Comforters

We were almost home from our walk last night, enjoying the cool breeze and the last remaining bits of sunlight.  The dogs stopped to leave one final “calling card” on their favorite bush.

“Did I ever tell you how I got this scar on my elbow?” Jim said, looking off into the backyard of the house in front of us. 

“I don’t think so,” I answered, although he has, and several times in fact, but I thought he might need to tell it again.

“Well, it was right here,” he said, “before this house was built of course, this was all a huge field of grass and tall weeds, but there was a dirt path worn through from bikers.  I was riding across, fell off my bike, and landed on some jagged piece of glass which cut my arm.”

“So, what did you do?” I asked.

“Got back on my bike and rode home – really fast!, because it was bleeding a lot,” he answered.  “I remember my buddy Fred calling out to me, but I didn’t even answer.”

“Did you get stitches?”

He laughed dryly.  “No. I didn’t even tell anybody.  I just got some band aids and went into my room and fixed it up myself.”

“Gee,” I replied.  “I was always falling off my bike when I was a kid, and I’d be screaming and crying for my mom all the way home.  My mother said she could hear me coming for blocks.”

“Well, that was you,” he answered.  “I just had to comfort myself.”

My husband’s been telling me a lot of those stories lately, and I suppose it’s part of coming to terms with his mother’s imminent death.  If you read here at all regularly, you’ll know that their relationship was not particularly close or loving, was in fact characterized by a lot of unrealized expectations (on her part) and guilt (on his).  When her dementia progressed to the point that she no longer recognized him or remembered his existence, I think he felt freer than he ever felt in his life. 

But as I look at her now, hovering near the end of a life that never seemed quite what she wanted it to be, I can only feel empathy for her.  After all, no one sets out to be a bad mother, no one aims to drive their children crazy, or purposefully withholds the love and nurturing they need. (Well, I suppose some people do, but they’re simply psychopathic).  I honestly believed she loved Jim with all her heart…she simply didn’t know how to express it in a way that was meaningful to him.

Sometimes people can only love as much as they’ve been loved.  The stories I’ve heard about her father revolved around his rules – for behavior at the dinner table, for keeping strict curfews.  She’s often told the tale of being locked outside for the entire night because she was five minutes late getting home. And then she married a man twenty years her senior, a man whom she addressed in their early correspondence as “Pop,” a man who was neither affectionate, nor humorous, nor given to indulgence or enjoyment.  Their marriage was always fractious and contentious – I never once heard them exchange a kind word.  

A chilly childhood and a loveless, bitter marriage are probably not the best ingredients for good mothering.

Nevertheless, sitting by her bedside I’m always moved to tears, mostly for her and for the happiness she couldn’t seem to find.  She has lingered with this wretched illness for so long… six years now of drifting farther out to sea every day…and I wonder what divine plan this could possibly be part of. 

So I come home and hug my own mother, whose love has comforted me so well all my life, and hug my husband, who has lots of overdue comfort coming to him.

And I wish I could hug my son.  But I hope that I’ve comforted him well when he needed it.

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10 thoughts on “Comforters

  1. More than a year removed from my own father’s death, I still find myself going over “stories” from the past, even if only in my own mind. Bless you for listening as Jim recounts them to you, and for being there for his mother. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Reading this, Becca, I don’t know what to say. You have a magnanimous heart. You show us the good things in the drabbest of moments. I too find sunshine in everything I undergo..good..bad or anything…

    Somehow compared with yours, I do lack something…

    I am very glad I know if only via the blog world…

  3. You do have a generous heart, Becca. I love what you show us of how to live. And my heart goes out to you & Jim as you make your way through your own difficult times, with grace and love.

  4. My MIL is entering into a similar state. She has little awareness of her surroundings at this point, but her body has not given up yet, although there are signs that this path may be starting.

    I’m so sorry for what you and Jim are going through. I’m especially sorry that Jim didn’t have the love and comfort that he needed growing up.

    You do, indeed, have a lovely heart, Becca. My MIL had some ups and downs in her own life, but she was very, very loving and very well-loved. I also know this is the last way she would want to be living, and that, in itself, breaks my heart.

    Here’s to comfort for you and Jim.

  5. Hello Becca–
    I arrived at Becca’s Byline through a most circuitous route that began with a comment left at Book Stack. But how wonderful to know you are here too. You are indeed a most kind and spirit-filled person (and a marvelous writer). Thanks for sharing such difficult moments. I will keep you and yours in my thoughts, ~ sadie

  6. It sounds like you have a lot of kindness and understanding. I’m sorry that the burdens are piling up on you. Don’t let them get you down.

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