My mom died fifteen years ago at age ninety. A strong woman, she was clear minded up to the end. The day before she died, I was lying on the floor at her bedside. She had stopped taking her insulin and was in a coma. I began to meditate and prayed mumbling under my breath, “It’s okay to let go mom, you can go now.” Soon, my mind quieted and I saw the image of an old woman approaching. I recognized the figure from the photograph hanging in my mom’s bedroom. It was her mother, Ethel, beckoning her to join her, as if she were waiting to guide her daughter onto the other side.
These days when I try to capture those precious memories of being with my mother, they are like distant black and white images that faded over time. There is the early picture of me probably age one-and-a-half crawling on all fours, wading in the warm Atlantic surf. I know that my father took the picture, but it occurred to me, Where was my mother? I was alone, my face scrunched up looking into the glaring sun.
From an adult vantage point looking back on the scene, I see genuine confusion on the face of this small child. That’s me, adrift and alone at such a vulnerable time in my young life. Where was my mother? I imagine my mother sitting on the shore, toes dipped in the sand, looking off in the distance, as if buried in her thoughts a million miles away. Perhaps she was thinking of another time, without children, when she moved with purpose, having graduated at the top of her law school class in 1941 at age twenty-seven. She was a woman ahead of her time, a displaced housewife in the 1950’s who sought meaning at a time when women were relegated to cleaning and cooking and caring for young children.
The truth is I don’t know what my mother was thinking, or how she was feeling, I simply know that she was far away in a place where I could not reach her. I always yearned for her affection, her warm touch, a hug or a kiss, but sadly, never experienced that feeling of closeness with her. Only when I was a mature woman in the last five years of her life, did we become close, but I still carried the wounds of those early years.
I discovered it is possible to find healing even in mid-life. I was fifty-four when I traveled to halfway around the world to Thailand, where I met a Thai Buddhist nun who loved me unconditionally in a way my mother never could. Who was it that said, when the time is right the teacher will appear? My Buddhist teacher, Venerable Dhammananda Bhikkhuni appeared when I was ready.
That’s how I found the mother love I had been searching for all my life through the nurturing acceptance of my Buddhist teacher. She reparented me because she became like the mother I never had. She listened to me patiently and earnestly when I spoke. She reassured me when tears rolled down my cheeks, and took my hand when I was filled with doubt or regret.
Even when our own mothers aren’t able to be there for us, whether living or not, it’s possible to heal our connection through the love and support of another woman.
You can read all about my healing journey in my memoir, Finding Venerable Mother: A Daughter’s Spiritual Quest to Thailand.
Please feel free to respond to the question below.
Has there been an extraordinary person in your life who loved you in a way that your own mother couldn’t?
I welcome your comments.