The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
–Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
Connections With my Mother
My mom was a difficult person. My brothers remember her differently, and I claim they had a different mother. We didn’t, of course. Not physically. She was the same four-foot, 11-inch, glasses-wearing, smart, educated dynamo, just many years apart. My brothers are older. And those intervening years created a new person.
The Limited Diet of Anger
My mom lived a hard life. Her father was a bully—opinionated, loud, and demanding of obedience. Her mother, impossibly loving and strong, could manage him. My mother could not. But she collected bad experiences like treasures, kept and polished them, fed on them. It was a bad diet.
By the time I was born, she was not the same mother who had raised my two older brothers. Weary and sick, she landed in rural Texas, not a place for the weak. And she wasn’t. In her illness, she had fueled her determination to survive with the anger and outrage learned from her father. It saved her life, but it scorched her future.
The Shock of Seeing Yourself in your Child
She may have wanted another child, she may not. In any case, I was not a familiar son, and the echoes of recognition began to haunt her. Like her, this daughter was teary and fearful. Like her, this daughter had a bully for a parent.
The rest of the story is one that a thousand sad daughters could write. I will not.
When, after a life lived on high heat, my mom developed Alzheimer’s, she changed again. My friends hoped for some sort of teary reconciliation, but it wasn’t going to happen. Once she forgot who I was, she became kind. It was an odd sensation, one I had never experienced. We visited as women who did not know each other, and that worked.
Faded Photos Bring Connections
Shortly after she died, I began to work on ‘Connections’, a line of double-sided collages. While cleaning out her house, I discovered pictures of the past. I’d stare into black-and-white photos at a lovely, fragile young woman and wonder what had happened to her to make her into my emotionally dangerous mother. There were pictures that proved she had once been happy. Perhaps even carefree, if just for the time it took to snap the picture.
As I cut and photocopied the pictures and used them for the collages, I began to reach for her pictures again and again. I tea-stained some, I antiqued others, and some I washed in transparent gold. The words on the back of the collages reflected emotions she may never have had the luxury to feel. A few of the images found their way into my ‘Unlikely Angel’ series of collages.
And, in time, I came to accept my mother. Maybe it was the words I wrote for the back of the collage. Maybe it was the connections I felt as I finished each small piece of portable art. She stirs the soul in a way she could not when she was in my life.
The Amazing Healing Power of Art
And I’ve discovered, just in time, that art heals. I’m so grateful that I found a way to come to terms with my mother, even if it was after she was dead, even just with pictures. Because art has powerful magic, I have forgiven my mother and myself. Although what she did still makes me gasp, I know it was this growing up that taught me how to breathe.
As an artist, I am pleased to have experienced, first hand, the powerful healing of art. (c)2006. Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.