Today, January 9, 2017, is my mother's 100th birthday. She only lived to be 80, done in by mini-strokes, too much alcohol, and the dementia that probably came from both. Her life was not what she had wanted (a career, freedom); instead she was married for more than 50 years, gave birth to five children and raised four. She struggled to find her way to use her considerable intelligence in a world that wanted women to stay home and be companions to their husbands. She was deeply loved by my father, who also wanted her to stay home, and I don't think he understood her. Maybe it's hard to get both things.
My relationship with her was complicated. I was born less than a year after her first daughter died of sudden infant death syndrome. She had no support for grieving that loss in 1945. I didn't know about the sister who died until I was 12, a well-kept family secret. My mother and I never discussed it. But I always felt wrong in my relationship with her somehow, even as a small child. I knew she loved me but I always felt tolerated, not accepted. And sadly, by the time I got sober, she was losing her mind and we got no real reconciliation.
She taught me many things: to love books and reading, to love clothes and color and beauty (although our tastes diverged wildly), to include discipline in my recipe for a happy life, to give away what we don't need, to be kind to animals, to take good physical care of myself. I also learned a great deal from what she herself was unable to do for herself.
I'm one who believes that we choose our parents, that we choose the family to be born into and so I offer my gratitude today to my mother and a fervent wish for her to be in peace.