I’ve been reading my mother’s journals.
It’s heavy going. There’s a lot of baggage: like why did she write so much about my sister and not about me, like reading about her grief at my father’s loss and then facing her own mortality.
It’s been a hard four days… a bit like a car crash. I know I shouldn’t be looking but I somehow just can’t stop myself.
At the same time it’s liberating. Reading her own words has let me come to know the whole woman, flaws and all, not just the picture she chose to show me as my mother.
In many ways her private self was altogether opposite of the one she showed the world… but at the same time perhaps the difference aren’t as striking as I thought. In the many sympathy cards I have received in the past three months, her friends have praised my mother as a brave and compassionate woman. Yet, all her life she struggled with anxiety problems. Much of this I knew, but the extent of those fears surprised me.
I have, unfortunately, come to learn that anxiety problems are genetic and with this intense grief seems to have come my own struggles with anxiety. What has been heartening is learning just how brave my mother really was. Anxiety problems aren’t something you can just make go away, but my mother faced her fears again and again and again.
Despite intense worry about her daughter’s health and safety, she encouraged her to follow her own path and move to rural Africa. She drove even though it made her nervous. She entertained constantly even though the preparation shattered her nerves. She died with dignity and courage despite fearing death itself.
I had my first anxiety attack a few weeks ago and it scared me.
It is a genetic legacy I wish my mother hadn’t passed along… however, facing it now with the knowledge of the extent of her bravery (even if she was never able to see it as courage) makes it a little easier.
I come from a line of strong woman and that bravery won’t end with my mother.