Knowing in Full


Every individual is full of seemingly infinite depth and complexity, particularly to those who are closest to them and have experienced firsthand both their beauty and their brokenness. Here, Becky Allender writes about discovering a surprise journal after her mother’s funeral, and the powerful experience of knowing her enigmatic mother more fully. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.

I was relieved that the first set of visiting hours had gone “well”—whatever that means! What does “well” mean at your mother’s viewing hours? Is it the number of people who come? Is it their words explaining what your mother meant to them? Is it the unexpected childhood friends who drive from different states to say, “I am so sorry for your loss”? Death is surreal.

The afternoon visiting hours were over. We still had the evening hours before the next day’s graveside service and, finally, a memorial service. We quietly drove to our childhood home and ate our first meal ever at the dining room table without my mother. All I remember eating was Beulah’s chocolate chip cookies before returning to the evening viewing hours.

My husband and I had spent the previous nine months traveling abroad and this was to have been the end of our sabbatical for me: a two-week visit with my mother during Mother’s Day. This was to have been the first Mother’s Day with my mother since college. Instead we were burying her next to my father the day before Mother’s Day. Life is surreal.

The “after work hours” people who came were plentiful and actually turned this affair into a mini high school reunion of Upper Arlington classes 1967, 1970, and 1976. The neighbors and church attendees who watched me grow up along with, Bridge, P.E.O., D.A.R., symphony, investment, and yacht club friends arrive. The people were recognizable and their names usually came quickly, and talking with them made this more real. Julie’s conversation, however, took me by surprise.

“Your mom was so proud of you.”

“No she wasn’t,” I rebutted.

“She would come home from visiting you and tell everyone about your home, your children, and you.”

“No she didn’t.”

“Yes, she did. I was there with my parents and their friends. She couldn’t wait to give us the latest description of whatever state you had moved to and how you were doing.”

“No, you are wrong, Julie, I can’t believe you are saying this. I longed for her approval. I longed to hear her blessing for anything. Did you hear me, anything! I never heard anything close to what you are telling me. She never gave me affirmation or approval. I didn’t discipline correctly, my hair was never styled like she wanted, and my clothing was never to her standard. Even your mother told me to not try and please her because I never would be able to. Why are you telling me this now? You know my mom…knew my mom, I mean.”

We stared at one another and I finally said, “Why didn’t she tell ME those things?”

I awkwardly turned to the next person, and soon it was time to load up the car with items we had brought to represent her life—a Talbots shopping bag was the item that made everyone smile and remember my mom. Her sport was shopping. I was always proud of the way she dressed.

The following day, after the graveside service, Dan arrived in the nick of time from doing a seminar to eulogize my mother along with my brother, nephew, and the Methodist minister who walked alongside us the past few days.

Soon after the memorial service my sister and her husband left for their Canadian vacation, and my brother and his wife flew to China. My friend Julie left for Florida and Jane went to Lake Erie. I was alone. I went to stay at my parents’ empty home.

I unlocked the back door and stepped into the kitchen. I closed the door and slid down to the floor and wrapped my arms around my knees. Where do I start? Where do I start? Do I begin emptying the refrigerator? Do I go up to my old bedroom and unpack my suitcase? What the hell do I do now? Soon I got up and carried my suitcase upstairs and began opening windows. The smell of summer began wafting into the bedrooms. Oh, I had not smelled the English privet hedge so boldly since the fifth grade when air-conditioning had been installed.

I pulled down the twin bedspread and changed into my pajamas and walked into my parents’ bedroom. I touched the bed, sat in the rocking chair, and opened their closet doors. There on my mother’s closet shelf was a Five Year Diary. What? I grabbed it and ran to my bed. This was the first time in my life to sleep alone in my parents’ home. I devoured every page and finally, when the sun began rising and turning the white walls pink, I took off my glasses, threw a pillow on the other twin bed, and fell asleep.

She told me things I never knew and some I never wanted to know, but even in the darkest entries I felt like I finally got a second chance to know my inscrutable mother. She struggled with her sexuality. She could be petty and cruel. For the first time I felt like I was invited into her scarred heart and could walk with her through some of her trauma.

I finally got a second chance to know my inscrutable mother.

I believe without a shadow of a doubt my mother knows Jesus. She has dined with Him and beheld His delight and honor. In light of His love, she cheers me on in naming her brokenness and joins me in grieving the heartache her life brought to her family. I don’t know why she placed her secretive journal in such an obvious place, but I choose to believe she wanted her children to know something about her hidden heart.

There are tens of hundreds of questions that have come since she died, and each question is a tender ache that enables me to anticipate the day we are fully reconciled. My second chance of knowing my mother is one of the central reasons I have begun to write for the Red Tent Living blog. My children fiercely love me. My grandchildren delight to be with “Mia.” But like most children and inevitably with grandchildren, the questions they will most want to ask won’t come to them until I am likely missing my mind or have left this earth. Everyone deserves a second and a third and endless chances to know those they only knew in part but long to know in full.