My mother died in June. She was ninety-five years old and died at home—her one wish—after only two days in bed. She had an indomitable spirit.
A friend recently asked if I ever wished for the kind of mother I needed. She knew the complicated relationship I had with my mother and of my years in therapy to overcome my low self-esteem and body dysmorphia.
This friend asked if I ever wished for a mother who would have given me what I would have needed to live a healthier life?
The truth is that God gave me that mother in the form of my friend, Dorothy. We met after I graduated from college and started teaching Sunday school at Dorothy’s church—two of her teen-aged children were in my class.
Our friendship seemed unlikely to me because Dorothy was a proper Southern lady who lived temperately, while I was still in my wild times, trying to find my way in life. We met just a few years after I had been sexually assaulted, and I was still healing from that experience. In that healing process, issues from my childhood had come to light, revealing the depth of my wounds.
Even though I was in intensive therapy, I was still living out of my pain and trying to figure out a path forward.
Dorothy entered my life at the exact moment when I was open to see how a mother could be.
At first, she did not know my mother-history or my self-esteem issues. She only knew what her children told her, and they thought highly of me because I invited them to engage in conversations about their faith. They thought it was amazing that I allowed them to share without censure or judgment, that I gave them space to explore who God was for them at that time in their lives, to question church teachings, to wonder about their faith and to challenge the status quo.
From them, Dorothy learned that I was a good teacher who listened to them and valued their opinions.
As our friendship grew and Dorothy came to understand how damaged my self-image was, she acknowledged what I believed about myself, and then she gently painted a different picture—the image she saw of me. Dorothy affirmed and encouraged me; she did not criticize me or judge me.
Over time, my relationship with Dorothy helped me gain perspective and understanding on my relationship with my mom. Dorothy showed me a mother’s love in a way my own mom was not able to do.
Knowing how complicated and conflicted my relationship was with my mom, Dorothy often commented on how lucky my mom was to have my help in her last years. I don’t know that Dorothy realized that it was her love that had healed what was broken in my mother relationship and made it possible for me to care for my mom at the end of her life. I was twice blessed.