“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” Carl Jung
There are many people that leave a mark on us throughout our lives. Some influence us in profound ways, too complex to fully grasp with our conscious mind. Those people are our caretakers, for most people – their parents. Even their absence speaks volumes and change us. Constantly reflecting back on the experiences I had, stories engrained in my mind, and discovering pieces of recollections that I’m puzzling back together, I keep having new realizations of how my mom influenced me and how she continues to do so through my memory of her. Although she passed away in 2016, my perceptions of her change as I change and learn new things about myself.
My mom and I were bonded most by the relentless dreaming and hoping that life will be different for us one day. We dreamed of a better future and that imaginary life was what got us through when we often felt lost. I learned to live in anticipation of a better life and with hope that no gloomy days last forever. This blind faith and striving towards the future were life saving for both of us.
I was my mom’s confidant and therapist. Like many wounded healers, I received my first training right there in my family of origin, way before my official schooling began. Not until adulthood did I realized that many of the things my mom confided in me were too big and painful for me to understand and bear as my own burdens. But I did. I felt all of her feelings. I felt her fear, anger, hatred, hopes, and dreams. I knew when she was unhappy, hurt, tired, and lonely. I thought it was my job to remove those discomforts from her.
Although we were always very close, as a young adult, I grew more and more angry at her submissiveness and compliance. Staying in a marriage that felt constricting created a growing bitterness and rage inside of her as she felt that she didn’t have a say in her own life. I overtly encouraged her to leave the marriage and couldn’t bear knowing how discontent she felt and how deeply she yearned for a better life. Long after I left the family home, we discussed and replayed the regrets she had in her life. She told me about the time she went to her parents hinting that she wanted to leave her marriage, and they (very kind hearted and gentle people) refused to let her come home with two kids because it would be a huge shame for them in the village. Their conservative views made them more concerned with What will people say? That was a big guiding force for my mom as well, but so was the lack of financial stability and support. She felt alone in her fears and desires.
Years after both my sister and I left the family home, and about a year after I moved to the U.S. my mom told me she finally left my dad. She took on a job to work as an in-home caretaker in Germany and was saving money and bought a house in the village. It was an old and rundown place, but this house was her freedom, pride, and success. Now looking back at this, I am in awe of the courage she had to make this step. I know that she was terrified, but what strikes me the most is the mental strength and perseverance to go against every norm and conditioning she was fed with her entire life. I have no words for the admiration I have for her, for forging her own path when she had no examples in front of her, no support, and no promise that things will actually work out in her favor.
Almost every morning when I woke up, I would skype with her while sipping my morning coffee, her in Serbia, me in Austin. One day while we were on a skype call, she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, we were hopeful that the treatment would work, but we had no idea what life had in store. The following several years were full of ups and downs, but eventually it turned out that the disease was discovered too late and ultimately progressed. In her last days, she was grateful that she was able to spend her days in her house that, against all odds, provided her with a sense of accomplishment and independence.
Her boldness and refusal to settle was inside of her all along. That’s what lights me up and inspires me when I think about my mom. Plunging from comfort that is too restrictive, into the blind faith that something better awaits on the other side. That’s what keeps me going - the refusal to settle and to believe what others say is possible in this one lifetime. She did not TELL me how to be in the world and what’s possible, she SHOWED me!
By Judith Kroll
Of course they are empty shells, without hope of animation.
Of course they are artifacts.
Even if my sister and I should wear some,
or if we give others away,
they will always be your clothes without you,
as we will always be your daughters without you.