My mother was the bane of my existence. She nagged, criticized and sometimes humiliated me. In her eyes, I could do no right, whether it was the way I dressed, the men I dated or the way I breathed; as far as she was concerned, I continued to be a huge disappointment. Or at least this is what I grew up believing.
My mom could push my buttons faster than any other human on earth, though, in all honesty, I returned the favor with exquisite accuracy. To say our relationship was tumultuous was to compare a desk fan to a hurricane. Then, one day, she was gone.
There are some calls which are so horrible, so life changing, so catastrophic that nobody dares even imagine them, so when those calls come, they are all the more horrific for our refusal to believe, to imagine they could be possible. The tear filled, barely comprehensible call from my father saying my mother had committed suicide was one of those calls. Even today, more than twenty years later, just the thought of it brings back images I’d thought were long buried.
For the first five years, I buried myself simply in the job of living; of raising my daughters, finalizing my divorce, making a living and dancing with my friends to bury the pain, the disbelief as deeply as possible.
But all good things must come to an end, and the dam I’d built began showing stress fractures, just small ones at first, until the day that my carefully built walls started crumbling, one by one, until there was nothing left but a raw, unprotected heart. Even worse, there was nowhere I could run, nowhere I could hide.
My daughters saw, to their surprise, that beneath the strong, invincible woman they knew as their mother, there was a frightened little girl quivering like a jello mold. My friends lost the happy-go-lucky, good time girl in the space of an instant.
Instead of being where the story ends, this is actually where it begins. This is where demolition leads to reconstruction, where the Phoenix rises from the ashes, stronger, wiser and better able to cope with the curve balls life likes to toss at us when we are at our most complacent.
For it was by breaking into a million little pieces that I finally began the uphill climb which led me, not only to understand the choice my mother made, but to realize that the things I had seen in so harsh a light were her efforts to show love in the only way she knew. Only by shattering everything I knew and trusted, could I begin the journey towards kindness, compassion and a more complete Human. As Garth Brooks’ The Dance plays in the background, I’m drawn even further back into that time of destruction and rebirth. and I truly wouldn’t have missed the dance even had I known the pain which would follow. The legacy my mom left to me and my daughters was worth the pain of unwittingly watching her self-destruct, though we didn’t even recognize it at the time.
It is through looking back, through understanding what came before, even just a little, that I see now what I couldn’t then.
Mom spent most of my life, kicking my ass in one way or another, but her final hurrah, her suicide, her grand exit were the biggest ass kicking of all because it forced me to accept her for what she was, but not only that, to accept myself, to value the woman I had become, warts and all. It gave me the chance I hadn’t given myself, to finally step into my potential.
Over the next few years, I learned that we both had a purpose. She, even in death, fulfilled hers, but I still needed to fulfill mine. Part of that was to finish raising my daughters, but when they were grown and living their own lives, my true purpose was really in its infancy.
It has been said that until you love yourself, you can’t really expect others to love you, but I’ve learned that there’s even more to it. It takes truly loving yourself for you to be able to truly love someone else.
Yet, even the best things in life come at a cost. As I was learning to love myself and to appreciate everything life had to offer, to see lessons in challenges and possibilities in failures, my relationship with my father began to deteriorate until it was difficult to even spend time with him. It seemed he became more and more embittered, always complaining, never really happy, whether it was his living situation, relationships, friends…everything which had once given him pleasure also brought him pain and aggravation. Or had it always been that way and had I simply failed to notice because I, too, found comfort and familiarity in complaining?
I never got the chance to find out because a couple of months shy of the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death, a combination of unhappiness and pain led my dad, with the aid of a twenty-two pistol, to write himself out of the script too.
Though this post is meant to be part one of a three part serial, I find that my habit of gratitude cannot be ignored, even for the posts which, for the month of April, will be prompted and fulfill a purpose of sorts.
1. I am grateful for opportunities to use my words in different ways.
2. I am grateful for an attitude of gratitude which I’ve developed and which, by now, is as natural as breathing.
3. I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned through challenges, failures and a refusal to ever truly give up.
4. I am grateful for inspiration from friends, colleagues, mentors, industry experts, my daughter…in short from whatever source it might arise.
5. I am grateful for abundance; inspiration, motivation, life, love, joy, support, prosperity, dreams, evolution, surprises.
And now for some shameless self-promotion:
I’d love it if you’d visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SheriLevensteinConawayAuthor?ref=aymt_homepage_panel and my website, www.shericonaway.com. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!