Sunday is Mother’s Day. This is simply my way of trying to honour mine.
What was the last thing you heard as a child as you left the house to go off to school? Quite often, I heard hymns being played on the piano. What was the first thing you heard as you entered the house after school? I often heard hymns being played on the piano. What sounds were the last ones you heard as your fight to stay awake at night was finally lost? I heard the sounds of hymns being played on the piano. I am certain that the piano was not being played every morning afternoon and night when I was growing up. But it very nearly was and it is those times that I remember now. I like to think that my mother did this intentionally to put into our heads and ears the soothing sounds of her piano skills. My mother took piano lessons for one year and got so frustrated at the slowness of the teacher’s progress, that she decided to study piano herself and write the exams every year. She took herself all the way to grade nine piano. My mother was the most talented pianist I have ever heard. She arranged music to her liking. She scoffed at piano player wanna-bes because of their inability to hear a piece of music and simply start playing it. She had the whole repertoire of traditional, fundamentalist, tent meeting revival hymns in her head. She had all the old “gay nineties” songs in there as well. She had many of the classics. She had her own arrangements that are forever now lost to a world that could have benefitted from them had she not thought it proud to write them down. She lived for her piano.
I think I was thirty-two when I found out why. It was late at night and my wife and I were sitting at the kitchen table at my brother’s house on a hot sultry night. Mom hated hot and could not sleep and so we sat together. And out of the blue, after a few minutes of pensiveness my mother said, in a matter of fact tone containing almost no emotion, “I was sixteen years old before I knew that all little girls didn’t sleep with their fathers”.
Grampy? My grampy? The man upon whose lap I sat? The loving old man who gave me candy? Baptist deacon grampy?? And then a flood of pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that I had long thought would never be assembled, all fell into place. Mom’s anger, the debilitating depression, the drifting off to somewhere. Her gigantic compassion for the hurting and abused and lonely. But most of all it helped explain mom’s predominant quality. She wanted you to like her. Oh how my mother wanted people to like her, to love her. How she enjoyed pleasing people and giving them what they wanted so that they would like her. You could see the little girl doing whatever she could to get her father to love her and stop hurting her. And being married to a godly man who was very popular and respected and called upon, made her feel very good, very much loved. Vicarious affection. But a pastor is not loved by all and the pain inflicted by the well intentioned dragons that the church so often produces furthered her retreat into a mental world of her own making, where peace resided.
Her mental condition made her confused about the difference between truth and lie. It skewed her understanding of her children and how to raise them. It put the family into debt. Her view of life was, shall we say, off centre. She was not a well woman. Her mind had built up a system for living that made perfect sense to her and which had protected her in the dark days of sexual abuse. What some would call mental illness was, I think, testimony of a powerful tool used to help her cope with the brutal truth that was her life. None of this is to excuse her from responsibility for any sins in her life.. But it certainly helps understand where they came from.
My mother was intellectually brilliant. I am sure that her IQ was off the chart. And as it often is with the brilliant, her mind didn’t function well in the world of reality. But despite its twistedness, it was powerful. I marvel now at how well she coped, how well she functioned and how she could give the impression that life was copasetic. Some would call it hypocrisy and perhaps some of it was. Was her faith real? I believe so, and I do not think it is merely the wishful thinking of a son. True faith lives in some very disturbed individuals. The fact that mom was raised by a real hypocrite and she still hung on to Jesus until the very end, speaks of faith that is bigger than mine. And it speaks of a great keeping Saviour who loves the abused and disturbed and dysfunctional. Considering her history and the pain that forced her to develop such grand defences, she was a veritable miracle.
As I celebrate Mother’s Day, I think about her sense of humour. How my mother loved to laugh. Something funny would cause her to burst out in laughter until she cried. It made me happy. She liked to laugh at people. And if you knew her you can count on this – she laughed at you. I gave her a plaque once that said “Be nice to mothers and other living things”. She laughed until she almost cried. She once asked for a “drop of tea” and I gave her precisely one drop of tea in a cup. Same result. And if I did it every day for a year she would still laugh just as hard.
As my sister was doing an all night vigil at our mother’s bedside in a hospital in Alberta, mom sat up in the bed and started grabbing at non-existent things on the bed. “What are you doing?”, my sister asked. “Trying to get the peanuts” mom replied, and then she laughed at herself and said “Oh that must be the medication making me hallucinate”. And she lay down and never woke up. The fact that mom’s last sentence was about hallucinations is too ironic to talk about.
I can think of no better example in the people who have been a part of my life, of perseverance and tenacity in the face of pain and abuse and incredible sadness.
This woman deserves my thanks and honour. I am glad that God chose me to be born of such a lady. I would rather have had her and all the blessings and struggles that her life granted me than any other mom and any other life.