My mom taught me from an early age about loving the unlovable: “I may not like what you do, but I will always love you.”

Usually stated after she’d blown her top in anger while trying to contain and appropriately discipline the wild child energies of my brother and I, the message “No matter what you do, you are loved” went deep into my heart and mind.

Like teenagers throughout history, while working through my adolescent differentiation process, I was convinced my mom didn’t love me. “If you really loved me…” followed by a litany of parental errors filled my mind much of the time.

- “If you really loved me, you would let me do what I want.”

- “If you really loved me, you would give me what I ask for.”

- “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t be depressed and crazy.”

- “If you really loved me, you would make the pain go away.”

- “If you really loved me, you and dad wouldn’t have divorced.”

Volatile arguments with mom marked my teen years. At times I hated her. At other times I felt deep compassion for her suffering. Most of the time I was too busy avoiding and denying the painful reality of her depression, addictions and suicidality to feel anything but indifference.

In her better moments, she did her best to guide my emerging wild feminine nature. Yet as strong willed as she was, her depressed middle-aged energy was no match for my angry adolescent intensity. Her attempts to set boundaries around my choice of friends, where I went and what I did, were sadly ineffective. I’d tell her where I was going and what I was planning to do–sometimes truthfully but most often not. She’d extend some parental guidance in an effort to do her job: “Be sure to call if your plans change.” I’d verbally assent to the plan while knowing all along she’d be out cold by the time I came home and it wouldn’t matter anyway.

As her disease progressed and I became increasingly frightened and resentful of her weakness and ineffectiveness, I acted out my own insecurities in a show of hostility. I responded with outright disrespect and at times, even contempt. I’d laugh at her and dare her to “try and make me” come home at a certain hour.  Sometimes she’d fight back with further attempts to assert her authority, but I’d respond with more venomous words. I have more memories than I’d like of calling her a “fuckin’ bitch” or other hateful things.

And yet, through it all, she’d faithfully call me back to love. Often initiating a conversation about “a new beginning” when our relationship was in more a emotionally stable place. She’d apologize for her “craziness.” I’d cry and admit I loved her and didn’t mean what I’d said. We’d forgive each other and carry on–for a few days, a week or two, sometimes longer, until our next upheaval. The message that I heard time and again:

“No matter how badly you behave, I will always love you.”

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 - Remarkable & Silly Mother

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 – Remarkable & Silly Mother

Ours was never the cozy, intimate, “best friends” kind of mother-daughter relationship. We enjoyed each other at times, laughed and had fun. But it wasn’t a sweet or easy love. Even to her dying days we struggled to love each other well through our words and actions. Yet, in the depths of my innermost being, I knew I was her beloved and precious only daughter. She loved me fiercely, deeply and strongly. She taught me to love and forgive the unlovable in myself and others.

Reflecting on our relationship, I’m grateful she died when I was only 30. Her physical passing put an end to my struggle to love the parts of her I didn’t like, to forgive the things she did that hurt me. Her limited, broken, imperfect human self no longer inhibiting her capacity to love, her goodness lives on in and through me. I see her charm, her wit, her ability to stand up among a group of strangers and speak boldly and clearly–when I engage in those ways. I see her in my mannerisms and the ways I’m physically aging.

I know she’s proud of the women I’ve become and that I’m still working on loving the unlovable in myself and others. And I am forever grateful and proud to be the daughter of Moira Deidre Ford! May she rest in peace.

I’m blessed to participate in a blogroll with a writing group. Please check out Staci’s blog for more on loving the unlovable.