My Mother was the strongest person I have ever known to this day. She passed away at 62, of massive heart failure. Even thought she had been sick most of my life, it was still both a surprise and a shock that she died suddenly. It was a difficult loss, compounded by my father’s unexpected death just 2 months later. She was the second oldest of 5 children, the oldest daughter. She grew up in North Dakota and her father died when she was 11, after a long illness. Her Mom raised the kids mostly on her own working as a waitress at the only steak house in a small town. Mom took care of her younger siblings and they did not have an easy life, struggling through the depression. I remember her telling me that they ate lard and sugar sandwiches and my mom only had 2 dresses, one for everyday and one for special occasions. My Grandmother remarried, but her second husband got sick too, and she was again caretaker. They were poor and often bullied or excluded at school. At sixteen, Mom got rheumatic fever, missed a long period of school and ended up dropping out. She had wanted to be a nurse and probably would have pursued that course, if she had not gotten sick. She went to work full-time and started dating a shy, popular boy whose family was more affluent and owned a business in town. That was my dad. He was a kind and affable man, but suffered from social anxiety, which he self-medicated with alcohol. I was born when Mom was just 20. It was a difficult birth and she was told she couldn’t have more children.
Motherhood was hard on her. She was always exhausted and anxious, but it wasn’t until she was thirty-two that she was diagnosed with a heart condition caused by her rheumatic fever. My sister was six then and I was pretty much her caretaker or second Mom, as my mother was not doing well. The valve carrying blood to her heart was the size of a thread and it was supposed to be the size of your thumb. When she was diagnosed the cardiologist told her that she was literally a few months from death, if she didn’t have the surgery. Her skin was gray, she had no energy and yet, was always anxious. My Mom was a bit obsessive compulsive and her go to when she felt bad was to clean. Our house was spotless and you literally couldn’t walk on her beautiful hard wood floors without Mom having an anxiety attack. She needed open heart surgery and they were not sure she would make it. She was actually one of the first open heart surgeries and it was a very complicated surgery at the time. She made it though and it was like she came back to life. There was a long recovery period, but from right after the surgery you could see the color come back into her skin and the hope come back to her eyes. I did not really realize how close we’d come to losing her, until I saw the life returning.
All of my life Mom had been slowly dying and becoming more angry and even more mentally unwell. She went through a process of transformation and really celebrated the value of life. She actually seemed happy and joyful for the first time. As long as I had known her, she had been overwhelmed and unhappy with only moments of joy that were very fleeting and short-lived. My Dad’s drinking had increased with the stress of her illness and even though he loved her and had good intentions, he could not be the support she needed. She turned to distractions I won’t go into for solace and my parent’s relationship deteriorated. My Dad’s alcoholism got worse and eventually they divorced. Mom wanted more of a relationship and actually began that before their divorce with the man who later became my step-father. I saw her embrace life for about 16 years. They were not planning it, but my half-brother was born when she was 39 and he became the child Mom could actually raise and be herself with. I really had to get to know her again, as she definitely was not the same person who had raised me.
“Someone I once loved gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” – Mary Oliver
Unfortunately, all of the issues caused by her rheumatic fever had not been discovered and new symptoms started to appear over time. She got a rare form of arthritis and her heart issues were not fully resolved. They did not discover it until after her death, but the rheumatic fever had caused small perforations in her heart that ultimately led to her death. She struggled the last years of her life with debilitating illness, but she kept going and really did not want let go of life. The way she lived the last years of her life was such a contrast to the early years I saw growing up. Growing up I saw an angry, bitter and impatient women with a short temper, who took her rage out on world, but most specifically me and Dad. Though my dad was an alcoholic and drank in part pushed by the stress he felt, he was an adult and did understand what she was going through. I wanted to understand, but I was just I child and it was more difficult. I remember once asking my dad why Mom hated me and he said she didn’t, I just had to understand Mom. That was difficult for a child when she would strike out for no reason and hit, yell and say horrible things. It was hard to know that the rage was not really directed at me, when it definitely felt that way. On some level, I did get the message that she loved me and there was something going on with her, but it took many years of resentment and hurt to heal the wounds. This was another pain for my mother, as well, as she did not know how to heal the distance between us and it hurt her, too! Once she had learned how to feel joyful, she wasn’t willing to let it go of it. I believe that finding joy and happiness prolonged her life and made the quality of her life better despite the illness and pain she suffered. I also believe that the many years she suffered in pain, anger and bitterness in the earlier years took their toll and were contributary to her poor health. I wish that she had not had to endure the long years of suffering not knowing what was wrong, but I learned so much from her experience.
A letter she wrote me six months before she passed told me that she had learned much, too and understood the journey she had gone through in many similar ways, as well, and that provided a lot a healing. That letter would give a needed key for my own later journey and though I don’t have the letter any more, it still does give me comfort. I see my mom’s heart as much like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where broken pieces are mended to create both greater strength and a different beauty, a magnificent symbol of resilience.
Blog By Kate Olson
Kate is a Hypnotherapist, NLP Practitioner & Trainer, Reiki Master, Energy Healer, Life Coach and more. To find out more about her or her work, click the links below:
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About the Blog
After 4 years of featuring at least 1 guest Author a month this blog changed in 2020. I loved featuring the posts of other great people who also believe in mind, body, spirit wellness. I will continue to feature articles submitted to me on this topic that align with my own mission. However, finding & reaching out to others is time consuming and I do it for my radio show, Soul Talks and other groups and projects and so for this blog i will be ramping up my own posts and perspective. posting mostly my own blogs. I will be happy & excited to post articles from those who submit them to me.