When my daughters were little girls I knew that to have the kind of relationship with them that I wanted as they grew up, I needed to do some (ok a lot of) work on my relationship with my mother.
And it had to begin with understanding her first so, to get there, I flew out to my parents home on Vancouver Island and over the course of a weekend, asked my mother to tell me her life story while I recorded it.
She started with the facts, “I was born in Pondicherry, India…” and began to cry. For two and a half hours she cried and talked and shared the story of her life.
My only role was to listen.
By the time her words and tears stopped flowing, she was exhausted.
I thanked her for telling me her story and we went to bed.
We didn’t speak of that time again, though occasionally she would ask if I was going to write her life story.
I never did. I was afraid she wouldn’t like my telling of what I heard.
She wanted it to be about her life in India where she felt she lived in her own personal Shangri-la. She didn’t want me to write about her life beyond those days. After leaving India she felt lost and untethered from her family and her past and did not want me to write about sad things.
I wanted to write the story I heard. The story of a woman with mental health issues who had never had any help.
My mother suffered from severe depression. A gentle soul for whom the vagaries of life often felt too harsh and real, by the time I was born, just over seven years after my eldest sister, the final note in a quartet of offspring, she could no longer cope. Taking care of another child was too much for her. My eldest sister, Jackie, became my de facto care-giver – as she was for my other two siblings too.
Perhaps that is why, in her final years, Jackie became mom’s care-giver. It is her nature. Full of grace and kindness, as well as strength of character, Jackie (and her husband Jim) ensured that mom always knew there was someone there for her. That she was not alone. That she could count on them.
Fact is, Jackie is someone you can always count on to do the kind thing, to turn up when you’re in need, to listen when you need an ear, to laugh with you when you need a co-conspirator in joy.
Recently, when Jackie and I flew to Vancouver to visit my eldest daughter and her family, I was charged with pushing her around the airport in a wheelchair. She has severe (like really severe) arthritis in her feet and walking distances is challenging.
When I met her at the airport, she’d already made friends with the Air Canada boarding agents on duty who greeted me as I walked into the terminal as if we’d known eachother forever! She even made the security agents smile, which is no small feat.
Then again, it could be because I told anyone who would listen how I’d always wanted to push my big sister around and now! Finally I had my chance!
Not really (though I did keep repeating that!) The fact is, Jackie makes friends where ever she goes.
People gravitate to her. They feel safe and welcome in her presence. It’s who she is.
It’s a trait she got from our mother.
Years ago, I thought to have a good relationship with my daughters I needed to have a good one with my mother. And, while healing that relationship was, and still is, vital to my well-being today, it was not my relationship with my mother that made my life rich and beautiful and full of possibility. It was Jackie’s influence that contributed to that, both as my childhood care-giver and my adult friend.
Happy 75th Birthday Jackie! I am so very grateful you are my big sister! We are so lucky to have you in our lives. Thanks for all you do to make each of us feel special and loved.
Oh… and thanks for letting me push you around! I can strike that one from my bucket list! 🙂