My mom died recently. As I write this, it has not even been two weeks, so the wound is very fresh. In many ways, the reality - and the finality - of her death has not yet registered in my mind. Just this morning, as I was cooking breakfast for my wife and myself, I had a question for her which I subsequently realized I would not be able to ask. It was inconsequential, but nonetheless poignant in its permanence - an insignificant fact that I would never be able to attain.
The question I had was what kind of peppercorns did she put into the largest of her pepper grinders. She had several grinders in her kitchen, and this morning I was using the one that stands about 18” tall. She had this one for years, and, as I’ve always liked it, I took it home with me after she died. It works really well - grinding the pepper into a super-fine dust or into larger chunks, depending on what the user desires. I’ve bought plenty of grinders for myself over the years, but I never found one that was really good and eventually threw most of them away. I believe this grinder was in their kitchen more for my dad than my mom, and, for all I know, it may have been a gift from me. Regardless, it reminds me of her and of him, and I took it home.
As I prepared the eggs for our morning omelette, I found myself wondering how full of peppercorns the grinder was. It’s fairly tall at 18” so it holds a good amount. But it will run out eventually. And what then? I have no idea what style or flavor the pepper is. Did it come from some faraway location? Was it harvested on a mountainside in Asia? Are there other spices mixed in? I’m no connoisseur - I just like fresh-ground pepper in my food, and I think it’s cool to use an over-sized pepper mill while I cook. Subsequently, it just doesn’t matter what kind of pepper is in there currently. When it’s empty, I’ll buy whatever they carry at the grocery store. Maybe, if I’m feeling motivated, I’ll check out one of those specialty, gourmet kitchen shops and get a small container of an over-priced, exotic-sounding blend.
There is an echo of a question that bounces around inside my head. It was sent, but it has nowhere to go and no one to receive it. If I had sent an email, I would at least get an auto-response that the account is no longer active or that the message is undeliverable. But there is nothing. Just a void. A silence. And a slow realization that I probably will never know the answer. The person who could have enlightened me has left the building. There will be no encore. No last-minute advice or nuggets of inspiration. The recipient to my query has moved on with no forwarding address or contact information. I’m on my own to figure it out myself or to always wonder...
My mother and I were very different people. If our two paths had crossed under different circumstances - if we had not been related - we undoubtedly would not have had anything to do with one another. She was very conservative. I am not. She was a strong believer in the Christian version of God, Jesus, the teachings of the bible, etc. I believe that God exists in all of us and that we are all connected by the energy that binds the Universe together. She followed the rules. I questioned them. But we had something significant in common - we both drank too much.
Over the years, I finally came to accept that I am an alcoholic and drug addict. My mother readily accepted this as true. But she never admitted to having any issues with addiction herself. As I live in and work through recovery, I have come to the conclusion that resentments are one of the biggest threats to continued sobriety. My resentment toward my mother at the fact that she could so easily label me as an alcoholic, while offering not even the slightest degree of acceptance that she, herself, might have had a problem, is undoubtedly the resentment that I have struggled the most to come to terms with.
The thing about resentments is, left unchecked, they can grow like weeds, choking the relationship between any two individuals. People need to stay in touch with one another. They need to check in with those people that they care about to keep their love strong and healthy. Resentments can’t grow when the familiarity between two people stays fresh, and each person keeps up to date with the changes that the other goes through. Life happens to all of us, but ill will and anger only affect our feelings for others when we forget that we are not the only ones who have struggled.
Forgiveness is crucial in life and in recovery. It is a decisive force against the power of resentments. Unfortunately, it is usually most difficult to find forgiveness for those we love the most and have known the longest. As an alcoholic in recovery, I am all too familiar with the difficulty of learning to forgive the shortcomings of others. I exacerbated the situation with my mother by avoiding the uncomfortable task of dealing with resentments through conversation. I told myself it was pointless to talk about certain things with my mother and that I would be unable to calmly discuss my feelings. I never gave her a chance to tell her side of things. I never gave her a chance to say she was sorry. I never gave myself a chance to experience the healing power of forgiveness.
And now it’s too late. The resentments bounce around inside my head, because they have nowhere to go to find resolution or peace. The recipient is no longer able to explain her side, to give me a fresh perspective. Unanswered, my resentments are free to flourish and grow. They stir up unhappy memories and make it hard to conjure up good ones. They cloud visions of my childhood, making it easy to forget the many sacrifices my mother made for me and my siblings and my dad. They color scenes in my mind’s eye with an unpleasant hue that brings emphasis to the crap and ignores the good times. My mother was a hard woman to like sometimes, but she had my best interests, and those of my wife and kids, at heart. She loved us the best way she knew how. She had shortcomings, no more and no less, than any other human.
It is hard to lose a loved one, even under the best of circumstances. I want to be free to miss my mom and be sad that she’s gone. But there are too many unresolved issues and the ensuing emotions leave me feeling more confused than anything else. I wish I had said so many things. And I wish I had given her a chance to respond.