My 2nd motherless Mother’s Day is as bitter sweet as the 1st. But I’ve long had a complicated relationship with this holiday
I used to stand in the grocery store reading through Hallmark cards to find one that suited MY mother, eventually giving up and buying a blank one to fill with my own words.
I resented that those flowery pastel cards full of daintily written odes to mothers everywhere, sounded nothing like my mom.
For a long time I blamed my own failures on her unwillingness to be the Hallmark card description of matriarchal love that I *thought* I needed.
That just wasn’t her, though. My mom was not saccharinely sweet or soft and delicate, and neither was the way she loved.
I remember the day I began to understand that as an asset instead of a flaw… And the moment I realized a heart too tender, a love too delicate would have shattered under the weight of loving me back to life. I remember turning to look at my mother and thinking for the first time that tough love is sometimes just be the brave face strong love puts on.
I was sitting next to my mother on the 5th row of a 7 row country church in south Texas, 8 months pregnant & absolutely wilting in the June heat. I’d been in a rush to get there late at the perfect time, between the singing and the sermon during the offering prayer. By the time my dad got to the pulpit he would see my smiling face in the congregation next to my mom.
I’d devised this tactic in high school, when last I’d lived under my parent’s roof or tried to gain their approval. A position I had recently found myself in again, this time at 33, newly sober, single and pregnant. #Winning!
The sermon illustration that morning was a Familiar one but like all good parables a new lesson is revealed each time it’s shared.
The way I recall the telling, it was summer in the early 80’s in south Louisiana.
A widow & her young son had just finished a long hot day of farm work. Before heading inside the little boy asked if he could go swimming in the river that ran thru their property. His mother agreed to watch him from the kitchen window while she made dinner.
Excitedly the boy ran to the lake, throwing off his clothes as he went, reaching the banks ready to dive in, never noticing the danger lurking there.
Once inside, the mother glanced out of the window just in time to see a large alligator swimming towards her son. She raced from the house down to the river.
She could hear the water violently splashing and her son screaming in terror. She reached the river and grabbed his arms just as the gator clamped its jaws around his legs.
Their only neighbors for miles each heard the struggle and cries for help , one grabbed a shotgun, the other hopped in his truck. As they rushed to her aid, the mother was locked in a horrific tug of war. Her son’s legs were trapped in the ever tightening jaws of a hungry alligator, while she clung to his arms, her heals digging into to the soft mud, leveraging all her might, determined to pull her child from the predator’s powerful grip. Moments later a shot rang out from across the river, the gator’s jaws unclenched, releasing the boy to his mother, before slipping silently under the water.
The mother, hands bleeding, fingernails missing, arms nearly limp, was summoning the strength to carry her badly injured child towards the house when mercifully the neighbor came barreling up the drive, he loaded them in his pick up and headed toward town.
The boy was bleeding profusely and slipped in and out of consciousness while they sped to the hospital. As the doctors wheeled him away his mother feared the worst.
News of the boy’s brush with death was all over town by the time he was being whisked into the operating room.
Through months of painful surgeries the towns people rallied around he and his mother with love and support. Together they cheered on his miraculous recovery.
The local paper even sent a reporter to interview the boy from his hospital bed.
Before the young patient began to recount his harrowing story, the reporter asked if he could see the boys legs; healing, but shredded from the alligator’s teeth.
Wincing, the boy obliged, pulling back his blanket to reveal the mangled mess of stitched and bandaged puncture wounds, slashes and and scars.
The reporter gasped “MY GOD! HOW DID YOU SURVIVE ?! “
“Oh!..” the boy said, rolling up his sleeves “You should see my arms…” beaming with pride he held them out, showing the long rows of scratches that had ripped deep down to the muscle, crusted, scabbing and hideous he proffered them like bars of gold “THIS is how I survived-my mother held on, dug in and NEVER LET ME GO.”
The congregation bowed their heads as my dad began to pray, and through his words I heard the unfamiliar sound of my mother crying. In a rare moment of affection she reached over and held my hand, squeezing it and pulling me closer to her in the pew.
No words were needed. We both knew I was there that morning by her side, pregnant with Emily, covered in metaphorical scars but HEALING, bc when I dove recklessly into the jaws of death that is addiction my mother grabbed on, she dug in AND NEVER LET ME GO.