Faith vs Fear

Faith vs Fear

Monday, May 9, 2011

Reconnecting with My Mother

Mothers Day is always a bittersweet day for me, with tender memories of my mother coming to the surface. This year my sister's comment about our mom's hamburger patties that resembled "hockey pucks" brought back happy memories of long-forgotten family dinners and made me laugh. For some reason, none of her daughters can cook decent hamburger patties, either. We think it's genetic.

My mother died unexpectedly of a stroke when she was 53 years old and just starting to experience an empty nest. I was 21, engaged to be married, and figuring out my life away from her. Although deeply saddened by the loss, I didn’t take much time to mourn, and went on with my activities, including marriage a few months later. I became a mother myself within a year of her passing.

My daughter was born on the third anniversary of her death, and oh, how I wanted my mother then! I slipped into post-partum depression, complicated by unresolved grief and other factors. I eventually recovered from the depression but was not able to talk much about her for another 15 years.

The years flew by filled with life’s unexpected twists and turns and the joys and sorrows of raising children. Often, when perplexed by my children’s behavior, I pondered the question, “What would Mom do or say?” I tried to follow her example in raising my children and missed not having her here to enjoy her grandchildren. She would be so proud of them!

Then I found some long-forgotten letters that she wrote to me when I was in college. When I held the creased letters with fading ink, written in my mother’s familiar, difficult-to-decipher writing, I felt warmed by memories of a home long gone. I pictured her sitting at a table, writing letters on whatever paper was available. I could even hear her voice in my mind. I read them through and enjoyed remembering the carefree, exciting time when I first left home.

I am now a few years older than she was when she wrote them, but I face some of the same challenges. Even though I want my children to progress, sometimes it's difficult seeing them move in different directions. She also had trouble dealing with an emptying nest: “We missed you on Thanksgiving. It’s the first Thanksgiving you have not been home. It’s hard to see the family pulling apart; not being able to spend holidays together. I hope you won’t get too homesick.”

There’s something about the motherhood role that makes us want to give advice to our children, and she was no exception. I appreciate now her gentle reminders, and her wish to have me at home with her:
“Please take care of yourself and don’t get run down. Get plenty of rest.”
“Be sure to budget the money you earn so that you will have enough to pay your bills at the end of the month. It is so easy to spend as you make it.”
“When will you be coming home? I did 14 pints of peaches for you, and froze 20 pints for us. Otherwise, life is dull, but we keep busy.”

All through the letters are expressions of love and confidence: “We are all looking forward to your summer at home as we love you and miss you very much. I’m so glad you enjoy your school and have learned so much about being independent, and taking care of yourself. We are proud of you.”

She frequently asked about the well-being of my roommates and friends, and her spirit shines through in this warm welcome to a friend:
“It was so good to talk with you again. We get lonely, but that is okay; then we appreciate everyone more. Your friend is welcome for Thanksgiving. We’ll borrow some cots from the neighbors so no one need sleep on the floor.”

Some of my favorite letters are descriptions of what she saw around her: “February 2. We have had two weeks of beautiful sunshine. Every weekend we have noisy snowmobiles running up and down the lake in front of our house. So we have driven to Riggins (on the Salmon River) for the last two Saturdays. Mild and warm down there; buttercups out all over the place.”

She also liked following current events, and one of the last letters she wrote was on Election Day 1976, just two months before she died: “Did you vote today? By the time you get this all the hullabaloo will be over, and we will settle down into what? Who knows?”

Finding these letters was better than finding treasure. I miss my mother and probably always will, but now I feel reconnected to her. I am healed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Musings on My Son's Deployment

During the past eight years, I have often had a computer screensaver filled with pictures of soldiers, sailors, ships, and helicopters. I also have a growing collection of military pins, stickers, hats, and shirts. I have been known to tell complete strangers about my children’s service. I am a military mother. Three of our eight children left home within a few years of each other. Jonathan chose to join the Marines, Brian served a mission, then joined the Army, and Ben worked full-time before his mission and schooling. Later, one of our sons-in-law, Wes, served in the Army, and our youngest son, Jeff, chose the Navy.

I am proud of my sons who serve in the military, even though deployments are so very stressful for all involved. When our sons have been deployed I sometimes feel alone in my concern about their safety, and I don't fully relax until they come home. During those times, prayer becomes a lifeline, as does Sunday meeting and temple attendance, along with reading the scriptures. I often feel great peace and reassurance when I need it, and I know the Lord is aware of what is happening and that He is in charge. I am so grateful for an understanding of the eternal nature of families, and the realization that life continues beyond this time on earth.

We also have supportive friends, family, and ward members who prop us up when we need it. They love our boys, and we appreciate their kind words and all the prayers offered in behalf of those serving in the military. Those prayers, including those offered in the temple, are important, and we know they are being answered. Halfway through Brian’s second deployment I found an online support group for military parents. It has been a great blessing to discuss feelings and share information with other military parents.

I hadn’t anticipated my children choosing to serve in the military, but we have watched them grow and gain strength and confidence in their abilities. We are proud of them and those they serve with. When I heard the news about bin Laden's death this morning I felt relief that an evil man who caused so much suffering has been removed, thought of those who have lost their lives because of his teachings and actions, pride in those serving in the military who sacrifice so much for us, followed by concern for the well-being of those who are serving in harm's way.

How to Support to Military Parents and Other Family Members:
• Do not tell us to get over it when they’re away, or give us a look of horror (or sympathy) when we tell you that our children have joined the military. Serving in the military is an honorable occupation. Many of them come through the experience as stronger people who are able to reach out and help others.
• Offer a listening ear and an open heart. One of my friends put it this way, “Even when time has passed, and he/she has been gone for a while, don’t think that Mom and Dad have stopped worrying. They have not.” Please ask us about our loved ones who are serving in the military, and be willing to listen without judgement even when we go into great detail.
• Offer to write to our children.

How to Support Those Serving in the Military:
• Military training and service are very demanding. Tell them how proud you are of them and their willingness to serve. Even if you don’t agree with their decision, they need to know that they are loved and supported.
• Soldiers need and want letters and care packages. E-mails and phone calls are appreciated, but they are also fleeting. The father of a soldier says, “My son told me that letters weigh next to nothing, and if he got lonely he would take out a letter to calm himself.” Sadly, some don’t receive any mail. Consider finding a serviceman or woman who needs support and write to them.
• Pray for them.
• When you see a serviceman or woman express your gratitude.

Update on the family: We welcomed a new grandson, Carson, on the 27th of April; it would have been my mother's 88th birthday.

David has had a lot of depression this winter and spring, along with some bouts of mania, but the meds do a good job at keeping him reasonably level. I'm grateful for that, but sometimes I feel that he's leveled out in keeping the disorder under control. And there certainly are days when it can be difficult to be with him. I'm glad the days are starting to warm up, which means he can get out of the house more often and work on his projects.