My daughter and I went to see a powerful movie called Wild. It depicts a young woman trying to overcome addiction and loss in her life. She takes a long hike across the Northwest, discovering and releasing her deep emotional feelings.
The loss part of this equation was particularly poignant to me. I grew up in a home where tensions were high, children were on guard emotionally, and there were few smiles and displays of affection.
Perhaps this was the way of my mother and father’s generation.
Or maybe it was the way my mother and father were brought up themselves.
I don’t ever remember getting a hug from my mother and father. We would give a kiss on the cheek at night and hop off to bed, somewhere around 7 or 7:30 p.m. as children. It would change as we moved into our teenage years.
I don’t remember hearing “I love you” much, certainly not as much as we do today. Every time we leave the house we’re saying “I love you.”
Is this good? Are we diluting the meaning of the words “I love you?”
I do know this. Not saying it at all didn’t accomplish one positive moment in our lives when I was a child. It suppressed emotions, positive feelings. It was destructive.
I watched my mother suffer greatly the last two years of her life. She developed breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy. About four or five months later, this horrific disease came back. I remember coming downstairs knowing it was back. She had her head down, fingering her coffee cup. Her face was distraught. She never said a word. Yet, I knew. I knew she was in the battle of her life.
She would go in and out of hospitals, sometimes making good progress, other times resigned she would need to go back in again.
And each time I would visit, I would smile and pretend to be positive. I would say, “When are you coming home?”
She would fake a smile and say, “Soon.”
When it was time to leave, I’d look at this courageous woman, and wanted to say those three little words. Yet, I couldn’t. I guess I was conditioned to suppress my feelings.
It wasn’t long before my mother was placed in a hospice. She would get blasts of radiation on her brain so she could have some functions of life. Some days there was a little ray of hope. She would seem to have more energy, more fight inside her.
Eventually, the radiation failed to have any more impact. She lost the movement in her arms and legs and she was basically bone, not eating at all. She was a shell. Yet, she fought on and on.
She didn’t have much time, only days. I was alone with my mom in the room. I stared at her frail body, studying the burn marks on her skull, wondering why this 47-year old woman had to suffer this way. I questioned why she had to endure such a vicious fate. I got angry thinking she would never hold my children or see me wait for my bride walking down the aisle.
I tried not to cry often. After all, I was the oldest male in the family. I was supposed to be strong. It was what I was taught.
As these thoughts pummeled my heart, I couldn’t bear it anymore. My protector in the emotionally repressed home was taking her last breaths. I couldn’t deny the ugly truth that soon my mom would be dead.
I finally said to her the three words she had never heard from me. “I love you.”
My mom slowly turned her head and looked up. I don’t even know if she could see me. She gave a slight nod and started to cry.
So I cried.
And I cried.
Right now, I’m crying.
Because I miss her. And because I should have said, “I love you,” more often. I thought I was upholding the strong male image.
It took living with three females over the past 20 years to teach me this.
They say it often and I never get tired of hearing it.
I wish my mom was here to see her grandchildren. I know they would tell her often, “I love you.”
I hope there are people in your life that tell you this, too.