Earlier in the week, I was in public with a good friend. We were comparing mom notes – not notes about being moms; notes about not becoming our mothers.
“I don’t think you’ll have much of a choice,” a woman around our age said authoritatively before changing her tone. “My mom died when I was 23,” she added in a hushed voice typically used in libraries and funeral homes. “She’s been gone fifteen years and I still catch myself saying things just like her.”
Her sympathetic tone didn’t mask the patronizing undertones that suggested, Clearly you don’t understand this kind of loss, otherwise you wouldn’t say such things.
Oh but I do. I do understand a very similar kind of loss, and I disagree with your approach. Wielding your pain against others with a different reality helps no one; it creates more hurt.
My dad died when I was 26. Up to that point, he did a whole lot of things that drove me nuts. Example: If dad walked by me and I was unsuspecting, he’d take his index finger and brush it under my chin once quickly, similarly to how you’d rub a cat’s chin.
“Dad! Quit it!” I’d yell while swatting the air. “Why do you do that?!” I didn’t get this pesky quirk of his.
With a gleam in his eye, he’d answer from a safe distance, “Your skin’s soft.” as if that explained and absolved everything.
Fast forward to today. I can’t guess how many times I’ve done the same thing to my son – one quick swipe of the finger under the chin. I can’t help it. His skin is so soft and he’s so stinking cute and I just love him!
I see the joke. I tell myself, “Do unto others, Jamie. You know how much you disliked that…” and I choose to do it anyway. Every time I grin and shake my head. I get it dad. I get it.
When someone dies, the things they once did that drove you bonkers become a little cute. You know it won’t happen again – it can’t happen again – and that knowledge replaces any hint of annoyance with fondness.
Swap out dad with mom and it’d go a little something like this: Remember how many styrofoam cups of iced tea mom used to leave behind? Or how about when she’d forget her cell phone on the counter and you couldn’t call her to tell her; you just had to wait for her to figure it out? Oh mom.
That’s the sentimental recollection of days gone by. The current reality: I spot mom’s forgotten items and barrel out the front door hollering, trying in vain to flag her down as she pulls unaware out of the drive.
I’m sure the gal who spoke to me and my friend would like the opportunity to experience one more habit of her mother’s that would have once elicited an eye roll. I often wonder what my reaction to Dad would be if he walked in the door and swiped my chin again. I’m guessing I’d automatically start swatting and yelling, just like old times.
That’s why when a friend shares a frustration about their dad, I don’t go to the wounded place and think, You’re so lucky! I don’t put on condescending you have no idea pretenses. I meet the person where they are and think, Yep, I get it. Because I get it. Because when my dad was alive, I had similar experiences.
Will I continue to swipe Miller’s chin on occasion a la my dad? Probably.
Will I ever leave something at a friend’s house accidentally just like mom? It’s already happened twice this week. I left Miller’s toys at one house and my socks at another.
Am I becoming my parents? Yes. And I’m simultaneously becoming more of myself.
Will I use my pain as a weapon against someone with a different reality? I hope not.
Whatever kind of hurt you’ve experienced – loss of a loved one, infertility, medical diagnosis, divorce, etc… – your reality does not trump, discredit, or nullify someone else’s reality. Your truth might not be their truth.
It doesn’t have to be.