The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
To speak the truth with love requires both truth and love. Truth without love is anger unbridled. Truth-speaking without love suggests judgment, unresolved issues, and a lack of empathy for one’s self and others. It lacks compassion and understanding of the human condition, and the basic human needs that we all share. On the other hand, love without truth is sentimentality and denies the depth and reality of true love and real life. Such loving is naive, sometimes even dangerous.
My mother died on August 1st. Today is the anniversary of her birthday, some 93 years ago. I try to remember my mother by speaking the truth with love about our Life Together. I know full well that I have unresolved issues and more to learn about the human condition. We all know only pieces of each other’s stories.
Louise, affectionately called “Weez”, was the third child of three girls who were born in New York City to Florence and Walter Lambert. I knew little of my maternal grandmother who seemed distant and “stuffy” to me as a child; and yet she was the reason I chose the college I attended. I never knew my maternal grandfather, who was a stockbroker and died suddenly in his early 60’s after the market crash. At the time, my mother was in her 1st year of college, and underwent major surgery; both of these events shaped her later years. Among her special possessions were the stitches removed from her surgery, and a diagram of her internal organs. Despite her grief at the loss of her father, and her need for physical recuperation from major surgery, she persevered faithfully with both her education and her health. That was my mother.
We were never particularly close. I suspect my mother’s and my Myers-Briggs personality types were different in every category. When my brother arrived at the hospital, the nurse’s first comment was how much he “took after” my mother. I have been told that I “take after” my father, and my younger sister proclaims her status as the “mutt” of the family. We are three different siblings. What I initially interpreted as a lack of interest in my life by my mother, I later came to appreciate as the freedom to “do my own thing”, for better and worse. Understanding our family dynamics has always been an opportunity for learning and growth. My mother liked petrie dishes too.
As I recollected our lives together, I mostly remember childhood and adult disappointments. As much as I try to forget those memories and let them go, or seek to put a positive spin on them, I can’t. I’m sure my mother has different memories too; I’m sure she saw life from a different angle and perspective. We both hold truths. We both had real human needs for love, value, and attention. We both made choices to have those needs met; sometimes they were at odds with each other, and our best selves.
She liked financial and scientific matters; I like psychology and religion. She liked eating fish, fruits, and vegetables. I like lamb shanks and roasted potatoes with gravy. Her manner of operating was different than mine. She was quick to deny pain; perhaps I linger too long. She took her time deliberating next steps; I occasionally rush in where fools tend to go. She was often clear about what she wanted regardless of its effects on others; I wasn’t. She could cut off relationships; I can’t. My mother was fiercely independent, indeed socially awkward, and often preferred being alone; I wanted people around me and to be part of a team.
Despite her size, she was one “tough cookie” who endured many challenges throughout her life. As a friend quipped, “You don’t live that long without being a “tough cookie.” Quite frankly, I might have folded; and so I’m grateful for her model of perseverance. “Things always have a way of working out,” she would say. Sometimes, I’m just not sure she was aware of the cost to those around her.
One of her greatest gifts was the “famous white binder.” In it she had all of her paperwork in order: her last will and testaments, her trust, and copies of everything from birth certificates and marriage licenses to jewelry distribution and religious ceremonies. Unfortunately and understandably, she could not divest herself of the contents of her Cape Cod home, leaving a mess of memories and materials for her children to discard or sell. Disposing the contents of her single room in the assisted living facility was painful enough; I can’t imagine what this next process will be like. Just seeing the clutter and chaos in a home that is filled with decades of memories is hard, especially now that we’re adding grief to the process. She wanted to make things easier for us, and yet sometimes she made things harder.
She was a teacher and an avid student. We do have some things in common! With a twinkle in her eye, she could tease you, knowing full well that what she was saying was “unacceptable.” We had to take her car away, and when she told me a year later that she was “thinking about getting a small used car”, I looked at her and shook my head. She replied, “I said, I was thinking about it.” She always found ways to show you that she could “carry on” despite the changes in her life. Encouraging her to “let go” of her own life, when the end was near, was a battle of the wills. God and we were ready; my mother, strong-willed woman that she was, was not leaving until she was good and ready.
In the last year of her life, I had the opportunity to say “goodbye” to her. I told her, and she told me, “I love you” more times than I can remember saying or hearing in all my life. During my visits, we shared some good memories. We spoke some needed truths. We held hands. We kissed goodby. I told her how much I had learned from her and thanked her for being my Mom. She told me that “I was always good at transitions.”
I shall always be grateful for my mother. She gave me my life, and she did the best she could as a mother; I did the best I could as a daughter. Not perfect, but good enough. I am grateful for her dogged perseverance, for her speaking her truths, for her care of the environment and for her love of biology and her garden. I loved her inquiring mind, her commitment to exercise, and her love of travel. I appreciated her “detachment with love” that allowed each of us to go our own ways, as she went hers. I know she loved me even when she said and did things that made me wonder.
I have no regrets, and I’m glad Mom’s earthly journey is done. I asked her to send me a “sign” to help me close out her estate with my brother and sister. She sent me not just one sign but two. True to our relationship, one was a blessing and one was a challenge. Thanks Mom. You’ve taught me alot. I hope you’ll forgive me and I thank you for giving me life and many life lessons. Say hi to Dad. I love you both. I’ll see you again one day in the Garden.