Sometimes a heart just bursts. We love so deeply we cannot keep the vast emotions in one simple container.
The following tells a brief snippet of a single mother, Teresa, gathering her strength. Her story takes her across decades of setbacks and sacrifices for her children. Now in her late 40s, her perception on raising three daughters roots itself in hard-earned wisdom and powering through strife.
I love this woman. She inspires me constantly. Not because she’s only endured hardship, but she teaches me the value of that hardship, how to selflessly serve her family and community, and that empowered women invest in others. An activist, a purveyor of social justice, and tireless advocate—Teresa shows us mothers it’s possible to find ways to thrive. She concludes perfection isn’t a bank account status but an outlook of setting healthy boundaries and investing in teaching others self-care. I feel beyond honored she blessed me with permission to share a fragment of her story.
We talked about her dreams—because Teresa is a different kind of dreamer. She dreams with quiet detachment, but God she tries so very hard to keep dreaming.
At 20, Teresa envisioned herself teaching English as a Second Language in Europe while in the throes of romance with a Finnish boy. Her world fostered such imaginings then. She read highly academic books and played with ideas of running off and changing the world. Her blonde hair seemed to glow and her pale blue eyes shot glances of endless joy.
“At 30,” she sighs heaving her thin shoulders, “I didn’t dream.” At 30 Teresa’s husband spiraled into the depths of addiction. He pulled her down with demands for her to support his habits. He transformed into a person too dangerous to love. When she speaks of him she has a colder tone. Her eyes show her mind is taking her back to memories too painful to speak aloud. If asked, she will tell you of the absolute ache of losing a spouse to addiction.
To complicate matters further Teresa discovered she was pregnant during her husband’s addiction cycle. She grew a tiny infant in solace without the typical Hallmark moments. Her belly grew as her husband went in and out of treatment—hopelessly returning to his mistresses each time—drugs and the woman who used with him. Nine months into her pregnancy she visited her husband only to learn he had another baby on the way with a drug addict. Whatever hope she clung to shattered her marriage at this revelation. Teresa kept steadfast in her studies, prepared her thesis, and calculated how she would raise her daughter alone. Her thin frame seemed to carry the weight of the world at that time in her life.
She found an apartment for herself and her child. Our stories of bringing babies into a world of trauma follows these similar threads (Teresa served as one of the few people I felt understood my situation). Everyday meant hanging on to hope to make it to the next. Dreaming would have served too distracting in this time of extreme pain. Teresa drove quietly to Spokane to defend her thesis only to be interrupted by the slamming of breaks and screeching of tires on the highway. At 9 months pregnant someone rear-ended her. She could demand to share her thesis another day. She didn’t. She soldiered on. Everything happened at once--- the tsunami of hurt relentlessly pounded at her resolve.
It’s this night Teresa knew how strong she was and could be. In the pale moonlight she drove over White Pass—surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She could see Rainier, Adams and St. Helens towering over the distance, standing firm. Those mountains gave her strength. She can still close her eyes and see that night clearly in her mind. That night helped rebuild a portion of her broken heart.
Teresa went on to a successful career as a Speech Language Pathologist. She adopted another daughter—one who would test the depths of her love constantly. She fell in love with a rough and tumble fisherman (she still misses him but don’t tell him that) , they welcomed another daughter, and Teresa felt her family slowly pull apart. His ability to make her laugh and connect with her felt electric until it just couldn’t maintain itself. Or to be fair…. He couldn’t seem to be bothered to keep his health in check. And his health needed constant monitoring. After years of struggling to garner a better family dynamic—she left. She had to. It pained her.
She bought a house, a money pit, but she purchased her own home to rear her daughters. She gave them stability, security, and the understanding that the love between daughters and their mother is a complex web of forgiveness and delight. Teresa modeled the importance of education, self-respect, and unwavering kindness. Her daughters latched to this love. And when they mess up, and they do, their mother’s heart bursts and then repairs itself. She illustrates the power of healing wounds.
How Teresa scrimped and saved to send two daughters to college astounds me. How she manages to budget in braces, karate, prom dresses, and purchase items little girls covet to belong in their peer group seems impossible. But this all can’t maintain itself--- the debt piled up like the list of repairs needed for her home. She put her home up for sale, moved into a tiny one bedroom apartment with her youngest, and she watches the ocean from her window. What other choice does she have? My best guess tells me Teresa hasn’t dreamed much for almost 20 years. Her heart ruptures with so much love she literally gave up everything she had for those girls; Teresa chose heartbreak for her babies. She still does.
Teresa never remarried or dated much. She doesn’t think about love like she had her first divorce—her eyes don’t light up. But she admits her loneliness. She focuses her energy only on her relationship with her daughters.
I asked Teresa to tell me what she dreams about now. After two decades of barely coming up for air she imagines a life of doing yoga and centering. She dreams of walking the beach with less hurt on her heart and less worry. Her youngest tells her she will build her a house next to hers so they will always be together. She doesn’t question her bravery--- she feels it in each step, each stride on misty days walking alongside the great Pacific. The ocean of her sorrow will never swallow her up--- she stands firm.
Like me, Teresa doesn’t just yearn for peace. The need to experience a quieter soul aches in her bones like arthritis seizing her mobility. Years of pressure on her joints and bones took a toll—Teresa has earned a time of less strain. A chance to stretch in the quiet comfort of her heart as the constant rhythms of the waves sweep the coastline of her life.
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