I moved back home in my late twenties to live with her for three months, after my Dad died from health problems related to alcoholism. In those three months, Mum poured out her story of living with his drinking.
She loved him very much, but she knew he was a problem drinker from the beginning of their marriage. Things got worse when they had children. My brothers played Little League baseball. The coach asked Mum to please not let Dad drive drunk when he picked them up after their games. When she tried to stop him, he threw a drink in her face. People seemed to think she should have been able to control him.
I am the youngest of seven children, and I am a twin. The pregnancy was a surprise. At the age of 40, she thought she was too old to have any more kids. During the months she carried me and my twin, Dad hardly spoke to her. When he did, he wasn’t very nice. However, when we were born, he thought we were the most wonderful things in the world.
Hearing her story of how she endured Dad’s drunken meanness only to see him be so loving to my twin and me explained why she could be so hateful. I stopped fighting and began to put up with her ridicule and criticism. I was relieved when the time came for me to go back to my home thousands of miles away.
I started Al-Anon in my early forties, on the suggestion of a friend who was in A.A. In Al-Anon, I gained a new perspective on my mother. I came to understand that she loved me in the best way she could, even if it wasn’t the way I needed.
I also learned that I don’t have to take abuse. One afternoon, on one of my visits, Mum started in on me. I looked her in the eye and said, “I am not going to sit here and take this. I am going to clean my room.” After a little while, there was a soft knock on my door. It was Mum. She said, “I am sorry, I won’t do that anymore.” From then on, our relationship improved. Although our disagreeability was not entirely erased, we could be together more easily.
Once, I shared with her how whenever I found a penny, I picked it up because I felt it was good luck. As was the rule in our relationship, Mum contradicted me. It seemed like I could never be right. Mum told me that it didn’t count unless the penny was heads-up. If she found a tails-up penny, she would turn it over so the next person to find it would have good luck. I thought her belief was ridiculous, so I continued to gather pennies however I found them, but I began to notice which side was up.
Mum lived to be 94 years old. I traveled across the country two or three times a year to be with her for weeks at a time. With each visit, she was more forgetful and disoriented. It became hard to carry on a conversation.
One day, I came upon a tails-up penny stuck in a tuft of grass growing through a crack in the sidewalk. Even if I believed that a penny found was lucky, heads or tails, it suddenly struck me that it wouldn’t hurt to try it Mum’s way.
I picked the penny up, brushed off some sand before turning it heads up, and placed it in the middle of the sidewalk where someone else could easily find it. It felt strange to do something so out of the ordinary, but it was wonderful. My spirits, which had been laden with the thought of my mother’s imminent death, were lifted by the thought of someone else finding the good luck penny.
Why hadn’t I tried it before? What had held me back was self-righteousness along with all the hurt, anger, resentment, and guilt I held against Mum for most of my life. All those feelings gave way with this simple act of goodwill.
I have since adopted her practice. In this way, I can honor my Mum by recognizing her innately generous nature. How kind it is to turn a penny over and leave a good luck wish for someone else to find.
On my last visit to see Mum, we sat for many hours in easy silence, holding hands.
By Elizabeth G., Washington
The Forum, October 2013