To My Mom

Dear Mom,

Let’s be honest. It’s Mother’s Day and I dropped the ball. Like hugely. Between a massive IEP fiasco and packing up a family of ten for a beach vacation eight hundred miles away, I just spaced the whole dang thing. You are clear across the country and I can’t even drop off a planter and pretend it wasn’t an afterthought. I’m so sorry, Mom! You, of all people, know that I don’t have my, ahem, act together.

I want to talk a bit about you, Mom, and let my readers know Linda Frances Berry Bristol. You were born the second child to your mom and dad. For reasons unfathomable to me, your birth mother chose to leave you and Aunt Becky when you were just a baby, in pursuit of another man. Your dad did the best he could and you two were left in the care of his mother until she fell and fractured her hip. Your sister, older and needing less care, went with your dad and his new wife. You were placed with your dad’s sister who raised you, a woman known to me as my Grandma “Bebby” or Grams.

Grams never had any biological children and she made it clear in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want any, including the one she felt saddled with. You suffered a bizarre childhood filled with emotional abuse including taunting, severe rejection, and manipulation at her tongue. Looking back, I’m pretty sure Grandma Bebby was a narcissist. No matter, although I adored her as a grandmother, she was a terrible excuse for a mother. The stories you’ve shared have brought me to tears on many occasions.

I remember my first awareness that something was odd about your relationship. I was probably ten-years-old. We were visiting Grams at her house and she was fixing us one of her lavish spreads she always said was “just something she threw together.” You were in the dining room setting the table. She was in the kitchen taking the green beans off the stove when she tripped and spilled them all over the floor. “LINDA! Look what you made me do!!!” she hollered. As you came to help her clean it up, you winked at me, while I stood there baffled as to how she could possibly find this your fault. It was many years before you shared the truth, that everything was your fault according to her.

You escaped as soon as you could, after high school throwing a dart at a map with a friend and landing in San Diego. In true Linda fashion, you scored a primo job at Sunbeam and got yourself a great little apartment. It was good until a bunch of drunken sailors moved in next door and partied all night. It was during one of the many times you beat on the wall with a broom handle telling them to knock it off, you found one of them to be tall and handsome and funny. Nearly fifty years later, I think it was meant to be.

You were both broken, wounded people from dysfunctional childhoods. Marriage was not easy.

Somehow, you were introduced to Jesus and everything changed. 

You taught me redemption is possible simply by giving us a normal childhood. The rejection and ridicule that seared deep wounds into your soul as a child had no place in your parenting as a mother. You broke the cycle. My childhood was filled with board games, camping trips, and picnics. Encouragement and a listening ear were the norm. And, boy, did you have to listen! I had no idea how much your eyes must have glazed over when I launched into yet another story about the inner workings of the junior high social scene until I became a parent.

While as a teen I was mortified by your example of engaging perfect strangers in conversation, I am grateful for it now. You taught me how to talk to people. It’s a huge part of my job and you showed me how to use humor to put people at ease and how to engage them. By getting people to tell you their stories, you instilled in me empathy and the realization that everyone has a story to tell.

By example again, you taught me forgiveness, Mom. You taught me the meaning of this: Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied. “Seventy times seven!” When many would walk away from the adoptive mom that treated them so horribly, you chose instead, to honor her and to allow her to have place in our lives. Once you realized she would not harm us, her grandchildren, you encouraged our relationship. It must have been so painful to watch her delight in us when she withheld that very thing from you.

You forgave her your childhood, but then had ample opportunity to forgive again and again and again as the verbal digs continued. I know you weren’t a doormat. That’s never been your way. You defended yourself and stood up to her so many times. Boundaries were established and reset. So many reasons to walk away and treat her as she deserved yet you always chose forgiveness.

In the end, when dementia and paranoia crept in and she could no longer live alone, you opened up your empty nest and cared for her. Words cannot adequately describe the impact this had on me, Mom. I loved Grandma Bebby. Our history was fun and good and still I found her to be difficult. Throw in complications of dementia and I can’t imagine taking her on as a permanent roommate. What an amazing picture of forgiveness, sacrifice, and undeserving love you provided.

Most people lose the idea that their parents can do anything some time before they reach adolescence. I am still convinced it’s true of you, Mom. I’ve watched you excel at every job you’ve ever had, working your way out of some because of your extreme efficiency. I’ve seen you conquer so many giants over the years with your tenacity, grit, organization, and aplomb. I’ll never forget you squaring your six-foot-frame and intimidating the Indiana State Prosecutor so much he asked you to sit down. That was when you were trying to get me out of jail due to a clerical error and, of course, you went straight to the top because that’s exactly what you do.

You always go above and beyond for the people you love, slaying any dragon in their path. You are bold and no-nonsense and yet, vulnerable and even fragile at times. Sometimes I wonder what my life would look like if you hadn’t let Jesus turn yours around. I shudder.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for loving me, for teaching me to see people, for living forgiveness, for walking redeemed.

I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

P.S. Next time you’re in town, I owe you lunch. 🙂