Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day, I miss you!

Mother's Day is a time of great joy for many. It is a time for mothers to cherish motherhood and for children to remember their mothers. It is a time when fathers honor the mother of their children and when we all honor our grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and woman friends. It is also a time of sadness for those of us who have lost their mothers.

The anniversary of my mother's death was just memorialized on May 4th - 18 years of being without my mother and best friend. This Mother's Day, I thought it only fitting to write a letter to Mom and tell her what I think of when I reflect on her life...

Dear Mom,
Mother's Day is coming up tomorrow and my children, grandchildren and husband will all try to let me know how much I am loved. It is truly a bittersweet time for me, however. You see, although I am wife, mother, and Nana, I am also a daughter. You made me a daughter some 54 years ago when you struggled through a breach birth - I was butt first - on a sultry July day in a German hospital. Your labor was intense and you were not medicated...as a mother myself, I can only imagine your pain! But you bore it and you loved me despite our rocky start. As all mothers do, you made all 6 of us feel like we were each the favored one. We were all special in our own ways and we knew, from the beginning, that we were deeply and unconditionally loved. There was more than that, to show for your life, however. In this poor attempt, I want to address what inspired me about you and what made me laugh at your endearing qualities.

Birgit, Mutti, und Uwe - Germany
1). You were faithful - always! Although I was born into your marriage to an abusive German, who you subsequently felt the need to divorce, you never gave up on teaching your children the faith. Yes, you strayed. After our father cheated on you and then left you with two small children, you picked up your life and worked hard at making a family for us. When he stole my brother - your first son, at the tender age of two - you continued to look for him for years and years. You remarried, outside the Church, but gave me an adoptive father and more siblings. This wasn't the brightest spot in your faith-life, but you never denied us the opportunity to live as faithful Catholics. Although you could not participate, you made sure we all received our sacraments - at the proper times. You shed copious tears that did not go unnoticed because you couldn't participate but we never missed a Mass or opportunities for confession for all of those years. Even my father, the atheist, had to grudgingly respect you for that! 

When we moved to the US and you were finally granted an annulment, Dad converted and you married in the Church. Your witness showed all of us that, although your life wasn't perfect, you strove to learn from and correct your mistakes. You didn't just tell us what to do, you showed us the value of sticking to your faith and seeking redemption. I still chuckle at how we decorated the station wagon that day, with cans tied to the bumper and a sign that said 'Just married, congrats Mom and Dad!'.

2). You respected the aged and your extended family. I know that it can't have been easy for you to bring your Uncle Joe - debilitating asthma and all - to the US with us, but you did. You honored him  as vital part of our family and took care of him and welcomed him into our home until the day he died. It wasn't always easy to have little children and an invalid in the house, but you managed with grace. Again, your example showed us how to live a godly life and the respect of all types of people. The lesson learned was invaluable. Dignity for all and a love beyond measure.

3.) You rose above prejudice. When we moved to the US - to a dry county in Kentucky and then Florida - you were completely out of your element. From big city life with all of the amenities, to small town USA with all of the ignorance shown to both your nationality and your faith - and all of the accompanying prejudice. From having neighbors come to your front porch to tell you that you were going to hell for drinking a beer to the swastika painted on the white fence in our yard, you rolled with the punches. Living in a town where Catholics were maligned just made your faith all the stronger and you won the respect and understanding of your many Protestant friends. We saw, pondered, and learned.

4). You were active in moral struggles. I learned to be an advocate from you. Although abortion didn't become legal until a few months later, you demonstrated unconditional love when I was the victim of unwanted advances from a neighborhood boy. I became pregnant at 14 and I remember how horribly that affected you, but you stayed the course. You showed me, by your actions, that excuses aren't the answer and there's no quick way out. Sometimes you just have to live with the hand that you are dealt - with grace. You and Dad adopted the baby, although you were pregnant yourself at that point. Those two little boys - just 5 months apart - grew up as brothers, even though they knew the truth from the beginning. Again, you didn't shy away from the right choices. You took the hand that was dealt and you owned it - you took the high road!

5.) You lived joyfully. Always the life of the party, you won people over by the sheer joy of your life. You had a captive audience, listening to you spin your yarns of life in Germany. You danced and sang with gusto - you gave speeches and taught the language to students. You studied hard and became a proud citizen of the United States of American while never losing pride in your German heritage. Your instructor even chose you to give the graduation speech and you were on television. You lived with an exuberance that we are hard put to emulate!

6.) You were unique. From the entertaining combo of your acquired Southern/German accent to your beer drinking songs, there was no other mother like you! You enjoyed everyone with whom you came into contact. To this day, whenever I post your photo on Facebook - for an anniversary or your birthday - after 18 years, there are still countless comments about the impact you had on others. You taught joy and love by your life and actions. Your endearing quirks still make me smile. I remember Fr. Wathen's shocked face when you called the Three Kings the Three Wise Guys! You said 'atmosfairy' rather than atmosphere and your pronunciation of oregano, with the accent on third syllable still brings a smile to this day. Even the fact that you could paste a smile on your face, while giving me a dressing down in German, makes me giggle now. My friends never knew!

I cherish these memories and so much more. While I will never be a carbon copy of you, I have become who I am by your example. When my family enjoys my company or asks my moral advice - the thanks goes to you. I wouldn't be who I am, had I not lived in the glow of your bigger than life presence. The German recipes, the wonderful German Catholic traditional Christmas celebrations, and the little German nursery rhymes I sing to 'Nana's Kiddies'...they all come from you. God bless you, Mutti, on this Mother's Day and always! You continue to light up our lives with your presence and I see you in that first bright, twinkling star of every evening! Ich Liebe Dich!