Mother’s Day is a happy day for most folks, but not all. In fact, millions of American’s don’t have a lot to celebrate about their own dysfunctional family relationships. Many of you have written me honest, emotional letters about how Millie’s journey with her mother struck a chord with you. One reader, Amber Reichley, shares her own story here with us today. It is raw and painful and yet inspiring. She has bravely and honestly told her tale here, hoping her words reach the right person. Whether today is a happy day or a hard day for you, Amber reminds us all to love one another.
A Daughter’s Journey by Amber Reichley
I think most of us read hoping for a connection to the story, finding a little piece of ourselves within a character. Once I began reading Into the Free, I instantly felt like it was my childhood played out in the pages. Reading about Millie’s Mama seemed like Julie extracted the memories of my own mother right out of my life story.
My mother, Sharon, struggled with addiction as early as her teens and throughout most of her adult life. I think she was only clean off and on in between the birth of me and my brothers. She stayed in an abusive relationship with my step-father for most of my life. They fueled each other’s drug addiction and the drugs only sparked their addiction to each other.
From early on, I remember her being gone for days; whether it be out on a binge or at home “gone” on drugs. I had no choice but to be the “parent”, as much as one can be at 8 years old. I was left to fend for myself, a 5 year old, and a 3 year old. I walked to the grocery store to get food for us, cooked what I could by myself, and rarely went to school. Not long after my 9th birthday, my aunt, Sandie, took me into her home. It was the first time in my life where there was a normal routine of school, dinner, a good night’s sleep without a knock down drag out fight in the middle of the night. It was wonderful to have no cares in the world and be a kid for once.
Over the next two years my mother was in and out of jail. I would get letters from her making promises that she would change, get clean, and we would all be back together as a family. But those were empty promises made to a naïve girl. Soon there were no letters, no visits, and no calls. She just stopped all communication with me. I remember one day finally breaking down and asking my aunt why my mother didn’t love me anymore. How could she live so close and just not care to see me? I don’t know what answers I was expecting, but all I could do was let her go for the time being. I moved on and lived a happy life as a normal teenager.
I excelled in school and worked very hard at my after school job. I had never forgotten my mother; I just learned to live with her at the back of my mind. All that changed when I was 16. She sent a letter to me to tell my step-father was dying. This was the first communication in 7 years. I reconnected with her and my brothers who barely remembered me at all. It was a strange meeting. Here was my mother that I had missed so much sitting in front of me and all I could think of was how angry and hurt I was for her leaving me. It was not the happy reunion I envisioned in my head.
We attempted to stay in touch over the next year or so, trying to build some sort of relationship. In the summer of 1999, she had a massive stroke and was hospitalized for quite some time. She was lucky to be alive and only suffered mild paralysis on her right side. It would be a long road to recovery for her. But for me it was like time had started all over after her stroke. Here I was in college at the time, and I was taking care of her all over again. I was driving her to doctor’s appointments, paying for medicine, and paying for meals. I was doing all the things she should’ve been doing for me all those years. Not long after her stroke she had a heart attack. From then on her health declined and eventually her body just couldn’t ignore the years of drug abuse any longer. She passed away on June 15, 2001.
In the book there is a scene where Millie’s Mama makes her a tiara of clover under the shade of a pecan tree. Instantly I put the book down and raced into our spare bedroom. I ripped open boxes of photo albums, voraciously trying to find a picture. I found the picture in a stack of pictures we used at her funeral. Julie’s words described this picture exactly. It was taken in 1985 with my Mom and my baby brother, Josh, in our backyard.
Once I found the picture, I dove right back into the book. I read the next paragraph and began sobbing. I read it over and over again: “That’s the other thing I believe without a doubt. That Mama loves me. Always. Not just in spring , when things are golden and bright, and the stars fall to her feet, but all year round. Even when the heavens tease her. I knew it then, as I know it now. Mama loves me even as she is falling apart.”
These words could not be truer. I am not sure I realized this until she passed away. I think there was too much pain and anger hindering our relationship when she was still alive. Once she was gone, it just clicked with me. I could spend the rest of my life being bitter and angry about the past or accept that she made mistakes. It wasn’t that she didn’t love me or want to be with me, she was sick from addiction and couldn’t see past that. From time to time, I go back and read that paragraph. I fight back tears and try to remember all the good times in the clover under the pecan trees.
Into the Free has allowed me to embark on a journey of reflection, forgiveness, and hope for the future. I hope to continue this journey, sharing with readers my story of acceptance and hope. I found this quote on my devotional calendar on April 29th, my mom’s birthday: “What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose”- Henry Ward Beecher . Quite fitting for me; just what I needed to read that day!