I volunteer at a local counseling center fielding phone calls of those who are lonely, in crisis, mentally ill, and hurting four hours a weekend. With each phone call, adrenaline might rush, the right words from our extensive training might be recalled, and a heart might break (and it is usually mine).
Saturday, for 20 minutes, I spoke with a mother. This mother was grieving the loss of a close relationship with her only child, a daughter. She explained to me that her daughter was grown and the physical and emotional distance between them that had been constructed was devastating. Crying through much of our conversation, she didn’t know what she’d done wrong; she felt isolated and deserted; she felt betrayed after giving so much of herself to raise her daughter alone only to find herself abandoned in return.
I empathized and she thanked me for caring. She spoke words of appreciation for my sensitive kindness and warm voice; she felt understood. The thing was, my empathy was not only due to my counseling training, I do understand how devastating the distance between a mother and daughter feels. I just feel it from the opposite direction.
While she cried out for the reasons her daughter no longer spent time with her, I wondered if my own mother felt the same way. When she spoke of the sacrifices she made raising her child, I thought about my life from my mother’s perspective; of the price of my childhood for which I may not be aware, or sacrifices long forgotten because they were not my own. If the hurtful things we see in others are reflections of our own troubling habits, I need to let it go.
Has my mother ever noticed my kindness, or seen my sensitivity as anything but an unrealistic burden to carry through life? Will we have a connection that we will have the privilege to mourn the loss of someday? Will she learn to like me? Will she ever be proud of the woman I’ve become?
As our conversation started ending, she asked me, “How old is your mother? I she still alive? Are you close?” And I answered that no, we’re not close. She replied, “I’ll pray for your mother and I’ll pray for you.” I thanked her, wished her my best and encouraged her to reach out any time.
And then, my thoughts became, I know I have a lot of forgiving to do. Please don’t let the most prominent thing I inherit be stubbornness. Who do I want to be? Am I proud of the woman I’ve become?
I have work to do.
And I hung up wondering which of us did the best job counseling.