My mother died this morning. I knew the time was near but didn’t quite believe it would actually happen. She had lived for so long and did so much damage—I had grown accustomed to her shadow. I thought she would live forever. Institutionalized for over twenty-five years, her violence, manipulation, and abuse forced me to walk away decades ago. And now, it was finally over. How do you sum up a lifetime of sorrow? Of what might have been? What do you say about the longing of the heart no matter what has happened or how much time has passed? 

When I heard she was close to death, I found myself calling the hospice number. “Hi, um, you don’t know me, but I’m Sharon Smith’s daughter. I was wondering if the hospice chaplain assigned to her case could call me?” 

I found out my mother had been in memory care for two years. In addition, I lived all the way across the country. I could never make it in time. Besides, I didn’t have the strength to enter the broken family system again. To face the stares and judgments of people who had no idea what kind of ordeal our relationship had been. Despite all that, I wanted someone who was near my mother to listen to the things she couldn’t hear from me. 

“Mama, you’ll never know how much I missed you over all these long years. How often my thoughts were with you and about you. I’m so sorry for your life. I’m so sorry for your suffering. I wish I could have done something to make your life better. I always wanted to have a connection with you. You brought a lot of sorrow into my life, but I am not angry anymore. I’m not carrying the hurt anymore. I wish only peace for you. I want to give you the blessing you were never able to give me. With all my heart, I offer it up to you.”

I had the crazy idea that the Chaplain would listen with compassion and take my words to the bedside of my mother. He might be willing to stand there in my stead, offer a prayer, a comforting thought. At least there might be some sort of loving presence at the end of her tortured life.

“Excuse me,” the hospice administrator broke in. “Are you on the friends and family list?” I had not spoken to my mother in thirty years. I was most definitely not on the friends and family list. I would have laughed at the irony had the situation not been so sad.

I explained I had no desire for any information nor did I want anyone from my family to know I had called. I simply wanted to speak to the chaplain about personal matters. She agreed to forward my request. The night came and went without a phone call. This morning, at 8:20 am my brother texted that my mother had died. I got a phone call from the hospice an hour or two later. I didn’t bother to answer. They left the following message.

“All we can do is give your name to the bereavement team. Let me know if you’d like us to do that. Hope you have a great day! Bye.” 

I took a long walk. Sifting through memories, I listened to my heart. Despite everything my mother had done and all the years of unremitting suffering it had cost me, I realized I wanted to speak with the chaplain because even at the end, the little girl in me wanted to try to connect, one…last…time.

I thought about the scene in the movie “Hope Floats.” The little girl, Bernice, runs screaming after her father as he leaves her forever. Taking a deep breath, I imagined myself standing at my mother’s death bed. 

“Mama, I had to stop running after you years ago, but I never stopped missing you. I’m not going to ruminate about the past anymore or wish for things that will never be. I’m going to live in reality and accept the truth. I’m going to let you go.”

The years of hard work I did toward healing came rushing in to lift me up. There was no regret, no guilt, and no shame, only relief. The journey I took was worth it. I thought about my own children and grandchildren. I would not leave a legacy of sorrow as my mother had. This is what freedom feels like. This is what it means to defy trauma. And now, I’m going to embrace joy. 

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