THE "SHARING OUR STORIES" PROJECT
April's Story by Beth Bokan
We are delighted to share Beth Bokan’s beautiful story about her mother for our April blog post. Beth describes an unfolding mother-daughter story that may be familiar to many of us as daughters. Her sensitive and thoughtful reflections on her changing perceptions of her mother help us to see how patience, love and effort can deepen and strengthen this very important connection between two women. Beth reminds us that no matter what a relationship has been in the past, it is possible to find common ground and understanding.
Welcome to spring and thanks for reading our April story about patience, understanding and new beginnings.
Love, Carol and Vv
Beth Bokan is a devoted mother who brings a strong intuition, patience, kindness and wisdom to her very positive relationship with her delightful grown-up son, daughter and step-daughter and to being a grandmother to two precious grandchildren. Her listening skills, sense of humor and deep caring for others are also assets in her multiple roles which include sister, daughter, aunt, wife, and dear friend. Beth is a 20-year federal employee where she serves as a supervisor and uses her many skills to provide support to colleagues and staff. Beth lives in Swanton, Vermont, with her husband, two sweet cats and two adorable dogs.
Beth's Story about her Mother and Their Relationship
I chose to write this story about my mother to show that while not every mother-daughter relationship is idyllic, it is possible to find a place of comfort and peace in the relationship.
My mother, Phyllis Morehouse, was born on April 1,1948 in Johnsburg, New York, fourth in a family of 10 children. Her father passed away when she was 12 years old leaving her mother to care for their large family. They were a close family that endured their share of hard times. They grew up without a lot of luxuries and the older kids were expected to help care for the younger ones.
When my mother was 19, she met my father, Chuck Shuler. They married in 1969 when she was 21, had my brother Ray the following year and I was born the year after that, in 1971. My sister Becky was later born in 1983. Our family was like most others, young with big dreams and my parents tried to make our life as enjoyable as they could.
I began my life with my mom like most little girls do. I had happy memories of her being home, making my lunch after I got home from kindergarten and letting me watch the Andy Griffith show. I remember her putting me down for naps, fixing my hair and making sure I had pretty clothes to wear. I knew my mother loved me. As time went on, my parents experienced financial difficulties that made life very stressful. The financial issues continued for several years. Along with other factors, the struggle to care for and provide for her children was trying and changed my mother in many ways. She suffered from depression and anxiety, eventually relying heavily on my brother and I to take care of most of the house chores and even contribute to the household financially when we had summer jobs.
When I was in my early teens, I clearly remember beginning to resent my mother for various reasons. I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to financially provide for my siblings and me. I knew it wasn’t just her responsibility, yet most of my anger was directed at her. I was frustrated because of the pressure put on me and Ray to keep the house clean and help take care of Becky. I was baffled by the fact that she was not confident in the way she handled herself. I found myself thinking I did not want to be like mother. As a young girl that was a very sad, sobering thought. All girls should look up to their mothers and want to emulate them; at least that’s what I believed.
As I navigated my teens and early adulthood, I made every effort to be strong, independent and take care of myself. I moved out of my parents’ house at 17 when I went to college, only returning for a brief time two or three years later. I worked full time, had my own apartment and tried my best to be opposite of the person I thought my mother was. Unfortunately, during this time, I really attempted to shut my mother out. I did not want her advice or direction. I thought I was capable of handling my life my way. I realize it is normal for young adults to want to live life on their own terms, but for me it was another step in my process of not becoming my mother.
A few years after living on my own, I got married. I had my son Evan when I was 24 and my daughter Emma at 27. My kids’ father and I made a nice home for them and tried to give them the “all-American” childhood. My parents would come to visit, and I often brought Evan to New York to see them. My mom clearly loved being a nana and doted on Evan. After Emma was born it was evident how much she loved both kids and I saw my mother really blossom as a grandmother. She and I had started to grow closer and she became my sounding board for child-rearing issues. I loved seeing this new side of her. However, after Emma was born it became difficult to make frequent trips to New York. When I stopped making so many trips to New York, the rift between her and I began to resurface. I couldn’t fathom why my parents, especially my mom, would not try to visit their grandkids more often. After all, my kids were their only grandchildren at that time. I was hurt because I felt like we weren’t important, and I hurt for my kids because they didn’t get to see their nana regularly.
Throughout the next several years my relationship with my mother remained strained at times. One thing I began to realize, though, was that my mother never once turned her back on me. I had some rough times through my late twenties and thirties, divorcing twice and suffering from bouts of depression. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t manage to stay married and it really affected my sense of self-worth. My mother never wavered in her belief that I would come out of those years stronger than ever. I was still skeptical of her support and didn’t open my heart to her completely, but it was comforting to me to know that I could turn to her when I needed to.
When I was 42, I finally met a man who accepted me despite my faults and quirks; we got married 4 years later. My mother was fully accepting that I was going to try marriage a third time. I was still embarrassed that I had two divorces under my belt, but my mom never made me feel that I was less worthy because I hadn’t yet been successful in marriage. She loved my new husband Rick and was happy that I was finally happy. Through my mother’s continual acceptance, I began to see her for the sensitive, kind, loving woman she really was. I no longer focused on her weaknesses. I no longer felt anger toward her. It was a true awakening for me.
Four years ago, not long after I married Rick, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. I remember being so worried that I’d lose her. We were finally becoming closer and my relationship with her was very special. We were friends and enjoyed many laughs and good conversations. I wanted so badly for her to recover so we could keep moving toward the relationship I always wanted with her.
Sadly, after months of continual hospital stays, it became apparent that my mom would not survive her illness. Her body was ravaged, the cancer had spread to her brain and she could not handle any more treatment. When my family met with her doctors to learn of her prognosis, they told us she had hours to days to live. My brother, sister and I were devastated. The person we had grown to rely on for unconditional love and support was going to leave us. She had suffered so much in the seven months since her diagnosis, yet she fought the disease with amazing grace and dignity, never once complaining. She was a true superhero. I knew at that moment that I wanted to see her out of this life with as much love and comfort as she had given my siblings and me. I told my brother and sister I wanted to stay with our mother at the hospital through her last days and they were gracious enough to let me step in and take care of her.
The next five days were probably the most meaningful in my life so far. I stayed with my mom almost 100% of the time, feeding her, keeping her comfortable, helping the nurses change her bed and clean her. I slept next to her, held her hand and stroked her head when she was upset. I polished her fingernails and put makeup on her so she felt pretty. When she lost function on her left side and was afraid she wouldn’t be able to hold my sister’s new baby when she was born, I comforted her and told her not to worry, we’d make sure she could hold the baby. I wanted nothing more than to make sure my mother left this world knowing how much she was loved.
About halfway through those last five days, my mother exemplified the true love that mothers feel for their children. It was September 19th, the day before my birthday. Even though my mother was not able to communicate well and not always lucid at this point, she said, “tomorrow is your birthday.” When we woke up the next day she said, “happy birthday.” I said, “Mom, you remembered.” She replied, “you’re my baby, I would never forget your birthday.” I knew at that moment how much my mother loved me. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be just like her. My mother passed away three days later. Though I regret not realizing sooner how wonderful my mother really was, I find comfort in knowing she and I were able to find peace and love in our relationship before she died.