Do You Still Love Me? Confronting Shades of Shame
When I made my mother proud, I felt elated like no other. My matriarch, patriarch, and friend, was an imperfect emblem.
The scope of her love was, in a dichotomous way, measurable and immeasurable.
Measurable, in her words and actions. Long lists of prayers for God to hear, I witnessed her earnestly speak those words daily. When you conversed with her, you were in a space to be seen. She was ready to tilt into heavy territory if you needed it. Never afraid of emotion, she always welcomed the dark spaces, and without pretense, was ready to nurture you.
Where it came from, was immeasurable. There was no end to it. Even when it went unrecognized, a state that sometimes stung her, she never stopped her gracious way of existing. She’d come home from work to tell me amazing things that God did, marveling at such mercy, rarely acknowledging her role in it. It was genuine and I did not appreciate it enough.
And now she exists in memory and as an energy I cannot see. Almost five years since she died, I have felt torn in so many ways. The reality of her death has ripped wounds that I thought had mended, and without warning or clear trigger, split them open again. When I write about her, I verge into a complete melodrama that seems foolish, but even so, it’s entirely real. The pain is so massive, I need a thousand words, even if embarrassingly and vapidly eloquent, to describe it with justice. To be understood. To be seen. Because she, as one of my greatest advocates, cannot be understood. Cannot be seen.
As I cyclically tear and mend, I find myself putting her on a pedestal that I am not entirely at peace about. I created a precarious structure when she died, a need to establish how I connect with her now, how I share her now as my mother gone yet not. I find it important to praise her to people who will never know her, because for them, she will only be a figment or portrait. The structure raised her in all of her good, but its foundation was also built of every insecurity, frustration, and deep hurt she never meant to cause. That I still live with. An imperfect emblem.
I need to talk about the imperfect part a little.
And I need to talk about my shame a little more.
She hated herself with a passion that burned. It was verbal abuse that she mastered. Had she known how much it hurt me perhaps she would have stopped, but this was years of practice in the making. And I was her only. It was her and I in the house, my father absent except for snapshot visits, my brother off to college and living independently with his girlfriend and future wife. We leaned on each other, with much laughter and joy, but also witnessed each other’s pain.
Her’s happened to be explosive, shouts screamed at me, directed toward herself. And somehow I found a way to emulate it even though it angered me. I fume at the nonsense of it. How is it that I am mirroring her actions when I hate them so much? I can’t express how badly I wanted my mother tell me how she loved herself. How she thought she was beautiful. I never heard the words.
It has various shades. Merges and separates like it is its own life form. The shade I am noticing the most now is seeing my choices as possible rifts in our relationship. It scares me to imagine how this or that action would divide us, when we had leaned so closely on one another.
I feel it especially when I speak ill of her, meaning, to speak honest of her, my perspective of what I lived with as her daughter. It is an insult to the woman who raised me, haunts me like a wrongdoing I need to seek penance for. But it also feels that sharing only the good is breaking me down. I harbor the guilt from decisions she may have disapproved of, and consequently, it is eating me alive. I live with a shame very much self created, but also fostered by an example in my Mom.
Limits to love after death?
I have learned things of myself that I wonder whether my Mom would be hurt by. One I think of often is in my romantic life. It was assumed that I would fall in love with a man. And mind you, growing up in Bellevue, WA, there wasn’t even the distinction of cis-gender spoken, at least not openly. It was just man, and growing up I did not recognize the conflict in that, though there were unsettled feelings from some place deep I had yet to acknowledge. In 2017 I discovered, or rather realized, the life long truth that I am pan-sexual. A multitude of moments since childhood cemented the realization, and I felt a joy in this blooming. But also an immense sadness.
I didn’t get to share this with my Mom.
And what would she think of it?
A devout Christian, her morality and humility were more open minded than the fundamentalist rigor easily pulled from the bible, but she still held certain morals close to her heart. Chastity was one. I am not sure if her moral boundaries were stretched when it came to any other sexual expression beside heterosexuality. She loved on friends of hers, mine, and my brother’s who were not heterosexual, but there is something different in loving your neighbor different from you, and loving your daughter different from you. The daughter whose life you poured into and prayed the best for. Whatever the ‘best’ looked like.
I am attracted to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. I am still a doubting Christian who is now enamored by a heavenly They rather than a heavenly He. I am no longer chaste. I like to smoke and drink, sometimes with the purpose to numb. I swear with great fervor. And I still do the things she openly, if somewhat jokingly, opposed. Aka tattoos.
Do you still love me, Mom?
I sometimes question these things because I fear of her questioning and disappointment. And I need her love. I miss her love. But these are truths and explorations that are necessary. There is joy and a desire for balance in these. I have my own imperfections, and for all the ones she witnessed, she would not condemn. That wasn’t like her.
But she is no longer walking this earth and it is hard to see what her perspective might be now that I can neither hear her voice nor understand to hear her spirit.
I still ask how can I know whether my actions make her proud. How can I know that I am honoring her memory? Friends and family say she would be proud of me, some using language “despite” others saying “because of”, but I struggle to trust their assurances no matter their form.
I struggle because they did not see her in the deep as I did. They did not witness the moments when she tore herself open to find a solution to her grief, or perhaps, enact her own idea of penance. And I am exposing the imperfect, which feels akin to betrayal, but I need to because I tear myself open just like her. I no longer want to do that. I too easily say I hate myself and I am a fucking idiot, sinking into the words as if they are everything, when they really hold little power.
I want to immortalize her in all of her complexity, the foundation being the love that was her essence, acknowledging the great pain that haunted our home, rendering us both broken and alive.
Then again, I don’t want to immortalize her.
I want to live alongside her.
If I choose to believe that she is an energy, beyond the confines of this earth, then she is not just a memory. I can seek to hear her love now. Maybe her questions too, but no absence of love. And if heaven is a place free of the darker shades of the human experience, why should that gracious, loving heart on earth, be any different in heavenly spirit?
I have already lost so much time to fear of the past repeated, continually looking back, as the past repeats itself in small ways. Stepping back into the present, I begin to notice when those moments happen and pause a moment. Give myself a moment of grace to say I am loved. I love me. My mother loves me.