I seem to have a fondness for music videos this week. I was listening to one my playlists on Spotify and one of my favorite Skillet songs came on – Hero.
I got thinking about who my heroes are. And I realized that one of my heroes is my mother. You've all seen me talk about the abuse I suffered at her hands for a good portion of my life. So I know it seems odd that I'd think of her as a hero.
After I went to Washington to get into Job Corps, my mom began to realize something was wrong. I know her well enough to know she probably started out reading about being an adult child of abusive parents. My grandparents abused her and her siblings as well, so that's part of where it came from. She probably also started studying mental illnesses. This led to her talking to someone and finally getting the diagnosis of bipolar.
My mother hated drugs. She wouldn't even take Tylenol or Advil if she could get away with it. She would take Tums but that was it. Now she was being told she had to be on a regimen of medicine for the rest of her life. My dad told me after she died that she struggled with the thought but finally went with it. That changed her personality within just a few months as the medications took hold and stabilized her.
I first noticed it in 1999, when I took Himself home with me for Christmas to introduce my family to my boyfriend. My mother was happy. She was welcoming. There were none of the scathing remarks, verbal abuse, or physical threats that I'd expected. It wasn't just because Himself was there. She'd do it no matter who was in the house. I was on edge the entire time but nothing happened other than her and Himself clashing and my mom growing to love him. Her last words to me before my dad took us to the bus stop were “If you want to marry him, I don't mind.” This was a far cry from the woman I'd grown up with.
When Himself and I broke up (briefly) in 2001, my mom was there waiting for me when I got home. Again, instead of abuse she showed compassion and care. I wasn't in any shape to pay attention to that for a few days, but when I came out of my fog I saw it. I didn't trust it because I'd seen her have good days too when I was growing up.
I noticed though over time that her good days weren't going away. In fact, she seemed to be having only good days. I talked to her and she told me about her diagnosis and her medications. She said it felt wonderful to not be agitated all the time, to be high or low all the time. She told me she hadn't realized just how much her moods had affected her until she got on the meds.
My mom knew she'd made mistakes with all of us. Once she stabilized, she tried to insert herself gently into all of our lives. She was trying to see if any of us would accept her apologies and open ourselves to her. My older brother and sisters wouldn't do it. They couldn't, they said. They remembered the abuse too clearly to ever forgive her.
I wasn't able to at first but I finally did. When Himself came to Boise in January she welcomed him with open arms. Though she told us no sex in the house, she knew we were going to break that rule and was always courteous enough to give us a chance to pretend we weren't having it before she came into the family room. I don't know if she ever told my dad, but he seemed oblivious to it.
Two months before our first anniversary, we found out my mom had stomach cancer. It was Stage 4, so there was no treatment. She was going to die soon no matter what they did. She chose to forgo the treatment that would possibly give her another week or two and came home to die in peace around her family. It was a frightening and painful situation but she faced it with determination and a kind of peace.
I wasn't working at the time so I was the one who spent the most time with her. I'd read to her, talk to her about the minutiae of daily life, and keep her up to date on the things going on in all of our lives. Then came the day she slipped into a coma. By that night, she was gone.
My mother proved to me that if you want to change you can. She taught me the value of forgiveness and of love. She gave me the hope, though it was taken less than a year after my wedding, that we could mend our past and have a true mother-daughter relationship. I was devastated when I lost her without getting the chance to spend more years getting to know the real woman behind the disease. But she taught me so much in the two years I got to spend with her.
I sometimes wonder what she'd think of my life now, if she would be disappointed in my current state of things or proud of me for surviving in spite of all the hardships in our lives. I hope she'd be proud.