Some of my family still mention, when reminiscing about my mother, that she was “out of touch” with reality. My mom had a mental breakdown in her early thirties, (during the 50’s when a lot of women lived in a strange post WWII utopia); she spent a considerable time recovering and learning how to be in this world.
I like to contemplate presence, and how being present, and aware, is such a gift in this life: to travel the road and not miss the colors, the smells, the infinitesimal details along the way. It’s what I remember about my mother; she was anything but superficial. She was acutely aware of someone’s inner person, and better than most trained counselors, could get to the heart of the issues at hand pretty quickly. At times, this created levels of discomfort for some of the family. She didn’t always have the acceptable façade of a well mentioned remark, or small talk, and would delve right into your soul. Some stayed away, because it was hard to hide when you were with her.
As my mother lay dying, there were a number of people from the past who wanted to come and visit. Where do these people come from? I often wonder: it’s something strange at a time when really only loved ones seem to matter, not past acquaintances or casual friends, but they show up like Job’s friends- when they are least effective. But I know people sometimes come to the dying person’s bedside for themselves, not really for the person who is laying there. My spouse was listening to a couple of young women, who were sharing all kinds of inane and personal issues with our dying mother. After bearing with their visit, when they left, he sat next to mom and said, in several ways, essentially, “You know those people don’t mean you any good”, and she finally firmly reproached him with a statement that he recalls to this day, “I know that, honey”. She had to say it three different times for him to realize that she was aware, and in fact totally in touch with what was going on. She knew that they needed this time with her, and was willing to give it.
I often think of my mother’s ability to have a “strength’s perspective” with everyone, finding the good and remarking on it, and being able to “see through” what was on the surface, and know deeply what in fact was going on, “in reality”. We still joke about her coming into a room, and saying, “What’s going on?” as though she didn’t know, and always wanted to be in the thick of it. I now know, as I have grown older, that she simply announced her presence, and she unconditionally loved all the egotistic, self-absorbed and less developed family members who misunderstood and judged her continually.
This is what I believe it is to be self-actualized. You are comfortable in your own skin. You have recognized how little the past matters now but also how much it has formed you, how great a gift the love you’ve found is, and how quickly this life is gone so you treasure each moment with each person in your life. You’ve become who you are. (Just know, you will be harangued and disregarded for reaching this point in life, in fact others will laugh at you, criticize you and consider you simple, and perhaps damaged from your life’s experiences.)
My mother is my life’s hero. She shared in her later years a wealth of wisdom and an ocean of love. Now, as I age and experience some of the marginalization and disregard from a younger generation, I realize more than ever, how much my mother’s love transcended all the earthly muck, and buoyed me through my own hard knocks in this life.
I miss you, Momma.