I just returned from a visit to my father's house. It is still hard saying, "to my father's house" instead of "to my parents' house". This February will mark four years since my mother died. For some reason, I felt her absence in the house more acutely than I had on previous visits. Maybe it was because I was there with my daughter who as the only granddaughter held a very special place in my mother's heart.
As I do every visit, I picked a corner of the house and helped my Dad sort and purge. This time it was the room my mother had used as her office as she worked tirelessly for Gabriel Project or promoting the Divine Mercy devotion. Amidst the stacks of papers and prayer cards was the evidence of decades of service. I wish I had expressed to her my admiration of her work. Though in hindsight, I am not sure I really appreciated all she did. I was far too focused on our mother-daughter relationship to be cognizant of the world she inhabited outside her role as Mom.
Our relationship was complicated. But I don't think that is unique at all. Literature, television shows, and movies are quick to show the grossly dysfunctional relationships or the idealistically beautiful ones. What is rarely captured is the realistic messy day-to-day love of imperfect human beings. Mom and I loved each other but we hurt each other too. I don't think either of us were malicious in our intentions but we often struggled to forgive and move on. Yet in spite of our pride, selfishness, and insecurities we muddled through.
In today's me-centered ethos the psychologists would be quick to encourage each of us to protect ourselves from the hurts and leave the relationship. Don't let the other saddle you with baggage. You don't have to take this anymore. I have to admit it was tempting at times to follow that path. But in my heart I knew that I could not turn my back on my mother any more than she could really turn her back on me.
Walking through the house now, I am so grateful for the grace that kept us together. Perhaps because our relationship could be so challenging I cherish our loving bond even more. In every room there is some kind of memento of our times together. A birthday gift, an item purchased on one of our many shopping adventures, or a plant purchased when she visited my home all remind me of the joyful times we shared.
My mother was a bit of a pack rat so after one of these sort and purge sessions I always have the urge to return home and clean out one of my own closets. Clutter accumulates insidiously and it is easier to attack it early instead of waiting until the task is overwhelming.Today, however, I am thinking about more than the clutter of paper, old clothes, and worn out household items. I am pondering the clutter of my heart. I can look at several relationships in my life that are cluttered with old hurts, grudges, petty annoyances, and selfish pride. Perhaps it is time to do a little purging. I am under no delusions that these relationships will be easy or that I can just will away the hurts and hurdles. But what I can do is pray for the grace to forgive and to be open to reconciliation. I can love in spite of the mutual imperfections. I know it is possible because that is what Mom and I did. I can hope that one day others will do the same.