“Nobody in this great big world, no matter how far you go or how many people you meet, will ever love you as much as I do. You are my heart. I will always be proud of you. Nothing you say or do can change it.”
Those are the words that stand out most clearly to me from the four-and-a-half hour cry-fest of a conversation my Mom and I had the day I came out to her. In the years that followed, I certainly put that statement to the test as I ventured out into the world meeting all kinds of new people, learning who I was, and often dancing on the edge of a sword with no regard for my health or safety. None if it mattered to her. When I fell down, she was there to pick me up again, brush off the dirt, and bandage the cuts and scrapes the world had given me.
Mom has always loved me so fiercely that I sometimes felt smothered by it. Her concern for me when it was clear I was in a bad situation felt stifling while my life managed to hold itself together, but so, so welcome each time the house of cards inevitably fell down around me. I suppose it’s that way between lots of sons and their mothers, especially firstborn sons of very young mothers.
Even with so much love in her big, big heart for my little brother and me, Mom was never really able to love herself. We watched as she opened her heart, home, and bank account to undeserving men that treated her unkindly and took advantage of her need for love (or anything that passed for it) time after time after the passing of our step-father in the early 1990’s. Her inherent generosity and kindness were repaid with theft, disloyalty, and emotional abuse.
Over time, following some harsh truths from her sons, our mom flipped off the switch that had driven her out into the world in search of anyone who could give her the love she lacked for herself. Having almost recovered from a bankruptcy, she was injured at work and became physically unable to work, yet her case was contested by management and she had to fight for over a year through an attorney to get the surgery she needed to repair damage to her spine. By then, a number of other serious health issues had developed, she lost the house that she and my step-father built themselves from the ground up, and she quickly declined into a deep depression that prevented her from taking care of herself or her home.
Over the last the last ten years, I did my best to return the love she so readily gave to me when I was falling apart in my misspent youth. I frequently drove to visit her in Louisiana while I was living in Austin, TX so that I could get her to her doctors’ appointments or meetings with her worker’s compensation lawyer. I spent holidays with her when I could and sent her money and gifts when I couldn’t be there in person. On more than one occasion, my brother and I took turns cleaning out the house she inherited from my grandmother, which she couldn’t or wouldn’t keep clean or uncluttered. She built around her a mess that I sometimes think represented what she felt she deserved to live in.
Watching her give up on herself and growing more and more reclusive was heartbreaking for me, and I eventually moved back to Louisiana so that I could ensure that she was at least taking her medicines and keeping appointments with the doctors for her chronic pain and her diabetes. But no matter how often I came to her and propped her back up, my mom no longer cared for herself and immediately fell back into the dark place she had resigned herself to.
For the last year, I stopped going up to see my mom, telling my brother that it was too much, that I had tried in vain for too long, and that he needed to be more involved in trying to get her back on track. It had gotten to the point that I couldn’t stay the night anymore for fear of my own health. Each time I left her, she would hug me hard and cry, and that left me an emotional wreck for days afterward. I eventually stopped going and started keeping in touch with her only by phone or text, while my little brother and his family took up the task of checking in on her and getting her through the last year’s health crises.
Last night, I received the phone call from my sister-in-law letting me know that the one person in this great big world who would always love me no matter what I said or did, no matter how little I sometimes deserved it, and no matter how poorly I often repaid it was gone from me forever.
I was her heart. I wish I had been able to love her enough for us both. I wish she had been able to be happy, and that she hadn’t been made so afraid of the world that she closed herself off from its wonders or its possibilities. I wish that the defiant, adventurous spirit she nurtured in me had also remained within her so that she could have had the life she deserved. I wish that I could hit the rewind button and go back and change all the bad things that happened to her in her life. But most of all I wish I could hug her one more time and hear her tell me again how much she loves me and how proud of me she’ll always be.
Rest in peace, Brenda Gail Hataway Murdock Prier. I love you.