My friend Mark’s mom just died. They were very close. My mom Rita died when I was 22. Mark is 57. He had more time with his mother, but I doubt it hurts less. Part of your heart is carved out when your mother dies, and you can only hope it grows back.
Mark understood the importance of forgiveness early in his life. It took me a lot longer. I had a list of childhood grievances against my mom sitting close to my heart for decades. Now I think about how hard it was to be a young, single mother with a mental illness. Rita did some extraordinary, hair-raising things like throw her boyfriend’s computer out of an 18th story window, a window set right above the entrance to our apartment building. Another time she took me to the drug store to get crutches so I could pretend to have polio. She wanted her boyfriend to feel sorry for her. There are hundreds of other tidbits like this, some of them truly horrifying. When your mother has a serious mental illness, she might consider ending her life, imagine things that don’t exist, rage like a monster.
Remarkably, truly remarkably, my mother’s love inoculated me against all her frailty and pain. Rita loved me all the way through. I am so grateful that I can see my mom as a love machine and as someone worthy of admiration. She was eternally optimistic. Great things were always around the corner. She had the courage to move us to Los Angeles when she was 26 so she could become a Movie Star. That didn’t exactly work out, but she was cast in a few motorcycle movies before she completely lost her mind.
The power of love is extraordinary, and it seems like it would be so simple to love someone. Yet, it’s so hard for most of us. All our cracks and misconceptions get in our way. When we can forgive someone we love, it’s as if floor-to-ceiling doors open to a sunny day. You see a quiet spot to sit under a leafy tree. There, you feel wonderful feelings like peace and gratitude. I don’t want to forget all the hurtful things my mom did, but they can stay in a bag by the tree trunk. I don’t have to carry them anymore. There is only room for forgiveness.