|Papa Jean, my stepdad, in his horsey days.|
Recently my aunt sent me an album my mother had put together in 1999, just a year plus before she died of cancer in January 2001. My mother had wanted my aunt to have it after her death, but now, 10 years later, my aunt felt I should have it as part of my family history.
I feared looking at it, so let it sit for days on the dining room table. With a relationship as complicated as mine was with my mom, many emotions come into play, not all of them belonging to Grown Julie. So I waited. But today I decided to Take The Plunge, Dive Right In, phrases that oddly refer to another fear of mine: water.
The album is the story of a life, Margie's, from childhood through marriage and parenting, back around to single-ness, and then into the last third of her life with the love of her life, Jean.
The photos are amazing--of her family and my father's family, of our family and of Jean's family, and some I'd long hoped to see of Jean in his cowboy garb on a horse. There are photos of the new "family" she gathered in her new life in Nebraska where she moved to be with Jean at about the same time I was getting married in California.
It's her edited life: "Margie's Life, Lite." Without most of the anger and pain and accusations that colored big parts of the Full Fat version. I marveled at all the smiling faces, the photos of outings and birthdays and holidays. Pretty pictures of the decorating and remodeling she did in the house I grew up in, not of the broken pieces of dishes and punched in walls in the photos she had sent to me after her death to remind me of things my father had done. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was all a pretty happy story. Looking at the pictures I can imagine her as the kind of mother I could call to chat and tell her something funny one of the kids said, rather than calling and ending up defending myself for not being willing to say my father did not do those things to my sister or me.
I finish the album and sob. In my head I'm writing the thank you letter to my aunt: "Thanks so much for the album, the pictures are great and let me into some parts of her life I wasn't there for. I always wished I was a stronger person: strong enough to see the person beneath the harsh words, stronger than her desire to hurt me, stronger than many things that kept me from being a part of Margie's life in her later years."
I don't know what I will really write. Will I mention the victories I have felt in my struggles toward Sound Mental Health over those same years? Will I mention how I finally feel the Mother-Pain will no longer cripple me for weeks after contact, but hopefully only hours? Will I say sure I regret that I wasn't always The Good Daughter, but I knew I would never be the Good Enough Daughter? Probably not. Probably I will thank her for the photos and for her thoughtfulness in sharing them with me.
The problem with Mother-Pain is that no matter how far I've come in life, it will apparently always be waiting to jump out and bite me. But at least now, after enough therapy and prayers and time, the pain doesn't last as long.
Skimmer's Recap: Just when Julie thinks she's getting a handle on that whole Mental Health thing, she realizes "a handle" is but an illusion, and there's always more to learn.