5th May 2014
It’s been three years today since Mum passed away and the waves of grief have adapted over the years. The first year was incredibly difficult. I think I cried nearly every Thursday on the way to work, because she died on a Thursday. The second year I experienced a lot of change in my personal life and felt very lonely. The third year has been this odd mixture of aching over some of the things she is missing–like watching me fall in love–and desiring to be Mum’s legacy in this world. So I have been pondering the question: would my mum be proud of me?
I once asked her that question when I was about thirteen, because truthfully, I wasn’t sure. I said it in the car on the way home from a school concert where I had just sung and played on piano, a song I had written. I really needed to hear it that day. I nearly cried when she said yes–it was a relief. I wanted to feel her pride.
Now that I am in my thirties, I no longer need the approval or pride of my parents, but it is still nice to have. I sat my dad down a couple of years ago and asked him if he would forgive me if I had sex before I was married. I wasn’t asking for his permission or approval, I was actually daring myself to be honest with him about where I was at: that I was lonely and tired of being single and living a celibate life. But when he said yes (he would forgive me) it was liberating for me. It actually gave me the grace–the freedom–to choose NOT to have sex at that point in time.
I also told my Dad when I became a universalist. He doesn’t have the same belief system and we disagree on our interpretation of the Bible, but he doesn’t love me any less or have a problem with me, as far as I am aware. If he did have a problem with me, or does in the future, it would be his problem and it wouldn’t be for lack of my being honest with him about who I am and what I believe. I would never stop loving him or pursuing a relationship with him, but any disapproval would not change my beliefs.
So I have thought about what it would be like if Mum were here and she knew that I was a universalist–if she read my facebook statuses and saw my determination to write books and verbalise what I believe. My mum read my novel “Victori Song” before it was published and she compared it to a series we had both recently read, and told me she thought my writing was more interesting! That was high praise coming from my mother to me. If you knew my mum the way I did, you would know that she tended to be more of an under-exaggerator than an over-exaggerator. This wasn’t a biased encouragement, she was being genuine.
If she were still alive and had the exact same personality right now, it is possible she would be uncomfortable with my boldness. I think that she would worry about me–about how criticism was going to hurt me and how that might reflect on her and our whole family may be hurt. I think there would be times she would think I was going too far, and times when she would scold my name “Elissa!” for discussing topics like sexuality on facebook.
But here’s the funny thing. Because my mother has passed away, and is now in a state of wholeness, love and eternal bliss–all of that worry and concern over my brazenness, and all of that habitual religious-shame around human sexuality–is gone. When I picture my mum in the afterlife, she is more proud of me now than she ever would or could have been as a fallible human mother.
In fact, the memory of my mum is what so often spurs me on. Because I know she would have been afraid to say the things that I say. She was concerned about people’s judgements of her and of me. She backed down from a lot of conflict. And I feel her reminding me that I am going to do bigger and better things than she did.
She changed a lot toward the end of her life. She learned about the grace of God and she started to live it out, share it with her friends, and accept God’s approval over and above the approval or disapproval of people. She grew in bravery and boldness. And her memory encourages me every day to do the same.
“Don’t be afraid Elissa. Don’t be like me. Let go of the approval of others. Fight for what you believe in. Stand up and open your mouth. I’m so proud of you for continuing something I was only able to dip my feet into. You’re going to swim the wide ocean of it. You are my legacy.”
Someone indicated to me recently that I may have been speaking ill of the dead–like it’s rude of me to admit that my mum wasn’t perfect and we didn’t have a perfect relationship. I’m not trying to taint anyone else’s perception of my mother, but I can only speak from my own experience of her. The reason I want to share my perception of her, is to help other people accept their own imperfect mothers.
My mum was a good mum. She cooked, she cleaned, she provided for us and met our needs, she invested in music lessons and a good education. But there were times in my childhood that I wasn’t convinced my mum was proud of me. My family didn’t get into the habit of saying “I love you” on a regular basis until I was a teenager. Now we say it all the time, but we had to learn to say it. I also could have benefited from more hugs than I felt I received in my younger years. That’s some of my tainted perspective of my family and particularly my mum. But I accept and forgive all of this. I have no problem talking about it, and no hard feelings toward my parents. My perspective is just that: it’s my perspective. I give myself permission to be honest about my experiences and perspectives.
No one knows my mother the way that I do. No one got to see and experience her the way that I did. And I was blessed to be one of the closest people in her life when she died. Only my dad was arguably closer. He and I took shifts looking after her. He was the one who got up in the middle of the night–every night–to boil milk for her to drink. He took her to the appointments she asked him to be at. He washed all of her clothes, sheets, towels and took over more household chores.
But I was there too. I was living with Mum and Dad from the time she was diagnosed until the day she died. I was fortunate enough to only work casual hours and was able to spend a lot of time at home with her. I had a baby monitor in my room so that she could call out to me. I cooked her food, I shopped for her groceries, I did the never-ending dishes. I drove her to the vast majority of her appointments. I sat with her through chemotherapy, Vitamin C injections, in waiting rooms and hospital rooms. I massaged her feet with essential oils, at least as many times as a mother rubs oil on nappy rash for her multiple children. I made freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices regularly for years.
I experienced role reversal and became my mother’s mum. I gave back to her the parenting she had given to me, just as imperfectly. I was resentful, I was tired, I was grieving, I was stressed…but I did it anyway, like she did before me. No one was there when my mum admitted to me that she didn’t think she had hugged me enough as a child, and she said she was sorry–that was an amazing moment. And I was one of very few who witnessed her crying about her life, her past regrets and resentments. I was able to observe, firsthand, how she blossomed through listening to Joseph Prince sermons on television. I heard her speak of the grace of God in a new way and experience a new level of freedom.
I held her hand two days before she died when she was in agony because her morphine drip was leaking. And all I could say–through my distraught tears–was that I was sorry it hurt and that the nurse was on her way to our house…I’ll never forget that.
Maybe some of you think that my mum wouldn’t be proud of who I am today. But I feel confident that her resurrected self is for me and not against me. When I speak, I speak on her behalf–things she might have said if she’d lived long enough to come to the same conclusions as I have. And things she never said because she was too scared. The memory of her fear inspires me. I am determined to be stronger than she was. I will overcome some of the things that she wasn’t able to. I will advance and take hold of the things she started toward–like any good daughter would.
Thank you, Mum, for being exactly who you were. I am exactly who I am in light of who I perceived you to be. I will do even greater things than you did, just as Jesus says that those who come after him will do much more. You were perfectly imperfect and I love you.