emancipation – a son’s reflection on his mother’s death

There are some things, discerned through my experience as a pastor, for years having paid attention to what people have told me about themselves, and as a person, for longer paying attention to what I’ve told myself about me, I’ve come to believe are true.

There are no perfect parents. (“Perfect” meaning to intuit and respond to every desire and need of children always in ways most fitting for individual development and fulfillment.)

There are no perfect children. (“Perfect” meaning to receive what is offered, both praise and discipline, with the openness of understanding, the obedience of acceptance.)

There are no children who arrive at adulthood (though, yes, one hopes, bearing many gifts and graces bestowed during formative years) without “holes in the soul” – those valleys of unfilled desire and need, things one wishes to have received, but were not, which, paradoxically, sometimes can appear as hills, mountains of things one did receive that one wishes not to have been given. All of which means that children as adults need come to terms with themselves – the fruits and failings, the lights and shadows of others, and how it all manifests itself in their being and living.

I am reminded of words of the song, You Are Not Alone, from Stephen Sondheim’s imaginative musical, Into the Woods, based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales:

People make mistakes,
Fathers,
Mothers.
People make mistakes…
Everybody makes one another’s terrible mistakes…
You decide what’s right.
You decide what’s good.

All of this comes to mind and heart two days after the death of my blessed mother Lolita. In my blog post, my Momma: a portrait of a lady – a personal reflection on the occasion of her death, I spoke of her as “soft-spoken and self-effacing…(with a) penchant for diffidence.” The blessing of my mother’s reticence was her genuine care for others. Truly, she was a practitioner of the adage that unless you can say something kind, please refrain from speaking. However, the blight of her quietude, being conflict-averse, was that she did not intervene to protect my brother and me from our father’s angry, at times, alcohol-fueled outbursts. O’er the years, I have come to understand my father’s melancholia and outrage rooted in his lack of vocational, indeed, life’s opportunities as an African American man of Cuban heritage born in 20th century’s first decade. Still, his manner of addressing his inner anguish left severe scars on my psyche, deepened by what I considered to be my mother’s silent collusion.

For much of my life, I have held in conscious awareness my bitterness about my upbringing and its sour fruit – my mistrust and, at times, my aversion to closeness with others. I also have labored long to overcome my angst, which has involved the discovery (and rediscoveries) that I cannot fill the holes in my soul with more work, more good deeds, more glasses of wine, more plates of food, or any other excesses indulged in the vain attempts to anesthetize my inner pain. I have learned to be wide-eyed, open-hearted, open-handed, that is to say, honest with myself so to confess: With help and, yes, hurt along the way, I, without blaming others, claim that I am who I am and will become who I will be.

Still, at the moment of my mother’s dying, I experienced emancipation. At her bedside, without conscious thought, I began to recite the prayers At Time of Death of my Episcopal Church tradition, sometimes referred to as Last Rites, which end:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, I commend your servant Lolita. Acknowledge, I humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

Praying for her soul to be received, I had to let her go, which included forsaking all resentment. In that instant, forgiving her of everything, I sensed liberation from all past pain. The memory of my bitterness remains, but its sting, even a tingling ache is no more.

How can this be? I’m not sure. I must reflect at length and at depth. Will it last? I don’t know. I will discern as I go. What I, right now, do know is that I feel…I am free.

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4 thoughts on “emancipation – a son’s reflection on his mother’s death

  1. WOW, ….. THIS blog got my attention big time! Emancipation – how fitting a word on MLK’s birthday. As you know, my Mom is alive, all except for her mind that is. I too had to “let go of the mom I knew” and forgive her for one of the most hurtful secrets of my life. At that moment, I felt like it was a new day for us, my mom and I – and much like you described – I’m more open-hearted and open-handed now. So now, very unlike mom and daughter, we work our way through meaningless conversations that are built on love. My mom’s mind is you could say “dead” but her smile, and wit have been preserved for who knows how much longer. But for me, from the moment almost 8 years ago when I experienced the type of emancipation you described, we started our lives over. I find that I love my mom more but I can’t really explain why. Your blog helped me to know that maybe it’s because I finally let my old mom go and embraced the new AND I let go of ALL of the hurt from the family secret. My mom is in the same body – but without a doubt is definitely a different person. I hadn’t read the words of Last Rites in years, but it has brought me great comfort – both for myself, and for you in the loss of your mom and your amazing emancipation. Thank you as always for your words – may they continue to bring you peace.

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  2. Paul, I have tears in my eyes reading this. My parents were very broken people who left their children with a great deal of their own brokenness. My mother died when I was 23. My mother, like yours, was complicit through her silence. It took me many years to deal with and let go of my anger toward her. My father died in 1995. We were estranged and I found his military grave marker while searching for someone else’s in 1999. By that time, I had worked through many of my hurts. The funny thing is, when I knew my father was dead, I was able to forgive him. In the years since, I find myself continuing to forgive them both: sometimes in little spurts and snippets, sometimes in great floods of love. As I have claimed the fact that I am who I am, I have also been given the grace to know that they were also who they were and that they became what they would be.

    And so I’ve been able to let go. Not all at once, and not of everything, but as I am able, by God’s grace.

    May God continue to bless you with grace.

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  3. Sandy, you have preached the gospel of redemption to me AND I receive with gratitude your gracious word! I will hold and harbor in my heart your words, “I find myself continuing to forgive them both: sometimes in little spurts and snippets, sometimes in great floods of love…so I’ve been able to let go. Not all at once, and not of everything, but as I am able, by God’s grace.” AND I accept your blessing to me of grace! Love

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