Honoring My Mother’s Journey: Next Time

As I sit here listening to my twelve-year-old daughter and her tweenage friends splash about in our pool, after a night filled with water balloon battles in the front yard of our quiet little cul-de-sac home and off-key singing of “Happy Birthday” while tiny purple candles dripped wax onto the cookie cake decorated with a giant basketball and birthday wishes, I smile in the knowledge that this kiddo’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has been little to none. A far cry from my own childhood.

I will be visiting with my mom in a few hours, a trip to the grocery store and vacuuming her apartment are on my daughterly duty list today. I thank God I still have her here with me. Even through the torment of growing up the child of an alcoholic – a mostly distant and sometimes violent consumer of booze and pills – I loved my mom. I longed for her to teach me how to play those card games she’d laugh over for hours on end with friends, or help me with advice about the bullying I was experiencing at the hands of a fellow Catholic school girl, or even just listen when I’d excitedly approach her about my science fair project. Instead, I was told how disappointed she was in me for the 93% grade (still an A, mind you!). “A ninety-three?” she slurred. “God gave you the gift of a brilliant mind. You’re wasting it. Why didn’t you get a hundred?” As I turned to make my way back to my sanctuary of a bedroom, shoulders slumped a little more than usual, my soul held onto hope . . . next time she’ll be happy with you, Teri. 

I kept trying. Continuing to hold on to hope. Continuing to remind myself . . . next time.

And here we are, ages 82 and 52, my mother and me. We’ve reached a place of acceptance, both in our own ways. I accept my mother’s addiction, having learned to put healthy boundaries in place in order to protect my heart and soul. Her new hearing aids allow her to listen a little more than she did in my childhood years.

Last week, I excitedly told her about my new website, www.teriwellbrock.com, and all of my grandiose plans for helping others traverse their healing journeys. I grabbed her by the hand, dragging her in a toddler-esque fashion toward her front door, convincing her with each shuffled step, “Mom, come on! Let me show you!”

We stepped into the game room of the retirement village where she lives, two antiquated computers sat at desks along the far left wall and three antiquated little ladies sat at the round card table in the middle of the bright room, each a puzzle piece gripped between arthritic fingers and thumbs. They smiled in our direction as my mom announced, “My daughter, Teri, is showing me her new web-thing.” I laughed. They nodded in understanding so I left it uncorrected.

I sat her in the stationary chair next to my swivel seat, while my fingers typed away the web address in anticipatory glee.

Ta-da!

“Here it is, Mom. My new website. It has my book summary, podcasts, videos about my speaking engagements, meditations, Sammie Doodle therapy dog info, all kinds of cool stuff!”

“That’s nice. Hey, Margaret, I made vegetable soup. If you stop down I’ll give you a container of it.”

Ah.

Next time, Teri.

As I tucked her into her faded forest green chair, held together on the right arm rest by neon green duct tape, I kissed her on her forehead and reminded her, “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, TT. Don’t forget my doctor’s appointment is at noon on Wednesday.”

“I got it, Mom. I’ll be here.”

Maybe on Wednesday at noon, Teri. You know . . . next time.

However, as I drove off, I reminded myself of insights I read recently in the book, “Change Your Thoughts-Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao” by Dr. Wayne Dyer. In his translation of the 41st verse of the Tao Te Ching he stated, “Apply this same insight to the times you feel unloved: When you see what appears to be indifference, know in your heart that love is present. Allow it to work its magic in your life.” Then in the 49th verse, “I see myself in this person, and I choose to be in a space of goodness rather than judgment. I honor the place in you where we are all one.” And I took pause.

My mother’s spirit cheers for me even when her ego-based actions cannot allow her praise to surface.

I called her this afternoon, this 2018 Mother’s Day, asking what time she wanted me to head to her place for our grocery shopping endeavor. “Oh, you don’t need to come today, TT. Just enjoy your Mother’s Day. You deserve a day off. We can celebrate tomorrow instead.”

“Mom, it’s not a problem. Plus, I’d like to see you.”

“No. I’m tired. I think I’ll just go to bed.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

As I was about to say good-bye, she interrupted my thought . . . “Teri? Thank you. For everything you do for me. I’m so proud of you. I told all of my friends about your book and handed out all of your business cards. Will you bring me more?”

“Yes! Next time I see you. Thank you. I love you, Mom.”

Short Story: Final Moments

 

“Dad, can I get you anything?” I asked, as he struggled with the flat, lifeless pillow beneath his shoulder blades.

“I would love a Whopper, Jr.,” he breathed. Pausing to catch his breath again, sucking the oxygen from the plastic life lines crookedly falling from his nostrils, he turned his sunken blue eyes to mine. “And I would like to watch . . .” again he rested his thoughts in order to draw in more air . . . “Christmas Vacation”.

His once strong hands, now thinned and shaky, slowly lifted to the nasal tubes, attempting to arrange the hissing air hoses more securely. The tubes fell away, askew once more, as his arms collapsed back at his sides. “Let me help you, Dad,” I said, as I leaned over the bed rail, trying not to tangle myself in the snake nest of monitor wires. I slid the nozzles into his nose and ran my fingers around both sides of his face, the bristle from his normally close-shaved skin pricking at my fingertips, pulling the tubes tighter until my hands met behind his head. I fastened them in place, then pulled that useless cardboard pillow from behind his back and guided his head gently back onto its stiffness.

“Boys, run to Burger King and get Papa a Whopper, Jr. and a Coke,” I said to John and Jake, as I fumbled through my purse. Having found a twenty and my keys, I handed them over to John, now 16, and gave him a feeble grin as our eyes met. I engulfed my baby boy in a hug, having caught the heartache in his eyes, as I urged him to run home, too, and find the DVD Papa wanted to watch.

As the boys shuffled out of the room, I turned back to Dad. His eyes were closed as I studied the man lying before me. He had aged so much in the twenty-nine days since his low-blood-sugar-induced fall into the kitchen table. I absorbed every detail, wanting to remember each crazy grey eyebrow hair; the wrinkled collection of pale skin gathering beneath his chin; his frail six foot six body, sinking closer to the ground with each gulp of air; and his hands . . . ah, those hands . . . enormous, creative and strong no more.

I grabbed ahold of Dad’s hand, sliding my palm beneath his chilled fingers. My thumb caressed his pinky and he gently squeezed my hand, saying “thanks” with the short-lived grasp. His eyes remained closed as mine released their anguish.

The boys returned with their Papa’s wishes as I was wiping the final remnants of sorrow from my cheeks. He must have smelled the burger in his dream, his eyes fluttering back to consciousness, as they pushed open the heavy oak door. Jake found a seat on the mauve sofa near the window. He was quiet, as usual, lost and unsure, a boy in a man’s body. With death lurking and unwanted, he had no clue how to save his Papa (and himself) from its inevitable arrival.

John took my spot as I wandered over to join Jake in staring blankly out the window. After a few bites, Dad raised his shrinking hand, shakily waving off John’s gesture to feed him another mouthful of bliss. Death danced merrily back into the room, our smiles faded, as Papa dissolved, smaller still, onto the rigid bed.

After sending the boys home, quiet gasps of snores escaped from Dad’s slouched mouth, as I half-heartedly lost myself in the movie he had asked to watch. Normally, quoting nearly every line, I would have been snorting with fits of laughter. It didn’t seem right to be cackling, even if it had tried to escape my bereaved body.

“This is my favorite line in the movie,” he muttered, startling me from my trance.

 Holy cow! How did he suddenly wake up from an unconscious state for his favorite part of the movie? I mused, half alarmed and half seriously impressed, as Dad began quoting movie lines. I looked at my Dad, laughter brightening his dimming eyes, a smile breaking through, his pale skin radiating a moment of elation and I joined him . . . I set the laughter free. Death stood frozen in the corner of the room, wanting to partake in the merriment but duty would not allow it. So it watched; studying, waiting.

Dad giggled off and on throughout the rest of the movie. My hand and his intertwined in a moment of harmony. A squeeze here. A kiss on the knuckles there. A final farewell in the touching of a hand . . . a hand that had held a tiny bundle of joy on the steps of Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati in March of 1966 as Mom climbed into the red Volkswagen beetle, a hand that had pushed my pink bike with the flowered banana seat as I learned to ride without my training wheels on the Mt. Washington Elementary School playground, a hand that hovered too close to the steering wheel as I pulled out onto Mears Avenue for the first time in Dad’s new silver 1982 Plymouth Horizon, a hand that twirled me around the dance floor in the undercroft of Guardian Angels Church to Al Martino’s “Daddy’s Little Girl”, a hand that gently enveloped my baby boys as he gazed at them in awe, a hand I knew would always be there to hold if ever I needed it.

Death, who had been impatiently hovering, had taken over holding his hand when I made my way from the room. When I arrived back in that chilled room a few hours later, his hand was icy still. The hiss of the tubes silenced. The laughter faded. As I placed a kiss upon his cool forehead, my hot tears cascading onto him, I felt the warmth of his hand upon my shoulder. The spirit of his enormous, creative, strong hand.

Stop Thinking, Just Love

Facebook post from January 20, 2017:

I know this sounds dramatic, but this is the truest statement I have ever shared: yesterday forever changed my life. I cannot go into great detail as I would violate the trust of several others. However, I do want to share my experience with a semi-synopsis.

I discovered yesterday that prayer and love combined are the most powerful force in the universe. If we pray for those who have hurt our hearts and souls and do so with an abundance of love in our hearts, miracles can happen. Miracles will happen. Without a doubt.

We are surrounded by angels and guides and God’s light. I know this without reservation now. I have prayed my entire life, but it wasn’t until these past few months that I prayed with so much passion and from a place of utter desperation (not for myself but for another), that I finally understood the connection.

My heart and soul have been freed via a profound and beautiful experience. Perhaps some day I can share the details. Maybe in a future book.

A beautiful friend was once sitting in a dark church all alone, praying, when my deceased father gave her a message for me. I know I’ve shared this message before, but it begs repeating:

“Stop thinking. Just love.”

I get it now, Dad. Thank you