One Thank You

I never know when small is going to give me a boost. Or more than a boost. At times, practicing small can lead to euphoria.

For many years, my mother and I had a very unhappy relationship, and I carried a great deal of resentment—let me say it, anger—toward her. And it felt uncomfortable. Sometime during my forties, I realized that I needed to dissolve the rock of rage that had lodged inside me or I would be carrying it around for the rest of my life. So I set to work. Psychotherapy, Alanon, meditation all helped, and I could feel the rock slowly shrinking. Then, for the last three years of her life my mother and I established an amicable relationship. She stopped criticizing and insulting me, and I spoke to her about only safe topics—her great granddaughters, my work, my dog, my garden. We never mentioned my brother, a drug addict and the source of the disturbance between us. We didn’t talk about my father, another dangerous subject.

I was at my mother’s side when she died from a massive stroke, at Marin General Hospital, holding her hand and soothing her. She was 103 1/2 years old. As she drew her last breath, I found myself whispering, “We did it, Mom. We did it!”

For a short while, I felt ecstatic. After all those years of bitterness and anger, I could love my mother for who she was toward the end of her life. I was free. Or so I thought. For a while the waters remained smooth. Then, several months after her death, dark memories began surfacing, and I would find myself angry with her once again. How could she do that to me!!!??? I’d find myself thinking. What a bitch!

I had strategies for calming myself down. I could meditate. I could shift my thinking to something sweet that had happened to me recently. I could practice my Qui Gong. Then I’d feel better for a while. But I never knew when a wound would rip open once again.

Recently, over dinner with friends, we began talking about families. One friend’s mother had died recently, and she had spent ten days at her mother’s home caring for her. “My mother was a very cold woman,” our friend said. “What was yours like?” she asked me.

“Mine was just plain mean,” I replied, with a dose of rancor that surprised me.

“I think most of us can come up with a list of sins our parents committed against us,” her husband said. “What I try to do is make a counter list. I ask myself for example, “What can I thank my mother for?”

“Oh, I responded immediately, “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can thank mine for.” Shocked at my insistence and the rage that had welled up, I changed the subject. But for the rest of the evening, I felt troubled by my response.

One of the most difficult interludes with my mother involved her rewriting her will and trust to exclude me. My brother would inherit everything. The news was devastating, thou not completely unexpected. Luckily, sometime later, she revised the trust once again, putting me back in, though I knew nothing of her change of heart. When I heard the news after her death, I was ecstatic. Not simply because the inheritance would make my life easier, but because my mother had at long last done right by me.

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, the answer to my friend’s question came to me. I should have told him, “My mother didn’t disinherit me, and for that I will always be grateful.”

I fell asleep feeling blissful. And I woke up this morning joyful still. Forget the pile of insults and nastiness my mother aimed at me. She did something that made me very happy. And that one thing now trumps all the rest. That’s the power of small.

Near Chase Center, SF

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