“Dear Mom, – a love letter to every woman who has ever raised a child.”
This is the Mother’s Day, 2019 message I delivered at Unity of Wimberley, Texas on May 12, 2019 (mostly as written). You can hear the message along with the music I chose for it in the archives at www.unityofwimberley.com
At the beginning of this year, Rev. Jill and I sat down with Llea (our administrator and head cat-herder) over the course of several meetings and sketched out this entire year of our speaking schedule, our themes, our classes, etc.
Several weeks ago, the three of us had some confusion on the calendar about which day was Mother’s Day and initially, I thought I wouldn’t be on the schedule for this talk. Yay!
But that ‘ol God had other plans. Many of you may know I lost my mother not quite two years ago. As many of you also know, the death of our mother brings with it a very unique, very primal, very ancient, ancestral grief. Curiously, but not surprisingly – that ‘ol God – these past two weekends I was in Lakewood, CO for my intensive – and I use that word purposefully – ministerial school class in Pastoral Care, where we spent a lot of time working on grief. And Mom stuff was the subject for most of us.
“if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother”
When I was putting together this talk, I knew I was going to do it differently than I often do. I knew I’d probably have some heightened emotions around the subject. So, I decided to write what I call the “Dear Mom” letter – a love letter to every woman who has ever raised a child.
I found that I needed to modify that a bit – as this talk evolved to “a love letter to every woman who ever had a hand in raising….me”
I also decided that I would have my notes, safely here in front of me, so that things I really want to say, get said in the way I really want to say them.
I chose the song “Hold You in the Light” (from my 2011 Return to Love CD) to precede this talk for one specific purpose: to emphasize the gratitude and honor I feel for each woman in my life, not only as mother figures (no matter how brief the moment of influence might have been) but as women of strength, tenacity, courage and at their very hearts – women with an inherently infinite capacity to love.
In this day and age, we know that the definition of what a mother is is as vast as the number of women who hold the title. We have moved waaaay beyond anything resembling tradition.
To me, the word mother applies to any woman who – no matter what her past or upbringing – good, bad or indifferent – has expressed compassion, strength, wisdom, ingenuity, resourcefulness, generosity, courage, tenacity, joy and equanimity to any child – whether they are her biological children or not, and whether those children are younger than her or not. I hold each of you in the light of love.
To all of the women who have become or have been mothers to an aging parent, or parents – bless you for doing your best to balance the anticipatory grief of knowing what’s coming, with the day to day heavy lifting of parenting your parents.
To all the women who had to be a mother to themselves and sometimes their siblings, when one or both parents were tangled in the throes of addiction, abuse, incarceration or left through divorce or early death. Bless you.
To all the mothers who wholeheartedly and unconditionally accepted your sons or daughters when they came out as gay or lesbian or have journeyed through years of questioning, self-awareness and acceptance to live as transgendered. I hold you all dearly in the light of love.
Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and any woman – I thank you for teaching girls and young women that true beauty comes from knowing self-worth and not the perfect shade of lipstick or the right brand of shampoo. And for teaching boys and young men that there is no shame in crying and that real power and strength lies not in the physical realm but in emotional honesty and spiritual maturity.
To all the women who have honored the fact that fashion trends will come… and go…. and be recirculated, thank you for knowing it is totally okay to let our young charges fly their freak-flag for their senior pictures…knowing it will come back to haunt them when they reach middle age. (I for one thought I was pretty hot stuff with my perm in my senior picture…)
For all the women who have taught both young girls and boys what healthy boundaries look like and demonstrating strong values like honesty, integrity, respect, compassion and selfless service – while allowing them to learn from their mistakes and not quit at the first sign of things not going their way.
Thank you for demonstrating that it is in the listening (to others and to Spirit) that we learn to find our own voices. And that it, as it has been wisely said, “..is better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.”
Here, then is the my love letter to some of the women who influenced me growing up:
Dear Miss Thelma,
Thank you for demonstrating that no work, done well, is less honorable or valuable than any other. There was a powerfully quiet strength and dignity about you. I loved saying things that made you laugh because when you smiled I could see your gold tooth, the one right in the front with the cutout of a star in it. You had children of your own that I would never get to meet. I wonder now who was taking care of them while you were there ironing my father’s shirts and watching over me as I did my elementary school homework while my mother taught school and went to PTA meetings. I wonder now what you were thinking and feeling, not being with your kids after school, working for my middle-class white parents while the race riots of 1960’s Detroit escalated just a hundred miles away from us.
Dear Mrs. L,
Thank you for being that “neighborhood mom” and having that one home where all the kids (plus five of your own) loved to play. How many summer afternoons we spent in your backyard playing pickup baseball games or tag or some other activity? There always seemed to be a pitcher of icy kool-aid ready for us. Everyone, young and old, always seemed welcome. The days you made homemade cinnamon bread were heavenly. Maybe it was because you were a full-time nurse, or maybe you were a nurse because of an inherent desire to be of service. Either way, you were the best.
Dear Sister Jackie of St. Roberts Parish,
Thank you for your authentic and infectiously beaming smile and for showing me that nuns could actually be really fun and cool. Your love of baseball was contagious and when I found out you were in a softball league with a whole bunch of other nuns, Wow! Throughout that one term of catechism classes that I think were supposed to count as Sex Ed – (and the only such formal instruction I ever received on the subject) – you were kind, patient and non-judgmental. When I courageously and earnestly asked – in front of the whole class, “How do I get a boyfriend? I just don’t feel anything for boys…” You smiled, kindly. And while the other girls in class laughed, you answered (probably with way more understanding than anyone I’d met to that point), “Be patient. You’ll find someone to fall in love with soon enough.” In hindsight, I recall you didn’t say “it would be with a boy.”
Dear Ms. L
Thank you for holding my hand throughout the memorial service for my friend Scott when I was sixteen years old. I didn’t understand then why my mom wasn’t sitting next to me as I went through my first real experience of tragic and personal loss. I did learn later on that in her own grief and fear of being a mother who could lose a child to a car wreck, that was the only way she knew how to protect her own heart. I thank you deeply for being what I needed that day.
Dear Mrs. D
Thank you for the high school graduation gift of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”. Thank you, for seeing me as the spiritual seeker I was, long before I was ever aware I could follow a different path to God than the faith tradition of my family.
Dear Ms. T –
I will be forever grateful for showing me what truly unconditional mother-love looks like. As a long-time, self-employed, single mother who also happens to be a lesbian, you fiercely held to doing everything that needed to be done to give your child a loving, stable home. I have unspeakable admiration for the work you did to raise such an amazing, respectful, loving, free-spirited AND responsible person in spite of (but mostly because of) the long history of abuse, dysfunction and neglect in your own family history.
To my dear wife Cynthia,
I know that given the opportunity, you would be “mother” to every shelter dog and cat within a hundred-mile radius …and then some. Though you never had children of your own, you engage with every little one you meet with such enthusiasm and joy. It is a testament to your deeply loving heart that you attract so many loving beings into your life. Thank you for loving me (and all of our pets).
Before I close, I want to share with you a poem by a longtime friend – a gifted poet and musician who posted this timely message yesterday. Another God thing. I just happened to see it while I was writing this talk:
On the day before Mother’s Day:
To the childfree and childless,
To the un-mothered and the poorly mothered
To the birth-mother and the surrogate mother
To the miscarriage survivor and the woman exercising her choice
To the one’s grieving lost mothers…
Take care of yourself. Commercial holidays around family roles don’t include
The complexity of real human stories
As I said earlier, the definition of motherhood these days is pretty complex.
What I know and what I affirm is that – what we teach here in this center – at the heart of all of EVERYTHING…is love. There is only love. Messy and perfectly imperfect. Each person we call or have called mother – doing the best she can with what she knows how, every day. And the heart of it all is love.
It’s been 1 year, 8 months, 4 days, 10 hours and 20 minutes since you released your earthly body from it’s human adventure. I have to say, again, how grateful I am that for that day – six years before you died – when you found your way to showing me your real heart, the real truth of you – by speaking the words of a wounded child, a fearful, lifelong perfectionist, and at age 76, a still uncertain mother. I’m grateful that you spoke the words of the love and respect you had for me – authentically, honestly and as unguarded as I’d ever seen you. Still very much in control, but unguarded, nonetheless.
I was so very much at peace with where we’d come to in our relationship, how we’d come to love and understand each other in those last six years. And, I’m grateful that in the end, through the mental haze of your dementia – that that part of your brain – the one most connected to your heart, repeatedly told me – yes, repeatedly – how proud of me you were and how much you loved me. I never got tired of hearing that, again…..and again……and again.
All the things you taught me, whether by default or design – I know you were doing the best you could, with what you had, with the level of awareness you had at the time.
As you know, you’ve been coming into my dreams to have full-blown conversation about all manner of things. As clear as day, just sitting there, unguarded, with a comfortable ease – like it’s something we’d done all along. But we hadn’t. And…I’m not complaining.
Lately, there have been times when I’ve looked down when I’m playing the piano and see that your hands have somehow replaced mine at the end of my wrists. It’s disconcerting and at the same time comforting. If you’re somehow having a vicarious rock-star experience through me, so be it. I know it’s only because you love music and me, so much.
You are forever present. Mom. Thank you. I love you.