Every time I see a crumpled or folded up piece of tissue I think of Mom. She tucked them into at least one pocket of every article of clothing she wore and in the cushions of the furniture she sat in. They irritated me! Wet and shredded in the washing machine, clinging to the newly laundered clothing, tucked in the chair cushions or on the floor beneath them. They were Mom’s testimonial to her nose, her “leaky faucet,” that dripped, rain or shine.
Many things about Mom irritated me. She was lazy, preoccupied with herself, had little ambition and seemed content to deny her trouble with alcohol. “Alcoholic” was a word I used to describe Mom at every possible moment. All my troubles seemed encased in that one word. The death of my sister when I was seven and the death of my father two years later, going to eleven schools and moving as many times all stemmed from that one problem: She was an alcoholic and I was the daughter of one. That’s the way I saw it.
I lived in a strange world filled with intense anger and strong hope. The crummy experiences I had being the child of an alcoholic – the late nights at the bar, the drunken brawls colored with insane talk and loud vulgarity, knowing that there was a painful difference between my life and the lives of my friends, all infuriated me! Strong hope came when Mom had a dry spell and I thought we had become “normal” – that I had finally earned her sobriety. I would invite someone home just to find her drunken condition returned and would make some excuse to quickly leave the house. That dashed hope hurt by far the most.
I lived my childhood years on that tightrope between heaven and hell. I eventually moved away from Mom, living with relatives and on occasion with strangers. I finished school, attended some college, moved around a bit from place to place and boyfriend-to-boyfriend. Still the bottom line was: Mom was an alcoholic, and I was the daughter of one.
Even when years passed between the time I saw her last, I couldn’t dismiss her or the hurt that I felt deep inside. In desperation, after a broken relationship, I went in search of Mom. She was all I had left. I picked her up and, along with her tattered belongings, moved them into my lonely apartment. It was a brave move – everyone said so. I had the notion that if I could only provide an atmosphere of love and hope she would be motivated to change. But there was a problem. Me! I needed strong doses of love and hope myself.
Mom tried to stay dry but had the usual slips where she would disappear gone drinking for several days. I cried over Mom’s condition, not realizing I was also crying for myself. My own life was falling apart (even my own drinking had increased) and now I had invited Mom’s severe troubles back into my life as well. Where was I to look for help? There were support groups, counselors – a lot of places to turn.
I went to therapy and support groups but found the most comfort when I began going to church, a place where I had found love and acceptance during my rocky childhood years. The music and Bible preaching were a very stabilizing part of my past and I welcomed their nostalgic appeal. I remembered when I would sit in church as a young girl with my stepsister and pray for Mom to stop drinking. I had the same prayer now; with my own desperate call for help as a postscript.
Then one day during my first few visits to church I was startled awake spiritually. God had an interest in my life; He was there for me! I was exhausted by the anger and sadness I had carried for so long. I knew that I needed the love of God that was preached about, and the forgiveness through Jesus Christ. I was anxious during the church service that day. Could everyone tell I needed His love as much as I knew I did? As I walked out of the church service that day I just couldn’t leave. My cousin Jeanne, who throughout the years always told me that God loved me, walked with me to my car. I looked at her and in a weak voice said that I needed to pray and ask for God to take control of my life. With a free flow of tears I let Him know I knew how much I needed Him. I had found a safety net to gently catch me and I fell gladly!
A true demonstration of God’s faithfulness and the test of my choice to trust Him came a few weeks later. Mom started another binge and I began my frantic work trying to locate her. But then something seemed to stop me. It was much like the choice of Abraham when asked by God to give up his son Isaac in Genesis chapter 22. I knew I had a choice before me. I could handle this the way I had for years or I could let God take control and give up my Mom to His keeping. I began to pray a very emotional, and as I remember, loud prayer for God to take over, protect her and any others that she might harm if driving while drunk. Then for the first time in twenty years I slept peacefully while Mom cruised the city bars.
We went through this a few more times that summer. Each time I had a choice, to take back control or to trust that He was in control. Many times I struggled to give up the fear that was such a part of me. My faith had an opportunity to grow as my need for love and hope was being filled by God. It became easier to trust Him with the results.
One time when Mom had come home to recover from a binge, the Lord had clearly mapped out for me an approach of confrontation. It was time for love to be tough. I had to lay down the law before her and I drew some heavy boundaries. They included attending church, group meetings, alcohol abuse therapy and absolutely NO DRINKING. She flatly refused. The consequences? She would have to move. I went to church that morning, shaken, afraid of the choice she had made, but prepared to stand firm. While I was gone Mom was face to face with the law and her inability to fulfill it in her own strength. Later that day she approached me and tentatively said, “Honey, I promise I will do all of the things you asked.” I was elated and shocked. I learned some time later that it was her simple prayer and the grace of God that enabled her to approach me with this hopeful vow.
We started right away with therapy, group meetings and going to church together. I was in heaven, especially as time wore on and it seemed as if this time was truly different. We had a lot of work ahead of us, but we had a goal: sobriety and healing. And we had a powerful partner: God, who was providing a path through the wilderness.
Mom continued to live with me after I married my husband Chuck, and was still with us during the first years of my son Jordan’s life. More than three years of sobriety! This was such a wonderful time. Chuck was so affirming to both of us. His gentle nature and continuous prayer for us helped Mom and I make it through some very difficult times. Jordan brought to Mom the innocent love and adoration only a child can bring. He never saw his grandma as a drunk and this new identity she had with him was a real boost for her. We all worked through some very rough times and we found a lot of joy in each other. Mom and I even relished the mother-daughter squabbles!
Real healing was taking place in both of us. Being together was such a great miracle. We started to laugh and kid each other. The little pieces of crumpled tissue I still found everywhere became Mom’s trademark and I told her how I would miss seeing them if she should ever leave us.
Six years of sobriety came and so did our second son Gabriel. It was time for Mom to find her own place, but how? Her low income and worsening emphysema discouraged and scared both of us. I was sure it was impossible for her to live on her own. But God had a plan and I reluctantly followed along.
The things that were so important to us, being able to visit each other often, sharing our second car and for Mom to afford all the living expenses on her limited social security income loomed before me like the impassable Red Sea! Once again His faithfulness was so evident. He provided a small mobile home only one mile away! All the ‘impossibles” were met. She had never had her own place and we were so excited!
Mom lived there for almost two years. Her mobile home was indeed the place that afforded us the most healing. I never before had the privilege, of just ‘going to visit Mom.’ I so much enjoyed a quick bike ride by myself or with my family to visit with her. Seeing her express herself in her own surroundings was just that much more a part of getting to know the Mom I had missed for so many years. The curtains she hemmed and pictures she hung gave both of us a glance into what she liked and who she was. Among them was the serenity prayer she had cross-stitched. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Seven years almost to the day of Mom’s last drinking binge I found her dead in her little trailer. Providentially, we had spent all summer off and on deciding her preferences for funeral arrangements. I thought God was preparing us to move away from the area, maybe to a foreign mission. He knew leaving her would be difficult. Somehow having this decided would make it easier if He called us away. I was still so shocked when she was gone!
It had been only two weeks since we had finished detailing her funeral arrangements. Mom had said, “Okay now honey, let’s a not talk about this anymore!” And now she was gone. The Lord consoled me, “Remember how much I prepared you to be ready for your Mom’s departure?” Then think how much more ready I was for her arrival in the place I had prepared for her.” When her body could hold her spirit no longer, he escorted her to that place.
I spent one day by myself slowly cleaning up her little mobile home and packing her belongings. I found tissues everywhere: in her pockets, in the cushions of her chair, under her bed. Each one brought a sad smile. When they had given us the final opportunity to view Mom’s body at the funeral home that they give to the close family, Chuck gently asked me for the tissue I had crumpled in my hand wet with the tears of love and grief I had cried for her that day. He took it – and along with his own – placed them neatly by her side. And we said good-bye.
Dedicated to Shirley Theresa Pratto. Thank you for your courage to change.