When you are very close to someone like I was my mother, it is difficult to recognize the similarities that you might share…sort of a ‘forest for the trees’ effect, I suppose. In my younger years, it was easy to judge Mom or her life choices and make grand pronouncements that “I will never be like that!” when recognizing her foibles. With the passage of time and with her death in August, however, I find that I am desperately seeking out our common threads, any traits- good or bad- that bind us together as mother and daughter and keep her memory alive. Hopefully in recognizing these shared characteristics, I can also learn from Mom’s mistakes- as well as her wisdom.
Physically, I always thought that I looked like my father, even hoping for that when I was a child. I rarely saw Dad, and he became a mythical figure that I both feared and idolized, hungry to have any connection with him. While I do see him in my features, the older I get, the more I see Mom in my face and in other physical characteristics. I see her smile in mine, her squinty blue eyes, her high cheek bones, her high forehead. I used to tease her, saying that I inherited all of the undesirable characteristics from both the Schultz side (Mom) and the Williams side (Dad); the big feet with funky toes, the high forehead, the bigger-than-necessary derrière, along with a wealth of other proclivities.
Apart from the obvious of the physical, however, I have been searching for the other similarities that Mom and I share- those traits that make us who we are as a person…and I am beginning to recognize several. Since Mom died, I look at the world in a different way. Where before it often felt like Mom cried wolf about health issues over the years (this is the woman who told me she was going to die since I was twelve years old), I now feel much more empathetic toward what she experienced as an aging woman living on her own with very limited resources. I am seeing my body at only fifty-one years of age begin to show signs of wear and tear. After my shoulder surgery last week that greatly limited my physical mobility, I thought about how Mom must have felt living in a body that was giving out out on her….and I made a mental note to take better care of myself from here on out. I recognize that propensity in me to be a worrier like Mom…okay, not a propensity- I am a worrier; time for total honesty here. I am working on it…
I share with Mom a certain gentleness, a shyness around people and things that are new and different- though we both forge through and are survivors no matter what we face. Like Mom, I avoid conflict at all costs, I have her soft voice, goofy sense of humor and sentimentality; I share with her a very close-knit circle of life-long dear friends, a love of romance, and a soft heart that is easily bruised. Like Mom, I am a nester and love to collect special things. She rarely showed anger, nor do I…the Southern Lady was so ingrained in her. Like her, I am often overly polite and have a difficult time saying what I really think, though I am growing a lot in that area. We shared of love of animals, music, photography, and antiques, especially antiques that have family significance.
There are shared traits and experiences that I want to let go of, as well. In an odd coincidence, Mom and I both were divorced at around forty-one after long marriages, with the other woman being ten years younger. However, in Mom’s case, her divorce defined the remainder of her life, and she died still loving my father, never moving on. I learned from her experience and broke free from that trap, thankfully, finding great love and moving forward in life. I always wished that Mom would have found someone to love in her later years, but she could never let go of the stigma of the divorce, or her feelings for my father. That was the event that, while deeply sad for both of us, was pivotal in making us grow stronger as women. We had to leave what was normal and comfortable for us and leap into very different lives. I like to think that both Mom and I became who we were meant to be by navigating the challenges we faced with the dissolution of our marriages. So, other traits that we shared were resilience and strength…just masked with Southern gentility.
I am sure that over time, more similarities will surface, and I welcome them. Mom made her mistakes, and I have made and will make plenty of my own. That is life. I am glad that I learned that someone I once thought was fearful and sometimes weak, was actually an incredibly strong and brave woman. I can only hope that there is a lot of my mother in me, and that I can face life with the resiliency and humor that she did. For now, I will embrace our common threads, holding them close to my heart, letting my mother guide and teach me, even in death.