Starting From Scratch: Reckoning Home

mom and i

me in blue Shannon Cerny
Sometimes something so big happens that you can’t really understand it all at once.

Yet you must move forward, go through the motions – life is not optional. The sun rises and sets, rises and sets, with or without your head in the game. And that is where you find me here.

After Hurricane Sandy, they said many of the seaside homes looked normal but that the water had come with fury, unforgiving and knocked the houses off of their foundations. They were untethered and uninhabitable. And there are days in which I am squarely both.

My mother died in March – she was the last piece of my original family.

My last key to unlock the past, last string tied to a father and sister I didn’t know. There have been many times when my life was overshadowed by death. In fact I was oddly familiar with it as a child with small glimpses into early moments at a funeral or visiting family at the cemetery.

But she was different, my mom, it was complicated as things are with daughters and mothers, women who are family.

For a long time we were not close and yet growing up I wanted to be her. She was adventurous and bright and sharp and provocative – making homemade chop suey when most of my friends didn’t know what that was and working in an advertising agency before the idea of a professional working mother was thinkable. She would take me to business lunches at the Drake and I knew my mom was special…but I also knew in those fleetingly glamorous moments that she was fragile and broken. A glimpse of things to come, foreshadowing our future fragile relationship and my broken pieces.

Growing up the child of alcoholics… my fingers are heavy, hesitant to type more.

Growing up the child of alcoholics can make you well of course an alcoholic or addict or soapbox preacher… but I am a pleaser, a worst case scenario maestro, a believer, and a fool.

There were many times I would not talk to my mother, avoiding calls, her kiss because I was no longer mystified, I was hurt and sad… and fighting my own battles.

She was not allowed to call after 5pm – she would be drunk and I made it clear I wanted none of that. She called on my birthday and I did not answer, left a voicemail that I did not want. And yet now in the indefinite silence that is my only piece of her voice… and I listen to it often and cry.

In the end, she had given up drinking and slowly awoke to be the mother I always needed and wanted before slipping away. We made our version of peace, although she didn’t really remember the worst parts and I wish I could forget them, so together we let them go as best we could.

A perfectly human ending to an imperfect, authentic mother daughter love story. And I miss her every day.

So I am here, at the end of her ending and the beginning of my own refection, reengagement, my chance to try again. I don’t have answers but I know that hurt and anger is an anchor that will pull you away from what matters.

Love and forgiveness are the two most powerful things you can ever give and the best gift you can ever get. Being authentically you – even if and especially if that isn’t pretty or perfectly put together is the only way you will have real, meaningful human connections… and you must be patient and forgive imperfection.

What if everyone is just doing the best that they can?

So I will start there. Sad, forgiving, forgiven, and hopeful.


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