Over the past week or so I have been traveling on behalf of a school for the Deaf for which I advocate in Kenya (www.kenyadevfund.org – please check it out). I have been in Florida where I have made some fantastic new friends and renewed some old ones. I’ve been “couch surfing” which is a little out of my normal behaviors but it has saved me from spending a lot of money and given me the opportunity to spend some time with some people who have really been important figures in my life.
One of the most precious parts of my trip has been spending some time with my Uncle Jim, my mother’s only living sibling. Growing up, I hardly knew my uncle since my mom and I lived a pretty transient life during my early years, moving from place to place – usually when the rent came due. I never attended the same school for an entire year until the ninth grade when I simply refused to move anymore and forced my mom to settle down in one place.
In the past year, I have had two opportunities to spend some time with my uncle because he and his wife have graciously allowed me to “surf” at their house while traveling. It has given me the opportunity to get to know this gentle old man in a way that I never had the opportunity to, and to learn some facts about my mom’s life as a young girl and teen ager of which I had never been aware of.
We little realize how events that occur even before we are born shape our own lives. The death of my maternal grandmother at the age of 32 (my mom would have been 7 at the time) and the brokenness of my grandfather profoundly affected my mother’s life. She was wounded and emotionally scarred in ways that few of us can imagine. That scaring caused her to make very poor decisions through much of her life and that, in turn, profoundly affected our relationship and my life as a boy growing up.
I don’t think I learned to truly love my mother and to emotionally bond with her until I was grown and had children of my own and she came to live near us. I cared for her in old age out of a sense of duty, knowing that Biblically it was my responsibility. As I cared for her during a long period of declining health and we had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together I came to understand the incredible load of guilt she had lived under for her entire life, and the sense of inadequacy she bore because of her “failures” as a mother. I came to understand that due to no fault of her own she was incapable of being the kind of mother she so longed to be, and because of her profound guilt incapable of truly experiencing love. Her greatest joy in life were my own children to whom she was able to be “Nana” in a way she could never be “Mom” to me. Even after becoming a Christ Follower, my Mom lived in a perpetual state of grief and sadness because of her perceived failure to me.
I was able to bond with my mother emotionally very late in her life and I grieve that her life of abuse at the hands of her own father robbed us of so much. As I have sat for long hours and talked with my dear uncle I have come to understand what an incredibly strong woman my mom was. She had always appeared to be so flawed; so weak and needy. I understand now that she had been terribly damaged by life, so incredibly broken by the things she suffered. I only now understand that she carried a weight that I could not imagine; that she faithfully bore up under that weight for my sake. She was not weak, but unimaginably strong to endure what she did.
As a child I perceived my mom as weak and flawed. As a man, I realize that she was being crushed by a terrible weight which made her appear to be so much less than she was. There may be some who see their parents in their weaknesses and flaws and don’t understand the scars that life has left upon them. The grinding poverty in which my Mom and her siblings lived in was profound and the mental and physical abuse my mother suffered at the hands of her tortured father robbed not only her of happiness, but me as well. I encourage all to take the time to understand not just what your parents are – but why. My Mom died over a year and a half ago. I so appreciate my uncle Jim for helping me to understand who my Mom really was.