The shouts of imperfect love were so loud
They blinded me to my own ingratitude
This post was written by Viveca Monahan.
My mother would be turning 100 years old this year had she lived. I have been writing a memoir since her death twenty years ago, which was the period at the end of a long Alzheimer’s sentence. My memoir had been stuck in the tangles of how I suffered from her death, was burdened by her disease, and before it all, how deeply I was wounded when she left me as a child. My suffering became the story of my life and it began when I was still a small child, spinning and weaving its way through my youth and into adulthood, winding up here on the early steps of old age.
Several years ago I attended Naikan retreat and was asked to reflect on my mother – to recall all I had received from her, including the diapers she changed for me and the money it cost to raise me. I sat in my hoza with only a white screen to look at and remembered, a few years at a time, the large and small ways my mother gifted me. This took more than ten hours of my Naikan day. Ten hours to recount the gifts I received from my mother. It took far fewer hours to recall what I gave to her in return. In fact it was so few I barely remember them.
It was the third question, what troubles and difficulties have I caused to my mother,? that brought my attention to another story thread. In answering this question from the beginning when my mother, a foreigner alone in a new country, gave painful birth to me. And then with all her love, made choices for my upbringing that would take me away from her. It was here facing the screen of my life that I realized for the first time how it must have felt to be my mother, carrying her beloved infant in one arm and a little brown leather suit case in the other. How her heart would be breaking as she left me to grow up with a different mother.
My heart softened as I reflected on my mother in all her fullness. What I received. What I gave in return, and what troubles and challenges I caused her. There was an obvious missing question regarding my own suffering, but Naikan does not address that. I had been carrying that story very well myself. Naikan opened my eyes to another story, not a replacement, but a way to see what else was true: I was a happy child. As I carry this thread of my mother’s sacrifice and loss alongside the story of her imperfect love, I ache with gratitude and curiosity about what else is true. And it is with this ache I pick up the threads and continue to weave our story.