houston. As I looked out the window into the dark night I tried to make sense of my feelings and get a grip on the present reality. I fought hard to remember the source of my anger toward her. What had she done so wrong? What was it exactly she had said that had irritated me? What was so urgent about claiming my independence? I couldn’t think it through. At the moment I was sure of nothing except a terrifying sense of loss and a deep yearning to once more be the child, safe in her arms, proclaiming my love and adoration. I needed to hear she loved me too. There were many times in the next thirteen days when I told her I loved her. I’m hopeful on some level she heard me in those days before she quietly died, surrounded by those whom she loved.
After my mother’s death I struggled with the lesson of regret I learned from neglecting a crucial opportunity to speak words of love into the heart of the one who had given me life. I learned the lesson of regret that comes from being a broken human being in a broken human relationship in the midst of a broken world. Weeks later I received the gift of a dream I believe came from God. In this dream my mother appeared to me, beautiful and whole, and she told me she knew, she’d always known, I loved her. My regret was soothed by her words of forgiveness, but even more significant than her words was the tangible comfort of her embrace. I can still feel her arms surrounding me in love as she cradled me to her breast. Grace flowed through her touch.
Lessons of regret are lessons we bring upon ourselves, hard lessons learned and even harder to forget. Lessons of grace are hard to learn, maybe even harder to receive, but lessons of grace are not of our own doing. They come to us as a gift in the form of a prayer, a word of forgiveness, a touch, the bread and cup shared in community, or even a dream. Lessons of grace are lessons that reach deep into our brokenness, beyond the words we speak, and the words we’ve left unsaid.
Something to chew on….