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Mom: Imperfect, but truly precious

 

(Editor's Note: May 9th is Mother's Day. This story will hopefully inspire others to appreciate their moms in a new way.)

"If you have given up on life, we might as well measure you for a coffin."

My uncle spoke those words to my mother as she lay in a hospital bed. She was barely out of her teens. She had been diagnosed with a heart condition so critical that she wasn't expected to live past her mid-twenties. And, worse, even if she lived beyond that, she was told never to marry, and, particularly, never to have children. My mother wanted both--desperately.

Her brother wasn't impressed with her pity party. He was hoping his bombastic words would jolt her out of her depression. He proceeded to measure her from head to toe. That day changed my mother's life forever. Despite the danger to herself, she married--twice--and, yes, had children. Six to be exact (three from each marriage). She told others that she would rather die in childbirth than live life without a family.

Unfortunately, her two marriages were not the best and hardly offered her the pampered life her heart condition demanded. But the difficult life my mother lived was not solely the fault of her two husbands. For whatever reasons, my mother had tremendous insecurities, emotional ups and downs, and unrealistic expectation of life itself.

We grew up experiencing her struggles and unhappiness. My mom's insecurities became our insecurities. We all ended up with her lack of self-confidence and self-worth, two of the most difficult things to overcome in our adult lives. But there was something about her that none of her children could forget. That we couldn't stop loving. That we, to this day, cannot describe in its full wonder.

That's why Mother's Day is always bitter sweet for me. I wish she were still here. I wish we could have coffee together, or share a late night phone call. I wish I had one more chance to say "I love you." May is also her birth month, so there are two remembrances in May that leave an ache in my heart.

My mom was labeled a "housewife," but she was so much more. She had so much personality and so many different talents, yet she shrunk back from taking center stage. Few people saw the full measure of who she was. She was a little bit of everything: a poet, a teacher, a musician, a consoler, an artist, a business woman, a healer, a dancer, a chef, a story-teller, a reconciler, a care giver, a delighter, a generous soul. And despite her many weaknesses, her moments of selflessness are what made her shine. Her compassion, I believe, is what made her unforgettable.

If she was a patient at a hospital, you would have to peek into every room on her floor to find her. She was always in some else's room trying to cheer them. One time, right on the heels of surgery, we found her in the hallway, using the pay phone to plead with an estranged family to come to the hospital to make amends with their dying mother. They arrived just in the nick of time.

Or, you would find her opening her home to people who were considered the neighborhood oddballs--people who others avoided. As children, we would often come home from school and mom would be yapping with a scruffy old man who sold eggs door to door. She would listen to him for hours, the two of them laughing and sipping coffee. We would cringe at her devotion. But we also knew he left with more than 35 cents in his pocket for the dozen eggs she bought; we knew mom had made an astounding difference in his lonely life.

My mom died in 1984 at age 69--of congestive heart failure. This was the woman who wasn't supposed to survive her 20s, wasn't supposed to survive a stressful marriage (let alone two) or having children. This was my mom, a broken but beautiful person. I miss her sorely. This coming Mother's Day--no, every day that you have your mother with you--lay aside her weaknesses and failures, and let her know that there's something about her that you can't forget. That you can't stop loving. That you can't describe in its full wonder. Celebrate the beautiful woman that God has put in your life.

Jean Mlincek is a freelance writer who resides in St. Petersburg, Fla.

 

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