On the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing, I found myself ruminating on a familiar theme: I wished I would have known her.
“What?” you ask. “You didn’t know your mother?”
No, not really. Not at the depths of my desires or the farther reaches of my curiosity about who she was as a person.
Please don’t misunderstand. We had what casual observers would call a good relationship. I loved my mother and she loved me. In terms of the average American life with average expectations about average family relationships, I had little to complain about. Compared to some of my friends with horror story upbringings, I lived in a cake walk world.
Yet as my mother slipped away from a long and full life, I realized how much was left to know about her. As is true for many parents of her generation, she kept herself in a protective bubble of non-disclosure. It was not usual for her to reveal much of what she was truly thinking and feeling. I doubt if I could tell you why, because that, too, would be hidden within her psyche.
I presume she was just following the values instilled in her. She grew up in a culture where parents shielded their children from knowing their deep, private thoughts. This trend still exists in many of my friends today who are parents. They keep much of their real world secret from their children, many of whom are adults now.
The secrecy game is played with good intentions. It is often borne out of a deep love parents have for their children. Society teaches parents that they are expected to be role models for their children, and as such many do not feel comfortable showing weakness or even that they are struggling. Secrecy is often intended to shield children from the cruelties, insecurities, and challenges of life in this world. Parents want to see their children succeed, and that includes not being bogged down by … well, by reality.
Is it a good thing that parents die off without their kids knowing who they were as people? Is that how the system is supposed to work? Are parents somehow required not to share openly? While it is clearly a tradition many families cling to, is it in the best interests of both?
Starting right after my mother passed, I lived with my father for his final 30 months of life. He was a caring and generous father by any normal standard, and I was often told how lucky I was to have him as my dad. Still, we hardly knew each other. Dad steered clear of much deep verbal engagement. I got the distinct impression that like many men, he was not comfortable discussing his true feelings, often not even his true opinions.
As his 65 year-old child, I respected his boundaries with conversations, but I would have preferred my own personal Tuesdays with Morrie experience. “Dad, what’s it like to be looking at the end game of your life on Earth?”
“Well, Son, let me tell you. You have a week of hours?”
Dad well knew that I was interested in the mysteries of the afterlife, yet despite his health challenges, he was (surprisingly, I thought) not interested in the topic of what happens after death. His wife and several close friends had passed within the last few years, yet he didn’t ask my thoughts about it. Even while we dealt with the practicalities of health care and hospice, he never once said anything like, “I’m dying.” He would talk about “after I’m gone” in a practical way, like what to do with the furniture, but he rarely shared his thoughts or feelings about the journey he was taking.
I don’t mean to sound critical or whiny; I respect his choices. After all, dying is a highly personal and private experience. But as he left, I still wish I would have known more about his hidden joys and heartbreaks, his successes and regrets, his end-of-show thoughts and feelings. I wanted to know him as the person he was, not as the role he played as my father.
A WRITER’S WORLD
As a creative writer, I love wondering what makes people tick. It’s my passion to know how people see the world and what motivates them to do things. I normally want conversations to get beyond superficial banter like what someone ate last night or what cute sayings someone read on Facebook. I want to get into the juicy stuff that flows like magma underneath the surface of our daily lives.
What are your heartbreaks? What are your ecstasies? What are your aspirations?
Creative writers base stories on motivation. Often in literature and movies, characters will talk at a depth not commonly seen in real life, at least in my real life. We get to know what drives people to do things, often quite poetically.
It’s not so common today in everyday chitchat for people to drop in deep to discuss inner yearnings and deepest pains. In our wired, televised, social media networked world, deep conversations are often reduced to tweet and sound bite brevity. Today, kids are often babysat by big screen HDTVs, little screen tablets, and smart phones. It’s easier than ever to let someone else think for us. It’s easier than ever to lose intimate contact with others because we are being taught to keep it simple. Tweet it or delete it.
I like to talk and write about feelings, relationships, sex, death, afterlife, mystical experiences, unusual perceptions, coping with various situations, solving problems, emotional growth. In-depth conversations about topics—topics that ironically matter most in our daily lives—are simply out of bounds in many families. We’re often taught to put on a good show, and not a reality show.
Communication between parent and adult child is not always two-way. For example, a mother might help an adult child through a romantic break-up without mentioning what she herself is going through or went through with the child’s father. A parent might give or lend money to an adult child without sharing what a true financial hardship that is. Parents may deal with their offspring’s drug issues or mate choices or job choices without revealing their own struggles.
We are taught to play roles and not tell our truths.
The older I got as a teen-ager, the less of my personal stuff I shared with my mother and father. I had learned the safe topics and the unsafe topics. While I know that it’s entirely normal for adult kids to edit their conversations as much as the parents do, I nevertheless find something sad about the practice.
As I have pursued my interest in afterlife studies, I am confronted with the possibility that there are no secrets in the next world. Why? Because in the spirit world, the nature of thought and telepathy does not allow for secrecy. Anybody can read us like a completely open book.
That may sound pretty creepy to earthling ears. No secrets? Everybody knows everything? Even that?
But it is also a love space. So, yeah, everybody knows your secrets, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a very forgiving place.
For me, the most interesting aspect of this is how I respond to the idea that my parents right at this minute know it all. No secret is beyond their spiritual eyes and ears. Even that.
But how strange this is for me now! I’ve noticed that even in imaginary conversations with my parents, where there is an astoundingly small chance of them answering back in a voice I can hear, I have a difficult time discussing my secrets with them. It feels as if it’s not safe. Ha! That programing goes deep.
Of course, any difficulty I experience sharing secrets with my parents-in-spirit only mirrors that I have trouble facing my own secrets.
In the afterlife, we’ll be more like movie actors attending a script conference discussing our character roles. We’ll share our motivations, conflicts, goals, and beliefs from the life just lived. We’ll have a complete backstory from our past lives and our between-life goals and objectives. We’ll probably learn why we eat our secrets. Yes, even about that.