But I remember: We were sitting across the table from one another, at that Italian place for lunch, in Hemet, California. The year was 1989. I had just remembered the abuse, in the first flashback, which I wrote about in #metoo post. I told you what I had remembered, what Sherwood had done. And you looked at me with sadness and love and said, “I am so sorry that happened to you.” You believed me, right there, across from me over the basket of bread, dish of olive oil. You validated me with that look and those words. That day began my recovery.
Ours was a complex relationship, Mom. Did you know a counselor I had called ours an emotionally incestuous relationship? You had me carry emotional burdens for you, which dad ought to have shouldered. But I think he was a guy of projects, dreams, visions, which you mostly supported, and was not as available to listen. He was also gone A LOT for days out in the field. And I was there at home.
Palm Sunday 1959, March 22nd was my birthday. You baked two boysenberry pies that morning, having stayed home from church. You arrived at the hospital at 7:30 pm that evening and I arrived 2 hours later, 9# and 22″ in length. You were there for 5 nights after I was born- such a different world from today when moms come home the same day! In a letter to my siblings, who were staying with Grandma and Grandpa Power (your parents) up in Livermore, you wrote:
“It’s very quiet up here right now, but not too long ago twin girls arrived (both 5#) and surprised the doctor and the mother who had one girl and 2 boys at home(!). Just think what that would have been like if Brian had been twins! Well, I assure you, he is one, healthy, husky boy for a newborn, but he is still one armful but will look tiny to you after seeing each other. He likes what his mama has for him — the first few days all he gets is a yellowish liquid but by tomorrow the milk should be in my breasts and he can begin to fill up. He’s very placid and even when unsatisfied, he just roots around and tries to eat before he finally begins to cry — a funny, high pitched cry that reminds me of all you others. His head is looking very pretty today and he has finally started to open his blue eyes and look at the world. I don’t think he’s convinced its worthwhile yet. I found a scale down the hall and I am just a few pounds off of what I weighed last summer so you will have your energetic Mama back soon.”
I love that description of yourself, Mom: “Your energetic Mama.” I think that’s what you had hoped! And you were that prior to my arrival, I know! You played the piano with zest. You loved singing and laughing and being alive. You helped on dad’s many projects– like the fence you two were building together just weeks before my arrival.
But the emotional pain that hit you soon after I arrived surprised you as well. Your mom was a powerful, strong woman, with a name like Faith Power, what might we expect? I think she was the kindest person I ever met, but know that you and she didn’t always see eye to eye. My favorite picture of her and grandpa was from their wedding day. There is nothing but joy in this shot:
There came a family pain that had broken your family. Your older brother Calvin had died of an ear infection as a seven-year-old when you were three. He died August 27, 1927. Your family didn’t really process the grief of this loss but carried the pain on into the decades that followed. Your Grandma Wyatt wrote poem after poem lamenting his death. For your mom a river of fear coursed beneath the surface of life: What if I lose another child?
By the time you hit your 30s that pain was still being carried by you. That’s what happens when the parents don’t shoulder their own pain, the kids end up carrying it. And that became a wall between you and your mom. There was an animosity there and you yourself were volatile emotionally. You would cry after talking to her on the phone, sometimes.
I remember one time, vividly. Jesus took me back to that time. Here’s what happened as Jesus described it to me:
“Son, you had been playing on the floor in the family room. You had a dirty diaper. Your mom had just gotten off the phone with her mom and was angry at her mom but the anger felt like it came at you. She was not angry about the diaper, but you felt in trouble for having a need. She changed the diaper but was crying and crying, and crying. Nothing was settling those tears. And she was mad. You felt her anger and you got scared. She went to wash out the diaper and placed you on the floor. You were scared of her. Scared of her tears. Scared of the sadness. Scared of the feelings in the house. There was tension there, and you decided to run.”
As Jesus described this, the event played out before me, like a video. I saw the scenes. Felt the tension. Felt my fear, tears running down my adult face, and the relief as I walked out that back door.
“You simply walked to the family room, and out the back door, down the stairs and started across the grass to the field, barefooted and just in your diaper. It had been plowed so you began to hop from one levy to the next levy. She discovered you had gone after you were halfway across the field. She yelled at you and began to come, but you were making better progress than she could hope to make across that field. She ran and got her purse and keys, and drove the light blue Chevrolet station wagon around the block, up Hawkeye, left onto Johnson Avenue, and left again into the parking lot of the Evangelical Free Church and met you in the parking lot on the other side.”
“Remember child?” Jesus asked me.
I responded, “Not very well, Jesus.”
“Remember this, then: she picked you up and shook you and shook you. She was sobbing. You were still scared of her and you were crying. Then, she hugged you and swatted you, then hugged you again and crying said,
‘Don’t ever, ever, ever do that again! Don’t, Brian! Don’t run! Don’t you know? I need you? I need you! My mom and I, we will work things out. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I need you here for me, honey.’
“She used words of need, and something in your heart claimed that as your identity. To stay near her and help her was what you wanted to do after that day.”
My identity then settled into the idea of helping you, Mom. It was a bowing of my will to a strong woman. It was my job to help you process emotions. It was my job to help your life find peace. And that’s when our relationship took on a twist.
Remember after he died, with all of us standing in the choir room at First Presbyterian waiting for when we would enter the church for his funeral service, you buckled over, arms hugging your waist, and cried and wept out loud saying, “I failed him. I failed him. I failed him.” I went to you and said,
“Mom, how did you fail?”
You said: “I’ve spent too much of life complaining about what I didn’t have, rather than being grateful for what I had.”
“I complained that he never took us on vacations, yet, we had many great trips. And now I will have all the money and all the time to travel I could want, (my dad’s military life insurance meant she now had a large inheritance) but can no longer go anyplace with him. It is a bitter, bitter pill.”
You sobbed and sobbed, buckled over, hands grasping you waist, gasping for breath.
“And I have failed all of you! None of you are in the Faith.”
I was a bit dismayed. None? Indeed, two of us were Methodists, at that time, not Presbyterians, a clear desertion, and the other two were wandering a bit, as far as the Christian faith was concerned, but that was not the point.
“Mom,” I said, “We are in various places with faith, but you haven’t failed. Our choices are ours, not yours. You and dad did all you could.”
But there is no answer to grief. There is just the feeling of it. And as this pain and regret swept through you, all of us came to your side. We hugged you. We cried there, together, and then it was time to enter into the church and take our seats for dad’s goodbye celebration in the packed church.
That outburst of yours, Mom, told me much about how you had recorded those years of life that I too had recorded. They were tough years. It seemed like you had looked at much of life by concentrating on what was missing. Whereas Dad saw life from the perspective of all he had to enjoy. For you it was scarcity and for him, it was abundance. And like Michal who viewed the dancing King David from her window with contempt, so it felt like you viewed Dad because of what you thought you lacked with disdain (see: 2 Samuel 6:16ff).
Dad worked hard and played hard. He made the kayak and then immediately turned around and built a 400 sq foot addition on our small Hawkeye Ave house. All this before google, youtube or even DIY books. He rebuilt engines with Roger and John. He flew planes. I remember riding beside him in the twin-seater Cessna and waving at you out in the yard as we flew over the house. He led the way for our 2-week family backpacking trip. He led the boy scout troop. And yet, a guy that did all those things also tried many things that didn’t work. I remember the old, decaying box of Amway SA8 laundry detergent sitting on the window sill of the back porch, a sign, a symbol perhaps of dreams that never materialized. I never really knew that story, but always felt like it pictured his and somehow felt would picture my own “failure.”
Remember how upset you were that he had sold some stock and invested $10,000 with some guy who promised a good return? I don’t know how he had come by that kind of stock in the early 1960s but it was gone. “That man will never repay it,” you told me more than once. Another bitter pill. You never seemed to forgive Dad for that. I’m certain you and Jesus and dad have worked that out! I don’t know how much you two talked about it, I only know that you talked a lot about it with me.
You tried some things outside the house, too. I remember you ran for a city government position when I was 8, seeking a fuller life perhaps, putting us on posters all over town, but you lost. How did you record all these parts of life?
I remember during that race, you came home proud of your new frosted hairstyle, but 8-year-old me, looked up from where I was seated on the floor, playing with a puzzle, and burst into tears exclaiming, “You are not my mother!”
Sorry for that welcome Mom! I know now how much hair and the male response matters. Recently I was with our 2.5-year-old grandson Theo, when his own mom, our daughter Susanna, walked out ready to go run errands, and that little man shouted out, “Mom! You look Awesome!” She blushed with joy. I was dumbfounded! Now, that’s how to respond. It perhaps would have helped you that day! But that’s not what I did.
Must have been a trip to engage with a kid like me, Mom! My apologies. I had my own tortuous demons within that I wrestled with unbeknownst to you.
I recorded all these things along the way, but I think I poorly interpreted what I had recorded. Instead of allowing what you said and how you lived to be about your view of yourself, I made it about me. I remember being 10 and feeling uncertain how to move forward. How could I become a man, when you seemed to hate dad and he was a man? And how could I become a woman, when, I clearly was not one? That much I was clear on. But what I decided was I could be neither, which meant my teen years were a mess of seeking and not finding my identity. Confusion was part of that identity which reigned at times until I was in my 40s.
I remember coming in from school, in 8th grade, and you were on the phone to Anna Margaret from church, and you were yelling into the receiver:
“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”
And with that, you slammed down the receiver.
(Yes, that was in the era when the only phones around had a cord and a handle and a base. You could actually slam the receiver down onto the base to dramatically hang up! Such dramatic ‘hang-ups’ are not as possible on cell phones for certain! We use emojis for that, perhaps!)
I was blown away by seeing this, yet it felt fairly familiar. You were emotionally high strung at times. As I stood there, you burst into tears and ran to your room, weeping. I am certain Anna Margaret had done the same. I never knew what had happened, nor looking back have I any idea what you felt that knee-jerk, reactive kind of emotional outburst was supposed to achieve. But there it was.
Strangely, that day changed our relationship. You didn’t let me care for you, which would have felt normal for me, but instead processed on your own. Soon after that, I began to seek to care for other strong women, girls at school especially. I seemed to attach myself to some of the most unhealthy ones at first. I was addicted to being needed.
Years later — after Dad had died, you had traveled much and then had contracted Parkinson’s disease and over the next 10 years, went downhill. You eventually moved from your house into an assisted living situation in Turlock. You began to develop dementia but still had your sense of humor. You knew how to laugh, although I haven’t recorded much of that in this. I remember calling you once after they had had to call 911 because you had fainted. You told me:
“Brian, it was wonderful, to wake up in the strong, muscular arms of a handsome, young man, his face looking into mine!”
I hooted. I think you would have planned more of those “faints” if you could have!
We eventually moved you to Brandel Manor for your final weeks of life. You took many fantasy flights from there, telling me on the phone about a trip to London or China when you had not left the facility. After our family had stopped to visit you en route back to Oregon, in August 2000, a week later, I felt a strong prompt to go back and see you. So, I booked a flight, rented a car, and went for two nights. I helped you eat. I listened to the stories of your recent adventures at a Bible Study in Patterson (attended by many people I knew had already died) and answered your questions about my life. You knew who I was but were unclear about your own life.
When it came time to leave, I had said goodbye and leaned over to kiss you, when suddenly you were lucid and clear. You reached up from your bed, placed your hand upon my cheek and prayed, “Lord, bless my son.”
It was so significant mom. The moment passed as quickly as it had arrived and you were no longer there. I left, tears in my eyes, knowing I would not see you again. One week later two nurses were assisting you to walk to your lunch. You were alive on one side of the threshold of your doorway but as they helped you step into the hallway, you died, right there, of a massive heart attack.
It was not until years after you had died when I had reconnected with my cousin Chris, that I encountered another side to you. I learned that in this same period and beyond, that Chris found a mom in you to whom she could relate and from whom she received a great deal of mothering.
She said, “Anytime I would need to talk to a Mom, it was your mom that I called. And she listened, asked me questions and helped me sort out my life.” Sometimes in our lives, the remarkable stuff bypasses our senses because we are too involved in our own desperate search for significance. Chris’ testimony about you helped my heart immensely.
It lets me remember a child’s perspective, and child’s interpretation can be skewed by many factors. You were remarkable in many ways. Remember the trip to Ostrander Lake? This backpacking trip came when I was about 11 after Roger had graduated from high school. It was a challenging, steep hike up a grade out of the valley for miles. We all were doing great except you. You were really struggling, winded, and sat down at one point and began to sob: “I’m not going to make it, my heart is beating out of my chest.”
We stopped, and Roger said, “Mom, let us help you carry your stuff to lighten your load.” And with that, we opened your back, and you were packing in a pie to surprise us!
“A homemade apple pie in a glass pie plate! Mom, no wonder your pack is so heavy!” Roger exclaimed. So we unpacked your pack and shared it with Dad, John, Roger and me. With that, we hiked the rest of the way. One of us carrying that beautiful pie which we enjoyed that night after a fish fry.
I forgive you for the places you failed mom and thank you for all that I gained by knowing you and walking with you in life. And one of the greatest gifts was on that day in Hemet, at the Italian place, you didn’t argue for Sherwood’s innocence but simply believed me. Thank you.