When I was growing up, I was in awe of my Mom. I didn't think of it as awe at first. In the beginning I just thought, "She's so tall compared to me..."* As I was growing up, she always seemed so confident, so strong. Little did I know that while this was true, it was also false.
Her bravado masked a weakness. She was vulnerable. Only through time did I and my sisters come to realize that our mother was more than just our mother, but a person. A person as complex as any of us. She had a story, and it was utterly fascinating.
I'm not sure where it came from, this vulnerability. Grandma Fitzpatrick, our mother's mother, was a very strong, independent woman. Circumstance necessitated that she was. Eventually she was married to my grandfather, Sheldon Albert Fitzpatrick. My grandfather was a man with a great sense of himself - confident, gentle, and a devilish sense of humour. Despite her independence, they were a great fit for one another. Their combined intelligence, resourcefulness, depth of faith, and sense of the work ethic passed to my mother.
However, despite this foundation, Mom was vulnerable. It manifested itself during times of emotional stress. The first time we became aware of it was from stories told to us years later...about when Dad and Mom were first married, and Mom was carrying her first child - what would have been our older brother. She miscarried, and the resulting circumstances became a blur to her, Dad taking her on a train trip home that she doesn't remember. Years after that, Dad was working away from home. Mom had two small children on her own, and despite the support she had from her parents, it became too much for her. Once again, she became overwhelmed, and had a nervous breakdown.
Now, since Dad died last year, she's showing this vulnerability again. I'm convinced that it's not just her age. No, it's more than that. She's devastated from Dad's loss. She's coping the best she can. We're a source of strength and support to her, but she still misses him terribly. The sincerity of her pain is physically palpable when you're in her presence. It's not every day that you witness a love and devotion so utter, so strong, so elemental, that you know that the person's grieving will not have a quiet, neat ending, a moving on...Rather, it will continue to the end of their lives. The depth of the connection between them and their loved one passed on is such that it cannot be any other way.
It makes those of us living life at a younger pace uncomfortable. We don't know what to say, or what to do. I smile when I think of it. My mother is a fantastic person. She worked SO hard all her life, in the shadow of a woman she greatly admired and never felt she lived up to, her own mother. I feel the same way about Mom, as she has about her own mother. I don't know how much more of a compliment you can give another person.
Despite our times of conflict (mostly due to the fact that we're both intelligent, strong-willed people), I love my mother more than anything. Exasperating, frustrating, yes. But inspiring, loving, supporting, yes too. That's my Mom. Harriet Short...
*(Now I think, "She's so small compared to me...")