The Last 3 Words, If I Don’t See You Again.
The words I love you were always a ready part of my early vocabulary.
As a child, my mother taught me that these should be the last words a loved one hears from you just in case you never see that person again. There is, I’ve come to realize, a certain sense of the morbid in this statement, but the lesson has stayed with me, just the same.
These three little words flowed easily for me, toward many family members from my childhood and boyfriends going back as early as my preteen years. Even in a 20-year marriage that most often lacked love in the mature sense of the word, I found myself habitually using the words my mother taught me.
Most often in the marriage, and on many other occasions, I used these words more in an immature effort to elicit a response and gain reassurance from the object of my affections. Becoming a mother changed all that.
This should come as no surprise to any mother who understands the unconditional love she feels for her child. For that matter, any parent must be able to relate to the sudden rush of emotion upon seeing your child for the first time. Suddenly, life is not just about you anymore.
This being, created through an act of love, now deserves and, in fact, demands for you to finally grow up and provide for its very basic needs, not the least of which is the need for your love.
As my mother told me at the birth of my daughter, “Your life will never again be your own.”
The impending birth of a second child, for me, brought ambivalence and questioning: “How could I ever love another child as much as my first?” And, yet, when that day comes, you find you have love enough for two (or three, or more!).
As a stay-at-home mom, my children quickly became the center of my world. My love for them was expressed in my devotion to all their needs; much of my energy was put forth to shade them from the glaring fact that their father and I did not understand how we were supposed to express love to each other.
In fact, my I love yous to my children were sometimes reminiscent of that earlier need for reassurance and validation of myself as a woman and, now, as a mother.
When the inevitable happened, and the marriage ended, my children were 18 and 16. It wasn’t pretty. In the process of a marriage ending and the ensuing nasty divorce, one often chooses a path which goes away from that of a path of love. And so it was in my case.
Many of the actions taken became selfish acts of survival and, resultantly, were lacking love. My children allied themselves with their father, in part due to my actions and, in part, due to things that were inappropriately shared with them. The effect was total alienation from the two most important people in my life.
For two years, my children would have no contact with me. I lived alone in a friend’s basement trying to put the pieces of my life back together. But, I never gave up on my children. I never stopped trying to reach out to them, to show them that I was still the person they believed me to be.
The most devastating moments came when my children would curse at me (having never done so before in their lives) and said things like: “You’re a stalker,” “Go away,” and “I’ll get a restraining order.” I had never faced such complete personal rejection and pain. And in the midst of this insanity, came a moment of clarity: the realization that I now understood what I love you really means.
Through every fiber of my being, I held onto the belief that those two precious beings, created through me, would someday need their mother again. I forgave them their angry outbursts because it was clear they didn’t fully understand the possible consequences of their actions. I continued to say I love you to them at every opportunity.
I put myself in their presence whenever possible, at the risk of hearing their hurtful words. I mailed cards, bought birthday and holiday gifts, went to their school and workplace, sent text messages and emails, always expressing my love for them. In these little acts of love came my understanding of the importance of those three little words.
The revelation came to me during this two-year period that I had actually been living in a state of love for the first time in my life. I had become a grown-up. No longer was I seeking a response to my I love yous. These words were now spoken simply for the fact that they were true! The definition of unconditional love, or giving love without conditions, became my reality.
No matter how much my children lashed out at me, no matter how awful their words, my love for them was a constant. It gave me comfort in the lowest of my days. It provided me with the knowledge that its very presence in my life at this time was proof enough that I had done something right as a mother. It gave me strength to keep going, when many times I felt like giving up.
When you find yourself truly alone in this world, starting over, and seemingly unloved, it is difficult to find empathy and walk in the shoes of another. Somehow, I was able to do that: through the love I had for my children, I could see their pain and accept my part in that pain.
I held on to the belief that through perseverance, consistency, and continued expressions of love that the day would come when we would be reunited in the bond that had been created. I knew the groundwork had been laid in the many I love yous of their younger days.
In the past seven years, my children and I have created a new kind of relationship. My perseverance has yielded tremendous reward. The anger and hurt have subsided and, for the most part, there has been tremendous healing and forgiveness.
Even though they are now adults with their own lives to live, we now enjoy a connection that would have been difficult to foresee in those two years of alienation. My daughter, recently married, is beginning a new chapter in her life, and in so doing, sometimes even asks her mother’s advice. My son, a successful entrepreneur, allows my occasional visits into his world and readily responds I love you when we text or speak on the phone.
We are in regular communication, where not long ago there was none.
The process of growing up, for most, happens in small, incremental steps. But, if you are lucky, there are moments of awakening, when you come to realize that the lessons learned early on, undeniably have taken root and found a place in your life.
My mother was right: no matter what might have happened in the years of alienation from my children, if we had never seen one another again, the last words they would have heard from their mother would have been, I love you.
A New Englander by birth, M.J. Tierney actually hates the cold weather! Having also lived in New York and Milan, Italy, M.J. now lives in Virginia, where the weather is just a bit warmer and the days a little longer. Keeping her company are M.J.’s husband and rat terriers, Lily and Rufus. Still learning the lessons that life has to hold, her quest is to be the ultimate representation of love to all she meets.