Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bloom where you're planted

I came across the expression "bloom where you're planted" in my twenties when I first developed an interest in gardening.  It resonated with me, not for its meaning in the gardening context, but rather as a life lesson.  For me it meant: Make the best of what you have.  Take accountability for your own direction.  Don't get side-tracked by regrets over what you don't have.  Find beauty, peace and joy where you are.

This is not a post about flowers or gardening.  This is a post about my mother, who passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 90.  For years, every time I spoke to her, she said she was going to live to be 120.  I heard it so many times that, after awhile, I half-believed it.  Although her health declined dramatically over the past few months and she was under hospice care at home, I still found it hard to believe she was going to pass away.  But she did.  My brother, her primary caregiver for the past 18 months, was at her side, holding her hand.  I arrived 10 minutes too late but am grateful to have spent time with her last Sunday when she was still able to talk to me.

My mother on the day she married my father, her happiest memory

She and I had banged heads over the years.  We had very different philosophies of life.  She didn't subscribe to the belief that one should bloom where she's planted.  She spent 60 years in California but never accepted it as home.  She talked a lot about what should have been, what could have been if she and my father had never moved here.  She lost her husband, my father, before the age of forty.  His death in a freak car accident left her with 2 small children, a 6-year old and a 4-year old.  She found work and juggled the demands of motherhood at a time when the workplace provided little support to women in these circumstances.  Her parents were already gone and she had no siblings or other close family on whom to rely.  She put aside every penny of the veteran's benefits she received in a college fund for my brother and me.  When times got tough and she had to borrow from that fund to keep our little family afloat, she paid the money back - with interest.  Of all the gifts she gave us, that is the one that meant the most to me - she made sure that she did the best she could to prepare us for the future even if she herself lived in the past.  Although she was planted in the wrong "zone," she survived and she gave us the opportunity to thrive.

My brother and me at 6 and 4
My mother remarried when I was 11.  Unfair as I felt it was to my stepfather, she couldn't shake her belief that her life had been ruined by my father's death. At one point she told me that she'd remarried because she'd heard me say I wanted a father.  Perhaps I did say that - I don't remember.  I did want a father and I certainly loved my stepfather but, if my mother was truly unhappy in her marriage, I didn't expect her to continue it for my sake.  In any case, the marriage continued for decades after my brother and I were out of the house.  In retrospect, I believe that her regrets had less to do with him and more to do with her insistence on hanging on to images of the life she'd dreamed of rather than building on the life she had.

My mother and stepfather

The philosophical rift between us led me to put distance between myself and my family for a time.  I saw them but the occasions were generally somewhat formal.  When my stepfather fell and subsequently went into a physical decline, I ended my self-imposed estrangement from my family in order to assist him.  After my stepfather passed away in 2011, I began seeing my mother at least weekly even though that meant spending hours on the freeway.  We took care of financial issues she couldn't handle on her own and I routinely took her out to lunch or shopping.  Early on, our conversations picked up the same themes our discussions had taken during the decades before; however, rather than argue with her as I had in the past, I just listened.  It was a painful time for me.  Then, as her final physical decline began, I noticed that her stories began to change.  I can't say that she forgave all the wrongs she felt life and other people had done to her - it may be that she simply forgot them.  She did pointedly tell me that she felt my stepfather had been good to her and that they'd had a good marriage, which I was happy to hear.

My mother's decline, while painful to watch, gave me the time and opportunity to let go of my own regrets over our relationship.  After a time, the old conflicts just didn't matter anymore.  I love her and I already miss her tremendously, as I do my father, my stepfather, and other family and friends I've lost.  I hope that the best parts of what I learned from each will continue to live in me for the rest of my life.  From my mother, whether she intended it or not, I learned to bloom where I'm planted.  Everyone has different views about what happens after death.  My mother believed that she'd be reunited with those she held dear.  We're burying her near my father and grandmother as she requested.  I hope she finds peace there.


  1. What a touching post. I am so sorry for your loss. And I am sorry that your mother never seemed to accept the loss of your father at such a young age. It must have been very hard for her. I was happy to read that as she aged, she began to look at her past with a more positive perspective. Perhaps she was always happy, just disappointed. It's hard sometimes to not think about what might have been.

  2. I wish I were one of those people with a gift for expressing those difficult emotions stirred by death, but I am not. I do understand the push/pull that family ties have on people. You're lucky to have found some peace with your mother while she was still alive. Your story has touched me, thank you.

  3. I understand where you are with this post since both of my parents are dead, too. Even though we hope death brings peace to both the deceased and the living, it also takes away an opportunities to resolve old conflicts. It's inspiring that you're able to focus on the good parts of your relationship with her. Those memories will be the most comforting.

  4. Complex relationships with parents can be a challenge. Mine are both still alive although they are remarried which adds a whole other layer of complexity to the mix. I applaud your ability to put such powerful feelings into words. Like Loree, I'm also unable to do that. My condolences on the loss of your mother.

  5. Thanks sis. It just happened to cross my mind that you may have posted something on this so I came looking. I think you and I have visited grief in our own ways but we share many of the same experiences, perspectives and sense of loss. In a way I hold onto some of this as if it's really a precious gift. The past year and 8 months I dedicated to taking care of mom was both an effort and a delight which challenged me in ways I could never had imagined. My last 21 hours alone here with our mother will remain deeply etched upon my psyche until it's my time to go. I became a better person for all of this. Peace and love, your brother.

  6. I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mothers story here is an important reminder. I admittedly find myself living in the past and even future but seemingly forget about the present. I hope that you and your family find much encouragement, peace and love during this time. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers.

  7. I want to offer my thanks to those of you who posted notes here and to those who called and e-mailed. As one friend said, you can never prepare for an event like this, even when the prospect looms large. I know from past experience that grief works on its own timetable but support helps carry us along.

  8. A beautiful and heartfelt story, thank you for sharing the wisdom you have learned.