What Do You Want to Know About Your Mom? | 0-100

My Mom's Big Question: 'Do You Like Me?'

Four Funerals and a Wedding

When my own mother, just 79, launched into talk of dying, I had to grind my teeth until my jaw ached in order not to say something rude as she ran through her burial plans for the zillionth time. By the time I packed to leave a few days later, I was in a state of high agitation, divided between my frustration at her focus on death and my uncertainty if I would ever see her again. “I love you,” I said as I bent over her wheelchair to kiss her goodbye.

“Yes,” she answered in a hoarse voice. “But do you like me?”

I fumed silently as I wheeled my suitcase to the car, threw it in the back seat and slammed the door. Grrr. We did this to each other, my mother and I. We tried so hard to be there for each other, yet we almost always fell short. What if this really was the last time I’d see her?

Retracing my steps, I put my lips to her ear and said, “Yes, Mom, I like you.” Then I got out of there fast.

Jill Smo

After I returned home, her question continued to nag. Which was more gut-wrenching — that she’d asked such a guilt-inducing question or that she’d felt the need to ask? Had she even meant it? Finally, I sat down at my computer and began a letter: “Dear Mom, You asked me if I like you. It made me realize how badly I’ve failed you as a daughter if I haven’t communicated that in addition to (of course) loving you, there are many, many things I like about you as well. Here, belatedly and in roughly chronological order, are some of the reasons I like you — and like having you for my Mom.”

I went on to offer 11 bulleted items that ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, among them:

  • I really like you because…you’re the only Mom I know who tells dirty jokes.
  • I really like you because…when I came home in my early twenties with my longtime boyfriend, I found two stacks of towels in the guestroom. I didn’t take you up on what I took to be your quiet invitation, but I thought the gesture lovely (and quite liberal!).
  • I really like you because…you’ve never told me how to raise my kid (but when I do ask for advice, you always offer something sensible and helpful).
  • I really like you because…even though we almost never get it right, I know that you want to as much as I do — and so we keep trying.

And therein, for me, is the heart of our friendship, as imperfect as it may be: I truly believe that we approach each other with goodwill each and every time; we try to do our best by the other each and every time; and when we fall short (each and every time), we don’t give up. Instead, each of us resolves to do better next time — each and every time.

A few days later Mom phoned. “Thank you for that beautifully written letter. I will treasure it for as long as I live.” I fastened on her second sentence and rolled my eyes. But when I heard from Dad and each of my three siblings that she’d shown or read them the letter, I was glad I’d given her pleasure. I was also grateful that she’d afforded me the opportunity to voice my appreciation for things I’d taken for granted. What if she’d gone to her grave wondering whether I liked her? What if she’d died not knowing how deeply grateful I was for the many gifts she’d given me?

My mother lived 17 more months before succumbing to liver failure. During that time, a grim period marked by the deaths of my husband and sister, I continued to try — and I continued to fail — to get it right with Mom, as she did with me. But I breathed easier, knowing how much my letter meant to her. Come what may, I felt, I had finally made my peace with my mother.

Jill Smoloweis a grief and transition coach, and the author of the new memoir Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief.

Last Updated:5/7/2014
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Date: 12.12.2018, 19:46 / Views: 94275