I dedicate this to Frances Killingsworth, my lovely and gently strong Mother.
One of the most precious beautiful jewels unearthed during my devastatingly painful year of public shaming was the transformation of my relationship with my mother.
Although Mom was very loving and supportive in my early childhood, due to a whole variety of family dynamics things fell apart in my early teens and my mother had not been my go-to person or safe harbor since.
In fact, I was almost two weeks into my horrendous ordeal before I called her. I did not know how she would respond to the mess I was sitting in. She floored me with her fierce protectiveness and kindness. She let me know with greater fervor than ever before in my adult life that she was extremely proud of me and respected what I had done with my life. She ranted about how “mean and nasty” the media was and that she wouldn’t have anything to do with them, even though they kept calling her.
Her words of love and support and safety flowed over me like warm rain or soft tears. I found myself wanting to share with her how the current, ongoing attacks were triggering, once again, in a devastatingly powerful and inescapable way, the deep, dark family traumas that I had worked so hard to heal from. This had always been something of a landmine subject in my family but that day, lonely and wounded, my need was overwhelming and I opened up to her.
More than ever before she just listened, intently, warmly. And then she blew my mind when she said, “You know those experiences from our childhood really affect us. I’m 77 years old and I am dealing with that from my own childhood right now.” She went on to explain how, having lost her husband of nineteen years only two months prior she was struggling to overcome fear of living alone due to events and programming she’d received as a young girl. I was astounded that she was dealing with such things at her age and amazed and grateful that she shared them with me.
This turned out to be one of the deepest, most mutually supportive conversations we had ever had.
Just a few days later, still in the heat of the media firestorm, OregonLive posted a follow up piece in which my mother had spoken to a reporter in Oklahoma. I was stunned, angry and deeply upset. Although everything she said was supportive of me I was shocked that she would talk to the media without even telling me. Feeling utterly under-attack, with stomach roiling, I called her.
I asked why she had talked to a reporter when she said she wasn’t going to. She stammered and said a strange man had knocked on her door, and, already unsettled being there alone, it rattled her. Yet, in her southern hospitality style she opened the door. He jumped her with questions. She tried telling him she had just lost her husband and was uncomfortable with him being there. He just kept at her with questions about me and explained that he was there on behalf of the Oregonian.
She told me all this nervously and then said, “Cylvia, I’m sorry.” In that instant my anger melted, replaced by compassion and guilt. I told her I was the one who was sorry, so sorry that she had been put through that as a result of my mess. And then, for the first time in a long, long time, that warm fierce urge to protect her, to keep her from pain, surged up from below old, tired wounds and layers of armor.
A few months later I decided to visit her and embarked on a long, car-camping road trip, just me and my beloved big dog, Tessa. Over the next week, camping in beautiful, remote places, I crossed nearly two thousand miles. It was a peaceful, soothing quest, but over the last several hundred miles I grew unsettled. Uncomfortable remnant memories dashed around and poked at old deep bruises.
I kept taking deep, belly breaths, focused on staying calm and open. At the entrance to the long dirt road leading to her house I stopped the car, took several breaths and focused my intent on staying in a place of love, toward her and toward myself.
Mom was waiting for me at the end of the driveway. She looked very small and bright and familiar. I got out and let a car-weary Tessa out to stretch her long legs. And then I embraced my mother and for a long, long time as tears welled in my eyes.
Much later, after the best visit we had ever shared, and the long trek home, my mom told me that that hug felt different. She said it felt like I had “accepted her back as my Mama.” I realized the moment she said it she was right. I may have been nearly fifty years old but I was at a place where I just wanted my mommy. I got over myself, our past, the old identities and just let my heart fall.
I am deeply, immeasurably grateful that hers was there to catch it.
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