On the 29th anniversary of my mother’s death

Posted by on 03.24.07 | 7 Comments
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Today is the 29th anniversary of my mother’s death. She died in 1978 at the age of 58 of ovarian cancer, before hospice care was readily available. Her death was like her life: full of pain and grace.

Mom was sexually abused by her father for 7 years during her childhood. Even though she did not fully heal from the profound wounds to her soul, she passed on a ferocity to her 5 children about the respect with which others should be treated. She also had great faith and believed that life was much bigger than we can imagine. A primary movtivator for her life was trusting that all things are being worked out for the good of our souls, on a level we usually can’t access. A corollary to her perspective: what is good for our soul often doesn’t feel good in the moment, but have faith and wait…all will be revealed!

Mental illness is part of the warp and woof of our family tree, with mom’s father suffering with bi-polar illness, her sister having serious depressive episodes, her brother living in an institution most of his life, doing his best to function in a non-schizophrenic world. Mom had a melancholy side to her that was dominant, but her joy in life was equally as dominant, and those two powerful forces kept her upright and moving forward. When her other and very beloved brother was killed in World War II, mom’s sense of rightness with the world was turned inside out and she never fully recovered her equilibrium. From some of the healing work I have done, I think that while I was in utero, 12 years after her brother’s death, I took on my mother’s grief and sense of despair.

Although I have felt her lovely hand on my forehead in times of great distress, as I have moved through the phases of my adult life without mom’s guidance, I have passed through several openings into the soulfulness of my mother. For 20 years I worked in the end of life care field as a grief counselor; childrens’ program developer, and then administrator of various types. As my maternal grandmother came to the end of her very long life in 2001 (see Closer than our own Skin on the Stories of Wisdom section of this site, a story about her near-death experience) I knew that I would leave the field that had taught me so much about the ground of my mother’s being: grief. I am now working in the field of child abuse assessment, treatment and prevention–again, an opening to my mother’s,and family’s, wounds, and it feels like somehow I am doing my part to mend the tear in the fabric of the world, as the Baal Shem T’ov taught. By being of service to the little ones as they begin their life journeys towards healing, my own wounds and the wounds of my ancestry, are healed. From where I now sit, time is not linear; by helping to heal current wounds and prevent future ones, the wounds that seem to be in the past are also healed.

Mom died at the age of 58 when I was 23. Now in my early 50′s myself I don’t wish that her life could have been longer or even easier: each life brings its own template with it. In honor of mom’s love for life and for her children, though, I am making a renewed commitment to listen more deeply for her ever-present voice –all I have to do is open to it–and connect more closely and fully with the wisdom of both my mother and grandmothers as biological ancestors. (Stay tuned to the Virtual Tea House for the development of dialogue around walking with our ancestors.)

I stand on my mother’s shoulders to see the world in a broader and deeper perspective. With great honor at being her daughter, and desire to love the world as she loved me:

Agnes Virginia Shinebarger Patterson, 1919-1978: thank you for showing up for your life

Beth Patterson

Host, Virtual Tea House




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