Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Legacy

Friends,

You’ll be glad to know it isn’t about me, today. Even when it is, though, I’m not looking for your sympathy or tears for my sake. To continue the analogy, like someone who drives a little more defensively after driving past a bad auto accident, I’m here to make you slow down and think about the consequences.

I’ve complained more than once that I want to meet the pro-abortion woman who insists her abortion improved her life. Sometimes, I am denser than a fencepost – I’ve already met her and I’ve already talked to her. She is my mother, and it’s time to talk about her.

So far, particularly if you’ve read my testimony at http://www.silentraindrops.com/, you’ve seen just one dimension. But none of us is made up of just one part, or one moment, although there are singular events that can change us forever. I didn’t describe her fully in my testimony because that wasn’t my purpose and it wasn’t the forum. It still isn’t, and I won’t go back and change that testimony. But because it may appear to you that I have not forgiven her, let me tell you what I know about my mother’s life.

She became a mother for the first time when she was 16. Does that sound familiar? Yes, these things run in families. Her reasons for being sexually active at such a young age are similar to my own at the root, although not similar at all in detail. When she had me, in 1963, she was already the young mother of two boys, aged four and two. I was the girl she prayed to have.

When I had grown up and returned home to visit from college, in my early twenties, Mom and I would often sit around her kitchen table, talking, and getting drunk. Now, please don’t write to me about that. If it shocks you to learn that my mother and I had some drunken chat sessions, you are in the wrong place. During these “round table” discussions, as she called them, Mom would often open up and reveal things I had never been old enough to hear before. We talked about deeply personal events. We laughed, at each other, at other people in the family, at the funny things we’d done together – like how every time we went shopping together, one or the other of us would knock down a display, or drop something, and the one who didn't break the stuff this time would burst into giggles and act like she didn’t know that klutzy woman over there. We cried together, too, but we didn’t argue with each other. My mom and I were good friends. Does it surprise you to hear that? Don’t be. All relationships are multi-dimensional, filled with emotions we think cannot co-exist but do.

My mother was a loveable woman. She lived in great physical and emotional pain, but she didn’t complain, and few knew. Many people compared her to Lucille Ball, because of her sense of humor and fun. She was a waitress all her life, and she was proud of it. Imagine, waiting tables through the pain of rheumatic fever and vascular disease. She worked hard, she was a dedicated employee, and she had a following of regular customers who would eat whereever she worked, just so they could see her. She didn’t just serve them food, she cared for them.

She was a beautiful woman with contagious laughter, tall, leggy, and boisterous. She loved music, and loved to sing, but never got a chance to develop her own voice. Every Halloween, she would work hard to create an original and exciting costume to wear to work. Her people, her “regulars,” as she fondly called them, came to expect it. And every Sunday when she worked, she wore her special earrings – little plastic toilet bowls, one in each ear. She would leave the tiny lid up on one miniature toilet, and down on the other, so people would ask why. Why, because one was the Gents’ and one was the Ladies’, of course.

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she would invite into her home at least one person, often more, anyone she met who had no family, no home-cooked meal to eat, and no one with whom to share holiday cheer. She had a generous spirit. Many of her regular customers were elderly, because she lived in a community with lots of retired folks, and their problems were her problems. When one died, or became ill, she would make sure to show them her affection with gifts, kind words, and special attention. She remembered their names, their afflictions, their family situations, and she would always ask about them. She supported her co-workers, encouraging them when they were having personal problems or work problems, and she motivated them to be better, to think highly of themselves even if they worked in what is traditionally a “servile” role, and even though restaurant customers can be rude and demanding. She knew she was there to provide service – it was her hallmark, and she was an expert – but she did it with great dignity and pleasure, knowing that for many people, eating out is all the fun they have. She instilled that in those with whom she worked. It was important to her that people were happy, and she wanted to be the one to make them feel that way.

Little by bit, during shopping trips, visits, and round-table sessions, my Mom told me about her childhood, and about her own legacy, as we came to know each other again after our separation. She said when she was growing up, my grandfather was abusive, cold, controlling, and violent. He is still alive, but since he doesn’t even know my name, I really don’t care about protecting his reputation. Her mother, my grandmother, also died at a relatively young age. She and my grandfather divorced long after my mother had grown and moved away with her husband and children. My grandmother’s death hit my mom very hard, because they hadn’t seen each other in a decade before she died. To a certain extent, it helped us to bond with each other. She didn’t want to leave me with the same kinds of unresolved emotions she had herself.

My mom was a victim of sexual assault when she was a girl of thirteen or fourteen. I remember the day she sat me down and told me about it, when I was also young - about ten. She used her own experience and the pain of it to warn me about stranger-danger. I can only retell it as it was told to me – just about everyone who could corroborate it is dead.

She said she was walking home from school one day when the attendant at the neighborhood gas station lured her into the place. I don’t know how, but I remember her story started with “Don’t take candy from strangers,” so perhaps he used what we now think of as a stereotypical lure. He raped her, and told her he would kill her if she told anyone about it. She ran home, where her mother was, and in spite of the threat, she told her what had happened. The year would have been 1953, 1954 – somewhere in that time period. My grandmother, instead of calling the police and reporting a crime, did everything she could to keep it quiet. It was a different era, first of all, and secondly, my grandmother lived in a hostile environment. She insisted that my grandfather could never know, because she feared he would kill the man, and he would be angry with my mother. I was too young to grasp this part of the story.

Grandma literally threw my mother into the bathtub, gave her a steel-wool pad, and told her to scrub herself, “down there,” and then warned her that she’d better not get pregnant. The last phrase was just as threatening as it sounds. In retelling it, my mother’s eyes took on that other-look, as she steeped herself in the painful memory. Mom wanted me to learn this lesson, too. She wanted to protect me from people who would harm me the same way. She also wanted, in the way we all have when we want someone to understand us and not judge, to tell me something about herself, something that would also make me grateful to her for giving me a different kind of childhood from the one she had.


She didn’t get pregnant from the rape, she said. But when she met my father, she was just 15, and in our later years together, she revealed that she had wanted to get pregnant by him. She wanted to leave home more than anything, and she wanted my father to rescue her. When she got pregnant, they got married, because that’s usually what you did in 1958. My oldest brother was born in 1959, and named in part for my father, who was just eighteen, himself, barely grown. My parents divorced when I was in the second grade. Their marriage was not happy. There was abuse and betrayal, sickness and debt. My father is still living, and although I do not have a relationship with him, I will not go into any more detail about his personal life with my mother out of simple respect. I’ve heard some of his side, and I don’t hate him any more than I hate my mom. They were young, and they were deeply troubled.

Mom spent most of my earliest childhood in the hospital. She had rheumatic fever, and she had a shocking cholesterol problem. Now they know all about genetic, Type II hypercholesterolemia, but back then the only treatment they could think of to reduce her 900+ cholesterol count was to hospitalize her, and put her on a diet she described as “fish and water.” My poor mother – she hated fish. It didn’t work, of course, because her body was manufacturing the cholesterol. She could have lived on air, and the numbers would have been too high. Our family doctor, reasonably frightened that she was on the verge of a stroke, could do nothing in the mid-sixties but treat the rheumatic fever with penicillin and remind her again and again that she could not eat high-cholesterol foods, as they knew them then. Thereafter, she lived in constant pain that only someone who has had rheumatic fever can understand.


When she divorced my father, she changed. She was in a strange town far from home, far from family members to whom she wouldn’t have turned anyway. She made a deliberate and conscious decision not to go home, as a matter of fact. She said Dad gave her $100, and that was the last dime she ever saw. She went to work waiting tables, at night. It was many years until she could afford to switch to the day shift. Few people knew that my mother didn’t have a high school diploma, or a GED. She didn’t need one to work hard putting food on the table and to do her best to keep a roof over us, and she was gifted. My father initially took the two oldest boys, leaving her with just me, but eventually my oldest brother came home to his mother. She met my stepfather, and they married not long after her divorce was final. Somewhere in between the divorce and remarriage, she got pregnant and had an abortion.

I was twenty-three before I learned about it. We were sitting together at the round kitchen table, having a chat and more than a few glasses of wine or beer. We were pretty-well sloshed by the time the subject of abortion came up. For the first time, she asked me to tell her what happened when I left her in the waiting room seven years earlier, and she wanted to know if I hated her for it. It sobered us up immediately. Her eyes, an unexpected shade of green flecked with gold, were tear-filled, but resolute. She told me – she didn’t ask – she told me in no uncertain terms that she had done what was right, and she would do it again. I argued with her, which was uncommon. We got along well, as we were very much alike. I told her it was not good for me. I told her I did not think my life was better for having terminated my pregnancy. She refused to believe it. She told me I didn’t know what I was talking about, because she had deliberately acted to change the course of my life so that I wouldn’t know, so that I would never be a young, overburdened mother who was most likely going to be abandoned and alone. My mother lived in constant fear of poverty, even years after she and my stepfather had gained financial security. Her sense of independence and self-reliance was over-developed, stemming not from confidence, as I used to think, but from the strongly-held belief that she was alone, would always be alone, and could trust no one.

She asked – so I told her the details of my abortion that night. When I came to the part where they were injecting sodium pentothal, she laughed. It was a horrible laugh – she got the “other-look” again, and turned a cynical gaze toward me. “I didn’t have ANY anesthesia at all,” she said, and my jaw dropped with the shock she intended for me to feel. “When?” I asked, steeling myself, and that’s when she told me she had been to Los Angeles for an abortion. She would not say exactly when. She would not tell me who the father was. She said only that there was “no way” she would have been with him. She said he was someone she met in between my stepfather and my father. It isn’t my business to figure it out, and I’ve stopped trying. These days, though, I think often of my missing sibling, and my husband reassures me many times that when my mother died, she had a couple of children waiting for her. I say that with joy, because I believe they are reunited now in love.


Her own abortion experience was awful. I don’t remember the details, because I could not stand to hear them then, so while she talked, I shut it out. But still, I would not back down that, given another chance, I would have refused to have an abortion, and she would not back away from her belief that she had done what was best for me, because she loved me. Of course, she didn’t back down. She couldn’t, because if she admitted it was wrong for me, then it had been wrong for her, and she had harmed two of her children – she couldn’t face it. I didn’t want to make her face it, either. I understood, not through any ability of my own, I’m sure, but by God’s grace, that she was also emotionally crippled. I stopped the argument, and I told her that I did not hate her for having done what she did, and that was, and remains, the absolute truth.

At the level of our souls, where we live in eternity, I forgave my mother a long time ago. You see, my mother loved me very much. She loved me like a mother bear loves her cubs. Did she do everything right? No, of course not. Who does? But she wanted to protect me. She would have given her life to protect me – she would have given anyone’s life to protect me, and that’s what she felt she had done. My child, who she didn’t know, did not matter to her as much as I did.

At times, as I relive memories I have deliberately avoided for many years, the emotions are revitalized, and that is what you hear as a lack of forgiveness. Just because the anger seems fresh doesn’t make it present. It is just memory. Of course I forgave my mother. I love my mother, and I miss her.

The hardest part is that our legacies led to my letting her down when she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within three weeks of the diagnosis. She was gone before I could offer her any meaningful support or help. (In my didactic way, I bombarded her with self-help books, as if she could cure herself if only she knew how). She’d already had open-heart surgery twice for the blocked arteries, starting at age 50, and when she died she had at least 13 stents. We always thought it would be heart disease that would take her.

They didn’t find the small cell lung cancer until it had metastasized. Because of her damaged heart, she signed the Do Not Rescucitate order before starting therapy. The outlook was grim – eighteen months at the most, but they were going to treat the cancer as aggressively as they could. But before they could do much she developed a staph infection, introduced through her chemo tube, and she died one Saturday noontime, within twenty minutes of my arrival at her bedside. She never spoke, but she opened her eyes at the end, and she looked long and deep into her husband’s eyes, turned toward the ceiling, closed them, and the ragged breathing that had greeted us when we first came in stopped – and didn’t go on. Mom was gone. If it sounds familiar, it should – former President Reagan was able to give a similar gift to his wife, and we all heard about it on TV during that mournful period. I marveled at the similarity, and the gifts God gives His children. Just imagine how many of these dramas are played out all over the world, at this moment, even, and we don’t hear about them.

When she died, I dropped to my knees at the side of her hospital bed, and I prayed “Hail, Mary, full of grace…” I hadn’t been to church in years, and my mother was away even longer, but that prayer always came to me in times of great trouble and still does. I asked my stepfather if we needed a priest – my mom was a Baptized Catholic. He said it had been taken care of already. When I went through her things, later, I found the Rosary she received from the priest who gave her the final rites. I also found a journal she had intended to start several years earlier, filled with empty pages, all but the first page, where there was one line among a few that haunts me: “I want to love God, and not be ashamed.”

I pray her final Confession and Anointing paved her way to heaven. I think it did, because my life started to change after she died, for the better, as if I was getting some extra help. She sees me now, I am certain of it, and she encourages me to tell my story and hers, to talk about the silent legacy. It’s only by bringing these things into the light that we can understand them, and some day put my website and my new-found pro-life activism out of business.


Prayer for All Souls Day: Lord, welcome into your presence your daughter, Bev, whom you have called from this life. Release her from all her sins, bless her with eternal light and peace, raise her up to live for ever with all your saints in the glory of the resurrection. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.


Mothers tell your children
Be quick you must be strong
Life is full of wonder
Love is never wrong
Remember how they taught you
How much of it was fear
Refuse to hand it down
The legacy stops here.

~ Silent Legacy (by Melissa Etheridge)









1 Comments:

At 11:59 PM, Blogger a friend said...

I don't mean, of course, that it can never be about you :) But I think you are tying to tell people what to do, while you still need to learn more about yourself

some points - many people, as Judie Brown herself does not, never use the term 'pro-choice' - all are pro-abortion. Pro-choice would mean the baby would have a choice - he or she does not. You did not, in many ways. And there should never be a legal option to kill anyone! Not the unborn, or any other class, wholesale

also, read this if you can:

http://www.catholicexchange.com/vm/index.asp?vm_id=62&art_id=25914

From the Heart of a Woman Who Knows - 11/3/04

did your mother have a mother at the time who loved her, at the time of her abortion? That is one reason you feel differently, I think - even though your mother was wrong, it seems she was loving

You need to get healing, and continue writing - more dialogue in some spots is good

Maybe articles and a book

Do a search for Sydna Masse, of Ramah International - she also had an abortion w/o anaesthesia (I think she may have had two in all)

Maybe your mother thought the other child was also a girl, which she wanted with you - another reason for denial

Was your mother an alcoholic? Did her drinking start after the abortion? see afterabortion.org for some info

Maybe you need to write a letter to your mother...that often helps

yes, that line would haunt me - and it brought tears to my eyes

ugh to Ms Etheridge, but you should work on how to get your message really out there

But you need to make the connection between your past and your future - take the steps to heal with help

 

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