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31 Days to Shine: Bad Things Happen to Good Girls

October 10, 2013

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A woman I know – a boy-mom of grown sons – out of the blue shared with me that she had known my mom a long time ago. She sent me the following email:

I have so very many fond memories of her. She took me under her wing as a new mom and groomed me, so to speak, to be the spiritual leader of our home because my husband at the time was not a Christian. She encouraged me almost silently from the sidelines. For the first 10 to 12 years of my boys lives I was faithfully at church come rain or shine with the support of very few people and she was one of them. It seemed that I was always under her wing…. I have to say my relationship was that of almost an “in awe” kind of thing… it was hard for me to open up to many adults.  Somehow Karen made it okay and made me want to be a better mom. Raised me to a different level. She was a role model. She was full of grace and a great sense of humor.

I’d like to tell you that my heart swelled with pride as I read these words. That I rejoiced that others remembered mom’s goodness and generosity.

But I didn’t.

I cried the ugly, noisy, snotty cry for hours. I wept with the bitterness and unfairness of it all. Where was she when I was a young mother of two small boys? Where was she when my children were born? Why them, not me? 

I have always been A Good Girl. I follow rules. I toe the line. I don’t drive over the speed limit and I NEVER, not once, snuck (sneaked?) out of the house while my parents were sleeping.

I read my Bible daily. I prayed. I believed with all my heart that God was not going to inflict the same illness on my mother that had taken my grandmother. I believed. I had faith a hell of a lot bigger than a mustard seed.

And then I discovered the ugly truth: Bad things happen to good girls. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s just the way it is. Glennon Doyle Melton calls this “brutiful.” Life is brutal. Life is beautiful. Everybody gets a big helping of both. No one gets just one or the other.

“You can be angry about what you lost, or you can be grateful for what you had.” I can’t remember where I heard that. It sounds like something Rose from LOST would have said. Or John Locke. (We’re watching re-runs…)

But it’s true. I spent a lot of time feeling bitter that I had lost my mom. Most of that while she was still alive, mentally ill and physically incapacitated. After she died, the bitterness leaked out and all I felt was loss for a long, long time. Flash-floods of grief that came out of nowhere. In the car. Making scrambled eggs at the stove. Two weeks after she died, I wrote:

there are days when my body feels like lead. i cannot move. i cannot think. i cannot speak. and there are other days when i actually forget for an hour or two, preoccupied with work or other duties, until it all comes rushing back. but as each day passes, the times when i do remember are less shocking, less acute. i still weep unexpectedly, but with less force, less pain.

Bitterness still comes to visit every once in a while, as it did when I read that email.

Bad things happen to good people, every day.

My mother was a really good mom.

She made us wash our hands when we got home from school. We ate well-balanced meals, and, almost always, we at them as a family at the dinner table.

She helped with our homework, sat with me while I practiced the piano, and one time, she made a papier-mache R2D2 costume for my brother using a garbage can as a mold and covered the entire thing with tin foil and paint.

She made us do chores, within reason, but never called them that ’cause she didn’t like the connotation. We kept our rooms clean, we brushed our teeth after meals, and when I couldn’t fall asleep, she would sit on the edge of my bed, and sing to me softly while she patted me on the back.

Every once in a while, she let me have an ice cream sundae for breakfast. With fudge.

She knew when I was begging to stay home from school that sometimes, a kid needs some PTO, too.  We would go out for breakfast on those days, and I would offer up a token cough or two. Then we would go shopping and try on shoes or drink peppermint hot chocolate from the coffee cart in front of Nordstrom.

She was a GREAT mom.

I will never stop aching for what I have lost, but I am grateful for what I had. I’m grateful that there were some young moms out there that benefited from her wisdom when their children were young. I’m grateful that mine is not the only life she blessed.

I’m grateful that while she was able, and even after she wasn’t, her light shone on everyone around her, and in that glow, she lit the path for someone else.

Me, for one.


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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    October 12, 2013 6:03 am

    This post has touched me deeply. I have been struggling with bitterness at one of those “brutal” things too- a horribly botched epidural with the birth of my youngest has left me in chronic pain and struggling to walk, with a permanent and incurable spinal nerve injury. It’s been five years, and still the voice in my head cannot stop echoing “why me, God? I was GOOD. This isn’t fair!” I am broken, both physically and emotionally. I prayed every day for a safe delivery. I BELIEVED. And yet it happened, and I have had to give up an amazing career at a fantastic law firm, give in to the reality that I cannot safely have any more children, and must learn to live with being a boy mom who can’t coach soccer, or take them on nature walks, or ride bikes and play basketball. I barely make my lap around the grocery store some days. I don’t know how to do this perseverance thing gracefully, or how to let anything shine, anymore. I wonder if sometime you’d be willing to share how your mom was able to shine through her struggles– because it seems she was able to be a light even in the dark places. Thanks for this honest post.

    • October 12, 2013 9:19 am

      Kate, thank you so much for sharing your story. What you are going through IS brutal. I’m so sorry for your pain! The only antidote I’ve ever found for bitterness is gratitude…trying to find something, ANYTHING, to be grateful for. Write it down – a sunrise, a quiet moment with your son. Keep writing them down. Life still has beauty, but you have to search for it. I will be praying for you!

    • October 16, 2013 5:50 am

      Kate and Adelle-I have the utmost respect for your honesty describing the pain you feel associated with your loss. I see God working in conversations such as these as you each pour out how this has affected your belief in God. May such dialogues as this lead you to feel His presence and know He is faithful. I did not have the privilege to know Adelle’s mother, but my guess is that she shined through her struggles because the love for her family was so deep and strong that it transcended the physical limitations she had later in her life. Keep loving your family. You don’t have to be the soccer coach or lead the nature walks, but you can love them well in a thousand ways. In so doing, you shine and they will too.

  2. October 14, 2013 3:15 pm

    Now I’m crying ugly snotty tears. I am glad she let her light shine … because now I can see her sparkle through YOU. And you sparkle pretty darn good!


  1. 31 Days to Shine: Choose to Shine, The End | Adelle Gabrielson

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