Sometimes, when you’re writing about your trauma, you discover that you’re not as alone as you might have thought. You are blessed to find others who have walked in pain and found ways out of it into the sun. Nancy is one of those women. A mental health professional with her own history of struggle, she shared this story of discovering how her relationship with her daughter and granddaughter could be healed by asking a simple, painful question.
I just turned 50 a few days ago. As I spent my last day being 49, I had thought to myself, “ I want to just enjoy my last day of officially being young.” Each morning as I look into the mirror, I see more grey hairs lining my forehead, longer lines outlining the corners of my eyes, and dark circles underneath my once bright green irises. I notice more frequent trips to the hairdresser to brighten me up with sassy, energetic, red hues that polish up the emeralds underneath my eyelids. While I attempt to justify the more frequent visits, I also look at my hair, face, and skin, and see the tiredness. I feel my body ache and they are all reminders that I am no longer young. I have raised my daughter, have peaked in my career, and much rather enjoy a slow and quiet life.
I woke up on August 1, 2020, my fiftieth birthday, imagining myself as a tall person, walking away from my life, with my head turned away as if something really great had just happened. And I really wanted to know, how will they remember me?
I have spent a half a century trying to rush life, and thinking how nothing I have done seems to ever be good enough. Things have never been good enough for me, and I think I often pushed my need for perfection on to my daughter Briana, and also on my little grandmonster, Trinity.
I remember sitting at the dining room table one day when Briana was about 11, struggling with her math homework. I will never forget the sting of the only words I remember from that conversation. As I towered over her, she looked up at me with tears drowning her eyes and said, “Mom, I don’t have to be perfect! Why do I always have to be perfect?” I am not sure if those were her exact words, but those are the only words I heard.
I felt a heaviness in my chest that I had never felt before. I realized in that moment I was passing my inadequacies about myself on to my daughter. My need for perfection was being poured into her heart. And when I looked into her eyes, I knew I was hurting her.
I still see her face looking at me today every time I ride her hard, or when she says to me, “Mom, nothing I say or do is ever good enough for you.”
I don’t want to leave this world with her last thought of me being that she didn’t think I believed she was good enough.
The truth is, she is beyond good enough. She has become who I never was. She is the opposite of me. I am emotional and sensitive. She is able to brush things off. She is patient and I am not. She cares little about what people think of her, yet I harshly struggle coping with rejection.
One evening in 2018, I was meditating and reading my Bible and came across a scripture I had read a million times. But it never spoke to me the way it did that evening.
I had prayed before opening my Bible, as I usually do, and asked God to show me whatever He wanted me to learn.
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4, NKJV
As I laid sprawled across my bed, staring at those words on the page, I heard this voice ask me, “What makes her angry?” I stopped for a moment. It was one of those moments where the air was thick yet light. It covered my body almost as if someone was breathing on me.
I answered the voice back and said, “but, God, I don’t know.” As I answered God, burning tears began pouring down my face. My stomach ached. My feet ached.
My entire body went numb.
My daughter was in the living room and she and I had just had a conversation about Trinity. At the time, Trinny was in Ohio with her other grandmother. Briana was contemplating allowing Trinity to stay in Ohio for the school year. For some, this would be wonderful. But, at the age of 6, Trinny had already had such a hard life because her father had left, and she had watched her mom be abused for her entire life.
I didn’t think it was a good idea for her to stay so far away. It was too far from Trinny’s familiar life. But, Briana is Trinny’s mom. And no matter what fight we were fighting, Briana is her mom and I had to accept that.
She is so grown up now, struggling, but she is still the opposite of me. And Trinny. My sweet little Trinny is even more different than both of us. Such a sweet, special, unique personality. Trinny has a tender, sensitive heart, is smart, and is a bit too aware of things around her.
The memories of the phone call I received one late evening when Trinny was about 3 will never leave me. Calvin, my ex husband called and told me I had to get over to Briana’s right away. Since this was not a regularly occurring phone call, especially from him, I grabbed my purse, hobbled to my car, and sped over to Briana’s house. Since I have osteoarthritis, pain in my right knee prevents me from walking up the stairs much.
However, that evening, somehow some type of super powers flooded my body and when I arrived, I flew out of my car an ran upstairs to her apartment.
In the middle of the living room, there was Trinny pedaling on her little stationary bike, oblivious to the shouting and arguing going on around her. In my experience as a mental health counselor, I knew immediately she was used to this. She had witnessed this a million times.
Against Briana’s begging and pleading, I scooped up Trinny, and flew downstairs with her in my arms, terrified her father was going to follow me. My heart was racing so fast I could barely breathe. Hands shaking, my fingers fumbled finding the locks for the doors. I peeled away in my car and rushed home.
Trinny didn’t saw a word.
When we got to my house, we snuggled and went to sleep. However, my mind was racing a million miles an hour. It was difficult falling asleep, and I didn’t want Trinny to know how afraid I was, or how anxious I felt inside.
When I closed my eyes,my thoughts turned to God. I hadn’t been to church in a million years. But I remembered Him at that moment.
The last thought in my mind before I fell asleep was, “I cannot keep her safe. But I know someone who can.”
It was then that Trinny and I developed a very special bond. We began attending church faithfully every Sunday. Not only did we attend church, but we worshiped in the car together. She began staying at home with me in the evenings, and for the next 8 months while her father was incarcerated, I was her care taker. One Sunday at church, I’m not sure where it was coming from, but that voice spoke to me and asked for her to have her eyes and ears prayed for – that her eyes and ears be protected from the rest of the world.
And they were. Still, she seems lost sometimes. Because I eventually left our church, I feel guilty and responsible, thinking that it is my fault she no longer has God in her life. Sometimes I feel I robbed her of that and that it was my responsibility to ensure that the seeds of beauty and love continued to be planted and watered inside of her. She no longer wants to snuggle with me and ask me in her sweet soft voice, “Nana, can I lay on you?” as she would lay next to me, with her thumb in her mouth, her Bottie (blanket) next to her, with her head on my shoulders, so peaceful.
Those days are gone.
As I enter a new era of my life, I cannot help but ask, “How will they remember me?”
Will they remember me by the light I carry inside of me? Or will they remember me because I never took the time to let them just … be?
Will God remember me and the nights I prayed out and cried for them in private? Will He show them how much I loved them or share with them the conversations He and I had?
They will remember me as always being there when they needed something. But I don’t think they will remember that I stopped what I was doing because work was more important. And I don’t think they will remember me asking, “Can you share with me why you are angry?” Or telling them, “I want to understand so that I can love you the way you need to be loved.”
Yet they carried on in their lives being happy and being the mommy and daughter that I had only dreamed of.
I don’t want to be remembered with regret. When I woke up on my 50th birthday, I realized that life is like writing a series of storybooks. When one is story is finished, another one begins.
And while I have been seeking the answer to the question, “What is my purpose?” God put the answer in front of me 30 years ago when Briana was born. He already wrote that story. I just never took that book off of the shelf to read it to her.
Sometimes we focus so much on things we want that we don’t take the time to realize that everything we need is right in front of us. We don’t always take the time to ask our children, “What makes you angry?” They have bad days just like we do. And they have hurtful life experiences that are no less painful than our own.
We don’t need to wait until we are 50 to ask ourselves, “How will they remember me?” And, if we are still alive to answer that question, then we have the opportunity to not only write that story, but to live it.
When I see Trinny today being so patient, waiting for me to tear myself away from my work to spend time playing a game with her, it tears my heart up with guilt. She is 8 years old now. The things that are important in her life are the things that have always been important. “Don’t provoke her to be angry. Sit down and spend time with her. Read her the Bible, or play some worship music and sing together the way you used to.”
And when I see my daughter being so thoughtful of me, I can’t stop wondering, “How will she remember me?” Will her memories be of me being the mom she always wanted for her life?
They say that the last thing we say or do is what people remember most. Did I fuss because Trinny didn’t fold the blankets right, or did I take the time away from my computer to play a game with her when she asked? Did I tell Briana, “I am proud of you for who you are,” or did I take the time to ask either one of them, What makes you angry?” and do everything I could to make sure I didn’t? Did I take the time to teach them about God’s love and the importance of faith?
The thought of leaving behind any memory or legacy other than, “She loved God and her light shined upon every life that crossed her path,” pains me.
Life gets busy. Priorities get rearranged. Ultimately we take life for granted. Before we know it, we are reflecting upon the old cliche that “life goes too fast.”
I am grateful God allowed me to see another day. I am even more grateful that He speaks to me. That I’ve told Briana and Trinny how I love them and am proud of them.
And, I suppose, when I look in the mirror and see the gray and the lines of my aging life, I can embrace them rather than reflect on all of the things I should have done and didn’t.
Today, I got a phone call from Briana saying, “Trinny wants to know if she can come over,” and I wondered to myself, “What does she REALLY want?” I smiled. She just wanted me to do what I said I was going to do. She just wanted to know that something that was important to her was also important to someone else.
I stopped what I was doing, We ordered her school supplies. And just like we did when she was 3, and 4, and 5, and 6, we got into the car, and I played a new worship song for her. She laid her head down, put her thumb in her mouth, and peacefully fell asleep.
And if anything happened to me today, that is exactly how they would remember me.
Nancy Richardson has her Master’s degree in Adult Education with Human Services Counseling from the University of Wisconsin- Platteville, and a BS in Psychology from Upper Iowa University.
She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor. She currently does intensive in-home therapy for children and their families.
She has been an addictions counselor since 2005, and a dual diagnosis therapist since 2015. During her career, she worked very closely with the opioid population.
Her work includes writing grants, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, improving treatment protocols, and improving quality of care.
While working on these projects and while working with her clients, Nancy discovered her purpose in her life. She is often called “The Hope Dealer” and has made it her personal mission to never let anyone walk away from therapy without hope.
You can find her work at https://trinityshopellc.com/