Relationships are messy.

What has led to this “insight”? you may wonder. I had a phone conversation with a relative yesterday after I had written her a note. I decided to write her a note as part of my daily writing practice, rather than e-mailing her or phoning her as I often do. Usually she is the one to initiate contact with me.

I have decided this relative has some issues, because I didn’t say anything I thought was offensive in my note. It was basically a cheery note telling her that I was thinking of her, hoping her eyes were better (she’s had cataract surgery recently and a longstanding problem with her eyes) and that life had settled down somewhat.

The response I got was basically a notice that she is no longer going to have contact with me or my family. She won’t send any more birthday cards or Christmas cards. I am not to give her another subscription to The Upper Room, the daily devotional guide that my workplace produces. It only complicates her life. I am not to e-mail her or call her. She then said, “Well, have a nice life.”

Well, damn. I try as much as possible to live out my Christianity, following the scriptural admonition “As much as possible, live at peace with everyone.” But sometimes I just want to throw in the towel when it comes to family relationships.

This is not the only relative in our extended family with whom we have little to no contact.

One of my relatives lost his wife several years ago and has since made himself unavailable to talk. He comes to family occasions such as weddings, but he doesn’t stay in one place very long, so it’s hard to have any conversation with him. He sends us a Christmas gift of oranges and grapefruit every year (supporting a teenager, I suppose, by buying the citrus fruit). I like citrus fruit, but every year we wind up throwing some away because we can’t eat it all. I’ve taken some to the office to share with others. Anyway, it kind of irritates me that he gives this gift when he won’t talk to me. At a family wedding about 3 years ago, I walked over to his table, and he kept moving away from me. I finally grabbed hold of his arm and said, “I would like to talk to you. Quit running away from me!” Of course the conversation was awkward, and it didn’t last long. I guess I should take solace in the fact that he deigns to answer my occasional e-mails to him, though briefly. I have started communicating with him briefly too. After all, I have made many efforts over the years to stay in touch. I recognize that he is grieving, and we all handle grief as best we can and in different ways. I respect that. I’m trying to give him the space he seems to need. I don’t like that the relationship is all on his terms, but I have come to accept that that’s just the way things are.

And another relationship is completely estranged. This has been going on for probably 7 years. We are dead to this family, and I’m pissed off about it, but again, there’s not much I can do. Except pray.

There. I’ve aired my dirty laundry. I am my mother’s daughter–she was always the peacemaker in the family. And as far as I know, she got along with everyone, except for her oldest half brother, who had no contact with the entire family of 11 children. I have tried to follow her example. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about a relationship. I’ve done what I could to make things right, and I just need to trust that God will work out the details.

But every time I read Matthew 5:23-24, I feel guilty. “If you are offering your gift and the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” And when I pray the Lord’s Prayer and get to the part “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I get a catch in my throat.

God, you know my heart. You know I want to live peacefully with others, especially those in my own family. How can I reconcile with those who won’t talk to me? Please show me how to be at peace with myself and help me do the right thing. Thank you for working in my life in ways that I can’t see to make things right…eventually. In the meantime, I pray for these persons with whom I have difficult relationships. Watch over them, soften their hearts, and help me to be patient. Amen.

You Were Gone Too Soon

Today is Mother’s Day.
I remember how you used to wear a red rose
every year on Mother’s Day to indicate
that your mom was still living …
then a white rose after she died at age 96.
We had rose bushes out in our side yard,
on a little bank next to my aunt Reb’s garage,
so it wasn’t much trouble to find a red rose.
After Mamaw died in 1983, I don’t remember
whether the white rose you wore came from our yard
or if Daddy bought you a corsage at the grocery store.
I was in my 20s, in my early married years, living in Nashville,
generally oblivious of what went on in my parents’ lives.

I would have paid more attention
if I had known you wouldn’t be with us for many more years.
In the summer of 1984, you kept a persistent low-grade fever
and things generally weren’t well with you.
Daddy would tell me over the phone what was going on,
and I felt helpless to respond.
Oh Mom, I wish I’d been a little more in tune
and had encouraged Daddy more to relentlessly explore
what was going on with you.
We didn’t have the Internet then to look up symptoms
and fret over all the awful things that might be wrong with us.
Maybe it was just as well.

In 1985 you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease …
and you began your slow decline into tremors, forgetfulness, dementia,
all part of the cruel progress of your disease.
Too bad Michael J. Fox hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Parkinson’s;
when celebrities get ill, people seem to suddenly take notice
and often donate money to foundations that fund research.
Too bad they didn’t have the medical advances, research, and surgeries
that are available today.

I remember our last visit with you before Daniel was born.
It was Christmas 1986.
I cried and cried when John and I left Kingsport that year,
knowing somehow that I had to enter
this journey of motherhood largely on my own,
without your guidance, reassurance, advice, and cheering me on.

When Daniel was born, I wanted you, Mom.
You weren’t able to leave familiar surroundings by that point.
I got the postpartum “blues” in a bad way.
I cried and cried, overwhelmed by the thought
that I was responsible for this sweet, dependent baby …
and I had no idea how to be a mom.
I didn’t know then that one doesn’t suddenly learn how to mother.
It happens gradually, with experience and the support of friends and family, and often through trial and error.

I called my Aunt Reb from the hospital.
My obstetrician, a wise man, could tell I was
in bad shape emotionally, and, kindly, he approved
a longer hospital stay for me. (Those were the days when
insurance didn’t kick you out the door the day after your
baby was born.)
I begged Reb to come to Nashville and help out.
I knew that John would help,
but I needed a mother figure.
John’s mom was 80 years old. I felt close to her, but not enough
to depend on her for the emotional support I so badly needed.

Reb came to Nashville a couple of days
after we brought Daniel home.
Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul drove her to our house,
and Aunt Myrt helped with Daniel’s first bath.
I was scared to death that I would drop Daniel and injure him for life!

Reb stayed for a week, and gradually my frayed nerves
began to heal, and my hormones calmed down.
When Aunt Myrt and Uncle Paul left with her a week later,
I watched out the window, holding Daniel, as their car rolled
down the street.
“It’s just you and me, baby,” I whispered to him. I may have
shed another few tears, but I figured I would be all right.
I was never alone — I had John and friends at church and work
and my mother-in-law to help encourage me
and teach me how to be a mom.

By the time Julie arrived, 3 years and 8 months later,
I felt much different about this experience called motherhood.
I welcomed Julie joyfully,
barely taking time to recover from her birth.
When she was 4 days old, my dad and I took Daniel to the park,
leaving Julie behind in her daddy’s care.
There was no time to stop and think
about all the changes in our lives.
And it was okay.
With a few years of experience under my belt,
I was comfortable with the thought of
being a mom,
no longer overwhelmed.

Mom, you held Julie for the first and last time
when she was 6 weeks old.
By then you could no longer talk much,
but you took pleasure in holding your granddaughter.
I captured the moment with our camera.

And when Julie was only 6 months old (and Daniel was 4),
you left this world.
I cried once again, the first of many times,
for I knew my children wouldn’t remember you
except vicariously through the stories I told them about you.

So it is in life:
we experience love and loss,
joy and sadness,
and somehow we manage to get through
with the help of faith, family, and friends.

I was fortunate to have you as my
mother and mentor
for 32 1/2 years.
You remain in my memories.
I will never forget you and your
positive, kind, funny, hardworking, dedicated, faithful example.

You live on, Mom, inside me
and in the lives of your grandchildren
through the many lessons you taught me.
I am grateful.

Though you were gone too soon,
You made a difference in our lives.

I might have worn a red rose a few times
while you were living (mostly during my childhood and adolescence).
Today I will wear a white rose to honor you
in my imagination.
We don’t have any rosebushes,
and I forgot the rose tradition when I went to the grocery store yesterday.

Yet, I will remember
and I will see your smile,
hear your voice,
and I will always love you
with all my heart.