Three Words Have Rocked My World!
Three words from my mother have changed my world. I know she doesn’t realize it, and I am not sure I can even explain to my sisters the full impact that this has had on my life.
I didn’t totally understand what I was feeling until I was listening to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes the other day. I am listening to the fifth and final volume of her work, The Dangerous Old Woman. In this volume, entitled, How To Be An Elder, Dr. Estes was talking about forgiveness and “No more debt owed.”
I know I am not quoting this exactly, but this is what it meant to me: I did not feel that anything was owed to me anymore after my mother spoke these three words.
I will backtrack a bit. My mom is ninety years old and has always had a rough time raising four girls. There was depression that was not recognized or acknowledged by her or my father. It was rough on us and her behavior sometimes became, for lack of a better way to put it, insane. What may have been our salvation was this: There was truly a lot of love in our family and my sisters and I had each other for help in navigating the world. We have survived.
Recently, my mom came to stay with me for about 2 1/2 weeks. This may not ever happen again as it involved quite a few steps. She flew into Michigan from South Carolina, stayed with one of my sisters, and after resting there for a week, my sister drove her here, to Pennsylvania.
At the end of her visit with us, I drove her back to Michigan, where she would rest then fly back to South Carolina, where she now lives with my oldest sister. So, it was a lot of traveling and she may not be able to do that again. I am glad she came though it was a little tough.
The amazing thing happened on the five-hour drive up to Michigan at the end of the visit.
Usually, I run out of patience and the talk can seem endless with stories and sentences I have heard hundreds of times before. This time, that didn’t happen.
My mom is feeling guilty about how she handled things having to do with my father’s care near the end and talks about this quite a bit.
She is also on a kick of saying that she felt a mean mother was a good mother. I think she is looking back and wishing she had done things differently and wondering about her child-rearing style. I didn’t like the whole “mean” thing and suggested that maybe she meant strict moms can be good moms.
The conversation had actually been ok with the hours passing and me not freaking out. Something she said then led me to speak on a point that has bothered me all my life. I am not sure what she said first, and I hesitated for a couple of seconds before I decided to go with it.
I said something like, “One thing I wish you had done and that I always wanted with you….” and I could see her turn her head toward me as I drove. I could feel her listening and knew that I had her full attention, which is, in itself, amazing.
I continued and said something like, “I always wanted to be able to talk to you about my life. I wanted to tell you what I was going through and what was really happening. I wanted to be able to tell you the truth and you didn’t want the truth and you didn’t want to hear it.”
She said, and these are the three words that have set me free, “I was terrified.”
And with that, I let go of a resentment that I have held onto since I was about fifteen years old.
It was an acknowledgement of something that I knew to be true, that had never, ever before been acknowledged and it was a validation of my experience. She had never addressed this.
My mom has always been fearful although it took me until I was an adult to really realize this. She has rarely been honest about her own thoughts and feelings.
This was the most honest, real sentence that I have ever heard from her.
And it took care of every part of this particular resentment and for the first time in my life, I can let it go.
I don’t have to ever speak of it again.
I don’t have to whine about how I wished my mom had let me tell her stuff, how I always wanted that, wah, wah, wah.
It wasn’t an apology. I wasn’t really looking for an apology, though I didn’t even know that until this happened.
I wanted to know that it had truly been the reality. She did not want the truth. She hadn’t wanted to talk things over. She didn’t want to face the facts about issues I was dealing with or what my sisters and I were experiencing in our lives.
And she had a reason. Terror. She didn’t say, “I was scared.” She said she was terrified.
It’s often easy to look back and think about how we should have handled something from long ago or compare our actions to what we would do in the same situation now. This is what we have to remember: we did what we did then with the tools we had. We made our decisions based on what we knew then. We did the best we could.
Whether or not her best wasn’t what I wanted or needed right then has nothing to do with it. She was terrified. She could only act in the way that she was capable of acting. She worked with what she had and what she knew.
That is an honest, so very honest response, and it cut right to the heart of my life.
I feel a peace in a part of me that I have never felt before. This is what forgiveness is. For the first time I think I know what true forgiveness feels like.
There is no debt owed me.
I am so very glad I said what I did to her before it was too late. It is amazing to me that it has had this effect on me.
I would have lived with the regret and sadness about this for the rest of my life.
I love being able to let this go. Finally.
Please share with me your thoughts and comments. Have you ever experienced forgiveness? Has anything ever happened that you can't let go of? Are you looking for acknowledgement or an apology? Thanks in advance for telling us your story! I look forward to hearing from you.
Kelly Eckert said "What a beautiful story, Diana. It’s so inspiring to read how forgiveness for you came not from an apology or contrition, but from compassion. When you heard your mother’s truth, you had the grace to feel compassion for her.
I experienced a similar sort of forgiveness after my father took his own life. The rest of the family was so angry at him for his perceived selfishness. Recognizing the pain he must have been in to take his own life, I was able to let go of my own bitterness. I wasn’t angry that he killed himself. I was bitter because I thought he didn’t love me. When I saw the truth that he was in too much pain to be able to connect with me or anyone else, I felt forgiveness, and my bitterness melted away.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and for inspiring!"
Diana responded with "Kelly, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so happy that you were able to forgive and recognize your feelings. Life lessons come in some many different packages. Your story has given me even more to think about and I truly appreciate you writing."
Danielle said "Thank you, Diana, for sharing such an inspiring story about forgiveness. As always, you speak of it so frankly. This shows that, even if forgiveness takes years, it’s never too late. What a great lesson."
Diana responded with "Danielle, Thank you for writing. I am learning all the time and I am determined to be honest. I am hoping that it helps other people."
Teresa said "Hi Diana. What a wonderful story. This brought back so many memories for me. My parents went through a nasty divorce when I was thirteen, followed by my dad’s death at fourteen. I was so angry with my mom for a series of events that occured from age 13-18. When I was 18, I sat down with my mom and told her that I was angry, hurt, disappointed, disgusted, etc. I also told her that because of what happened in my early childhood, I would NEVER be able to forgive her. Well, I was wrong. On that summer day, for the first time ever, I cried with my mom. It was such a relief for both of us. I silently forgave my mom that day. It felt so great to “let go” of the bad. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m happy to report that I have a fantastic (not perfect) relationship with my mom. Thank goodness for forgivness."
Diana responded with "Teresa, Thank you so much for sharing. How cool that at such a young age you were able to forgive. You are right—thank goodness for forgiveness."
Joan Stefan said "Wow! Your honesty in writing about your mom was truly inspirational. She spoke a universal truth- we are all terrified! We just each handle the terror in different ways. You are a great mom and a great friend."
Diana responded with "Joan, Thank you so much for writing. The word “terrified” was a truly shocking word to hear. It told me so much and that was that. I appreciate the compliments! You are a great mom and a great friend too."
kelly said "Diana,
I have had multiple thoughts about this writing. Today I am feeling GREAT relief in knowing that my biggest mistakes as a mom may be my biggest gift to my kids.
You learned (painfully perhaps) what it was that you needed as a child that you did not get and you were able to use that in the mothering of your 3 children.
You were able to give to them what you did not get. So, it is a really BIG relief to know that my imperfections as well as my strengths can have a positive influence on my kids.
Please keep writing!
Kelly from Michigan"
Diana responded with "Kelly, It is so interesting that you pointed out your relief. I have been doing a lot of thinking about this, and realizing this big deal of not having the relation ship I wanted was actually an incredible gift. What a strange, funny thing. Thank you so much for writing. I hope other moms read your words and feel good!"
Cindy said "“No more debt owed” Such a powerful definition of forgiveness. I can’t stop thinking about it. Thank you for your openness and sharing the conversation with your mother. Your writing has always made me think and helped me see things from a new perspective." Diana responded with "Cindy, Thanks so much for writing! I never knew what a simple phrase, “no more debt owed,” could really mean. I hope it helps many people to think about forgiveness and what it could mean to them."