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A Final Visit from Mom

She hadn’t seen her mother in 30 years, but a vivid dream about her difficult parent finally brings healing.


“Jackie,” the voice said. It had pulled me from a deep sleep. I squinted out into the darkness of my bedroom.


My husband was asleep beside me. In front of me, I saw…myself.  I was interacting with someone, having a wonderful conversation. I couldn’t see the person’s face, but the presence felt familiar.

“Jackie,” the voice said again. 

Mom? It had been decades since we spoke, but I’d recognize her voice anywhere. Who can forget her mother’s voice? As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I took in the scene. I should have felt nervous during this out-of-body experience. Instead I felt peaceful and happy watching myself in my mom’s presence. I could see the smile on my own face and feel the joy radiating from Mom. As if our souls were laughing together.

This version of my mother was not the mom I knew. Far from it. It was her but unburdened by anger. Full of light and love. Even when I was a little kid, I’d never seen her so free. This was the mom I’d yearned for, the version of Mom I always wished she could’ve been—not just for my sake but for hers too. Our lives would have been so different.

Then the vision faded. I fell back into a deep, dreamless sleep. The next morning, I told my husband about the experience.

“What a nice dream,” he said.

“It felt like more than that,” I said but couldn’t explain.

I reflected on how wonderful and strange it had been to experience her like that. I hadn’t spoken to my mother in 30 years. I’d had to make a choice, and it was for the best— for me and for my children.

When I was growing, Mom could be wonderful. I can remember trips to the zoo and summer evenings spent stargazing in our backyard. She was fun, the kind of mom who’d pick you and your friends up from the pizzeria at midnight, no questions asked. All of that changed once I left for college.

A month into my freshman year, my parents divorced. Even though Mom had initiated it, she did not do well with the added responsibility of being a single parent. It was like something in her broke after she and my dad ended their marriage. It started small, my younger brother and sister told me. She went from making cutting comments about Dad to targeting them. She had a short temper and became terrifying when angered. Soon every conversation became a minefield.

The summer after freshman year, I hardly recognized her. I got a job working at a dress shop and saved up enough to use my employee discount to buy her a new dress. She wore it the night my then-boyfriend brought his parents over for dinner. When they complimented her on it, Mom said, “Jackie got it for me. She probably got the money from selling drugs.” She wasn’t joking. The awkward silence that followed was stifling. It was a slap to the face. I was a good kid who never did anything of the sort. I couldn’t tell if she was just trying to undermine my relationship or if she believed her own hurtful lies.

As the years went on, she got worse. I stopped spending time at home. I got married, started a family of my own. Three months after my second daughter was born, Mom suddenly remarried. She left one day without warning, leaving my brother and sister, who were in grade school and high school, to fend for themselves. Fortunately, they moved in with Dad. Shortly after, Mom and her new husband called my husband and me out of the blue to inform us that they no longer wanted to have a relationship with us or our daughters. I didn’t hear from her for a long time after that.

Years later, she reached out once more. She’d remarried again and seemed to have leveled out. This time, she said she wanted to rebuild our relationship. Thinking of all the memories I had of her as a fun, loving mother before things went bad, I agreed.

We had several positive visits, and Mom eventually asked if she could have my daughters come for a week-long stay at her home. She lived just a few hours away, and my daughters were old enough. I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to get to know their grandmother better. Until my sister called.

My sister lived close to Mom. They weren’t on good terms, but she still wanted to see her nieces. She’d walked into a horrible situation.

“She’s pitting the girls against each other,” my sister told me. 

“Praising one just to tear the other one down. She’s saying the cruelest things…” I was already packing my bags before the phone call was over. My husband and I immediately drove straight to Mom’s to pick up the girls.

I arrived at my mother’s house, furious. I gathered my kids and walked toward the front door. “If you want to see the girls again,” I told my mother, “it’ll be in my house, under my supervision. Or not at all.”

My sister urged me to sever ties with Mom completely, as she had, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was still clinging to the hope that Mom would go back to being the kind of mother she’d been for me during the good times.

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After that, Mom started showing up occasionally at our front door, unannounced. On one such visit, I could hear Mom and my oldest daughter, Kristen, talking. Kristen mentioned something innocuous about school. “You’re a liar,” Mom spat out in response.

That was it.

I pulled Mom aside later and told her she’d no longer be welcome in my home, until she’d gotten some counseling. Through years of ups and downs, all the insults and erratic behavior, I’d never been able to cut Mom off completely. I felt bad for her. I prayed for her. Asked God to heal her. But I’d finally found my breaking point.

She could do whatever she wanted to me, but my children were another story. I’d already given her too many chances. I knew that she desperately needed help, but she needed to be the one to want to change. I couldn’t fix her. I needed to take care of my own family first.

I hadn’t communicated with Mom since that day. At least not until the experience I’d had the night before. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I’d seen and felt was more than a dream. Sipping my coffee, I sat down in front of my computer and did a search for my mother’s name. The first result that came up was her obituary.

She’d died two days before. Mom had gotten married for the fifth time. Her current husband was listed as the next of kin. He didn’t know how to get in touch with me or any of my siblings. In fact, he might not have even known I existed, seeing as how I wasn’t even mentioned in the obituary.

But instead of bitterness, I felt gratitude. I’d longed for a carefree, functional relationship with my Mom again. I’d finally gotten it, if only for a moment. And the experience showed me that Mom wanted the same thing. If she could’ve been different, she would have. She proved that to me with the perfect final visit.

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