November 19, 2020

What my Mother’s Unexpected Death Taught me about Forgiveness.

My mom cannot be dead.

“She didn’t make it, Crystal. She’s gone,” he cried.

I hung up the phone and sank to the floor, landing on my knees, hysterically screaming, “No, no, no, no!”

It can’t be true. No. I don’t believe it. There’s been a mistake.

The memory brings tears to my eyes every single time I think of it, even a decade later—even as I write this sentence now. Every time I remember that moment, I feel like I travel back in time, finding myself in my old bedroom and hearing the news—fresh.

It’s as if it’s happening for the first time. The visceral feelings of sudden loss are imprinted in my brain with such permanence that I know I’ll never forget them. I’ll never stop feeling them.

The memory in my mind is vivid, like watching a home movie replaying in slow motion.

I can feel the heat of the cellphone pressed tightly against my ear as I try to comprehend the impossible words coming through the speaker.

I can hear the panic in her boyfriend’s voice, frantically repeating what the doctors said, seeking comfort that I couldn’t give.

I can feel the strain to keep my voice calm, stifling the scream bubbling beneath the surface until I can politely hang up and let it escape.

I can hear the soft thump of its landing as I drop my phone on the bed.

I can feel myself slipping through my husband’s warm arms, trying but failing to catch me as I fall to the ground.

I can hear the sound of my uncontrollable cries, escaping the open door to the living room where my son is sitting on the couch and hearing the unmistakable news that his grandma is gone.

November 15th was my mom’s birthday. She would have turned 60. Instead, more than 10 years ago, she lost her life to a massive heart attack. It was sudden and unexpected. She was only 49 years old.

Her passing caused me to forgive all of her mistakes in an instant. Immediately, it was as if I loved her more in death than I ever could while she was alive. 

I’ve often questioned if this instant forgiveness was real. I didn’t actually know what forgiveness felt like.

Can death bring true forgiveness?

Doesn’t forgiveness take work?

I remember this overwhelming, all-knowing, peaceful acceptance that my mom had always loved me. I didn’t know that I even questioned her love until after she died.

I remember thinking—knowing—that she’d done the best she could in her life and that she didn’t mean to hurt me. She didn’t do it on purpose. 

This was a new feeling, but I felt it deep in my bones and in my soul as if it was a divine awakening.

Before losing her, I was never able to give my mom that kind of grace.

I considered her chaotic childhood and how it shaped her into the alcoholic she’d become. I regretted never taking the time to talk to her about the things she’d been through. I never asked her what really happened when she was growing up. I wonder if it wouldn’t have taken death to finally give her my forgiveness if I’d had the courage to.

The awareness that I would never know the details of her younger years and how they contributed to her pain as an adult saddened me, but I knew it didn’t matter. I had already forgiven her for the pain she caused me.

I also felt this huge weight of guilt lifted off my conscience, bringing compassion for my own misguided actions and feelings toward my mom.

As a teen, I was embarrassed by her erratic behavior and felt resentment that I couldn’t have a “normal” parent. After high school graduation, I was eager to fly the nest and moved over 1,500 miles away. I knew it hurt her feelings that I moved so far and was living with my dad’s family.

I would ignore any calls at night, knowing she’d be drunk and that we’d get into a fight. I’d let days or weeks go by—never calling her back even though I could’ve at a safe, earlier, more sober time of the day. I knew she was lonely but chose disconnection over the drama that she brought into my life.

I believed she could control her behavior if she genuinely wanted to, but I felt she was choosing alcohol over me. I was too angry and judgmental of her selfishness and irresponsible parenting to see her as a flawed human who was surviving the only way she knew how. 

Her death brought forgiveness for me, too.

A couple of years ago, I began following Dr. Nicole LePera, The Holistic Psychologist, and she talks about a process called reparenting. Reparenting is the act of giving yourself what you didn’t receive as a child.

She says that our parents are unconscious, repeating the same habits and patterns they learned, operating from a wounded space because of their own unprocessed emotions. Our parents were doing the best they could with their level of awareness.

This echoed my thoughts soon after my mom died and gave me the confirmation that I needed. I was right all those years ago, without knowing why or how. My intuition was correct all along.

Finally, I could trust that I’d really forgiven her.

Happy birthday, Momma.

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