It’s complicated

Coming to terms with my mom--in life and death  

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My mom, who recently passed away, could best be described as a "complicated" person. 

When she was alive, she was hard to appreciate. In public she could be embarrassing, and in private she could be hurtful. And yet, she could also be extremely generous, encouraging, and thoughtful. She offered to pay for my children to attend Jewish day school and was always willing--and happy--to babysit at the last minute. She encouraged my sisters and I to do anything we wanted in life, and yet a moment later she could be stubborn, judgmental, and mean. 

It took me a long time, and much work in therapy, to understand that ultimately my mom, scarred by a rough go at life, was just a human-and like so much of life, she too was murky and complicated. I worked hard over the years to realize that my feelings didn't have to be so black and white. I was able to step back and remember that there were reasons why she acted the way she did. She longed to be the kind of mother that I wanted to share my life with, and it caused both of us immense pain that she was not. 

I was, thankfully, eventually able to feel love towards her when she was alive. Yet, I was unsure how I would react to her death. Even though I am a grief therapist by profession, I worried I'd dwell in the negative feelings I often wrestled with when she was alive. Instead, it took her death to allow me to reflect on why I was able to love my mother-even though I didn't always like her.

Since her passing, I've spent some time processing my own experience as her daughter. The word for love in Hebrew-- ahava-- translates to mean "I give." My mom's giving nature was what allowed me to feel love for her in life and death. Because deep down, my mom did give so much. As much as she was tough, she was equally generous, hardworking, and dedicated to fighting for what she felt to be right. She gave of herself as a DCFS social worker advocating for and supporting young people most at risk in our state. She was a proud member of the Jewish LGBTQA+ community when it was anything but easy to be both gay and Jewish. She was never afraid to speak her mind and taught her daughters to be upstanders and challenge authority in order to advocate for ourselves and on behalf of others. I loved her--and will continue to love her--murkiness and all. 

When her Alzheimer's had advanced to its late stages, my mom continued to give in the only way she knew how. She showered her grandchildren with attention, gifts, and sweets to the point of excess. I can picture her at my doorstep with bags and bags of toys for my three boys. Or being out to eat together, she'd insist that it was fine for them to each order both pancakes and pasta, and a side of fries because that is what they wanted, and she was eager to oblige. There was no one else she would rather be with then her grandchildren--and they felt it. She was a tough mom, but a wonderful grandmother. 

Since her passing, much to my surprise, I've been feeling more traditional feelings of love toward her than I ever thought possible. When I stop to think about my mom, I no longer first think about all the hard stuff or all the reasons that made her a difficult mom. Instead, I gravitate to the good parts--her lifelong devotion to her daughters and grandchildren, and the thousands of young people she helped throughout her career. 

I am finally at peace with my mom and able to appreciate her for who she was--the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Annie Grossman lives in Evanston with her husband and three young sons. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and works in child welfare and as a psychotherapist focused on grief and loss.

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