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The past is never past

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”       William Faulkner

Faulkner’s words were written to describe how the history of the Southern United States continues to haunt. I use his words in another way:

When our past is still alive within us, it can be reshaped.

In helping people work with their stories, I’ve seen the healing power of revisiting the past and reshaping messages drawn from old experiences.

I experienced this in a new way last year when my relationship with my mom started shifting. She’s been dead now for three years.

Her last two and a half years were difficult to witness. She lay in her hospice-provided bed, victim of a stroke, as life leeched out of her, month by month. The mom I had known disappeared. Dementia took ground, and she may not have recognized me in her last months. A beautiful being remained, on the way to her last passage.

When I learned she had died, I wailed and sobbed, and then felt a rush of relief.

I remember thinking, “I no longer have to think of my mom as an elderly invalid.”

For the next year, I barely thought about her. I missed her, of course, but it was as if the two of us needed space to continue our journeys.

Then my moms (plural intended) started visiting me in my dreams.

  • First, I met the seventy-five-year-old mom, still vibrant, whom I loved escorting to the theatre after my Dad had passed.
  • Then, I saw the silver-haired eighty-year-old mom. I remembered the telephone conversations we had almost every day.
  • Later, the forty-year-old mom visited, with her mousy-brown, permed hair. She was the one I rebelled against when I was in high school.
  • Then, I saw the harried twenty-eight-year-old mother of three toddlers, barely coping.

In dreams and meditations, moms at other times of her life appeared.

Maybe someday I’ll meet the mom I never knew: the college student, lovely but cautious, or the shy young girl. Maybe I’ll meet the mom she might have been if she hadn’t had to carry the weight of her wounds.

If you asked me, “Are these moms real?” I wouldn’t know how to answer. They aren’t flesh and blood real, but neither are they made up. It’s a mystery to me how we meet, and I’m OK with that.

My past as Faulkner said, wasn’t past. It was still alive.

Reworking the past

I didn’t need to change the facts of my history with my mom, including the painful remarks, misunderstandings, or hurts both of us brought to the relationship. What happened between us didn’t need to shift.

But the emotional charge I had felt about events and times in our relationship did shift. I was no longer frustrated by the mom who took so long to die. I wasn’t the moody young daughter of the woman who “only wanted me to be happy.” I wasn’t angry with the mom who tried, during the late 1960s, to instill in me the values of the 1950s.

I didn’t need to make her different from who she was (a long-time habit of mine). I had compassion for us both.

Today, it’s as if we are in a new relationship and can help each other,

I’m curious about how that relationship might unfold. Will she sit with me as I continue to untangle the trauma that lies lodged in my body? Can she help me step beyond the vestigial fears that I carry? Will she cheer when my book is finally released?

Moving ahead, I am grateful for the possibilities in a new relationship, just as I am grateful for all that she gave.

The past is never past. As we reshape it, we reshape our future.

In honor of moms, I thought you might enjoy this charming, animated, four-minute video. Click here.

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