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Dr. Cheryl Pappas

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Mother's Day: A Tribute to My Best Friend

Posted: 05/08/11 02:32 PM ET

The emotional change of this past year smacked me in the ass, in a good way, when I returned home from Paris last week. Email requests from other websites to re-feature my Mother's Day piece, "Mother's Day: It's Complicated," written one year ago for The Huffington Post, awaited me.

The funny thing is, I had been thinking about that piece and how I felt one year ago while writing it. I wanted to write about my beautiful mother, but how to find the words?

I had the sense of being unbaked in the process of being able to describe my relationship with her. Feelings were deep, murky and not emerging in word form in time for Mother's Day. It was complicated.

There were so many experiences, external and dramatic as well as internally profound, that we shared. Unready to be written, I still felt driven by the need to acknowledge my mother's gift of deep caring.

This I wrote about.

I didn't have to reread last year's piece, however, to realize that not just the title, but my whole approach to the subject of my mother now seems totally dated in my life.

It turns out now to be a case of "Mother's Day: It's Not Complicated At All."

Caring is a passion that, if I'm not careful, can carry me away from all other topics. What is more important, after all, in these times of vacant human connection, than the subject of caring about each other?

This is my mother's creed, and it has always been mine.

So it was that last year's Mother's Day piece celebrated my mother's rare focus on caring, while omitting the meat and pommes frites of my relationship with my mother.

Thankfully, I am changed today. The words and feelings flow forth like laughter and breathing. Let me explain.

Unlike many people I know, the truth of my relationship with my mother is that authentically, organically, uncommonly, she has always been my best friend.

Call this destiny, a cosmic reward and challenge, or just solid good fortune. But there it is. From different angles, to different degrees, from robust celebration to not always easy, I have lived this reality.

I never have taken my mother for granted.

And maybe it's exactly that that has been not so fortunate, because when your mother is your best friend, there is a fragility of connection in at least your own imagination. After all, there is something to be said about going through a teenage period of taking your mother for granted.

The kind of taking-for-granted that springs from a natural stability of knowing that mom is just always there.

Well, my mother always was there, but I was afraid to lose her. I felt her feelings deeply, and not only the good ones.

Therefore, insecurity existed which did not for me, allow the usual adolescent rebellions that mark what psychologists prescribe as a jagged independence trajectory for a teenage daughter's development in relationship with her mother.

I made up for it. I'm a late bloomer.

Today I am trying not to put too gooey a gloss on what was always a real relationship. There were extreme periods of sorrow, the inevitable schisms of individuality which exist and erupt as the result of a deep mother-daughter relationship.

Most importantly, in all this I was never bereft of the underlining luxury of having for a mother someone so connected and compatible with my own qualities and self.

How much we laughed and how much fun we still have.

I have volumes of memories of spirited connection with my mother, like coming home from high school and sitting together over a strawberry Sara Lee cheesecake until, so engrossed in conversation, we realized we had finished it off! (Note: Neither of us were disordered in eating or overweight. It was another world then. Delicious eating, innocence and undiagnosed fun were available if you were lucky enough to partake).

Perhaps obviously, ultimately both my mother and I needed to understand that we were not the same person. The drama of this realization gave way to turbulent periods during the middle years of our relationship.

My mother was always my mother. It just happened to be true, also, that we were -- and are today -- the deepest of friends.

Only now we are each advanced -- and yet still advancing in the acceptance and knowledge that we are two very separate, different, similar, and also strongly articulated with one another --individuals in our relationship.

Whew. When I tell you that this is a monumental curve of relationship business to achieve, I imagine no words that can match the feelings of that experience.

Suffice it to say that I am blessed to have come out of the most vicious mother-daughter storms with a newer, fresher, more real connection and appreciation of my mother.

When you know and love someone so deeply, go through years of learning acceptance and forgiveness toward that person, you cannot help but realize, as I do, what an extraordinary gift you have had in your life.

I'm especially grateful this has been the case with my mother.

To top it all off, I have tremendous respect and regard for my mother as a human being.

Here's a snapshot of my mother.

Lost her mother at age 3. Wicked stepmother; depressed absent father; at age 8, mothered her uncared-for baby sister, who grew up believing that my mother was her mother; a teenage beauty; A+ high school student; career and college desires deleted by family enslavement.

Not exactly the best scenario for personal development, right?

Another snapshot of her: highly intuitive, intelligent, inventive, curious, patient, thoughtful, stubborn, adamant in her standards of perfectionism, generosity, caring, impeccability, responsibility, uncompromising about quality, concretely optimistic, and therefore sometimes depressed, righteously idealistic in expectations of others and of life.

Recipe for more than a soupcon of disappointment, no?

Here's the thing. My mother took everything she originally had to work with (see above) and has never stopped endeavoring to free herself from being stuck in the absolutes of her conditions and responses from the past.

I have watched her change, profoundly and deliberately, fueled by her code of being the very best she can be.

There is a belief about humanity that seems to be written in stone. This says that people don't ever really change. I understand. The work of real personal change is too much for anyone not equipped with huge amounts of desire, suppleness, flexibility of heart and mind.

What does it mean to change? Real change requires an exaggerated commitment to forgiveness.

Real change involves the stubborn return, again and again, to the heart, in relationship to people and the past. This act of being vulnerable is what allows change to occur.

For instance, it may mean finding out that you have been holding on to only a piece of the true story of something that happened. It was your response at the time, yet there was another person and other realities involved. In order to see the truth and change, you have to be comfortable with not being "right."

It's not easy.

Is it any wonder why emotional change is so rarely seen in people, or why it's not more popular?
This is the reason so many people fall back on the routine of saying things like, "That's just who I am" and "I just can't."

In my psychotherapy practice, I have had the privilege to watch and guide people to real change. I know what it looks like. Change is our personal work to do now.

If you are lucky enough today to have a mother, I offer you the perspective of being your own director in the story of your relationship with your mother.

Even if your truth is not the same as mine regarding your own mother, ask yourself some questions.

Do you know who your mother is?
What do you appreciate about who she is?
What do you remember loving about her or your relationship with her?
How do you want the relationship with her to feel today?

I am moved by my mother's constant efforts to grow and improve, and I love her indescribably.
She has opened her heart in deep ways and remains my model for striving to be my very, very best self.

She never stops cheering me on in every challenge of my life.

She is also modest to an alarming degree. She responds to my pointing out, with amazement, her ability to change and grow and how much l admire her, with only the simplest words. "I want to. I'm doing my best. I'm trying."

No, you are not just trying, Mom.

You are a stunning success.