Thursday, 15 November 2018


Finding A Reason To Forgive


“You are not my daughter.”

My mother looked directly at me when she said this. She was in her right mind. She didn't have Alzheimer’s. She didn't have dementia. She knew what she was saying and meant what she said. 

I felt abused. I was accused. 

She made me cry again. Inside. 


My mother lived during the winters in a tired trailer tucked in my sister’s back yard. It had a miniature everything: a microwave, a stove, a refrigerator, a dinette set, and a recliner. We had a sturdy, covered wood porch built outside its rickety aluminum door. I sewed and hung colorful curtains and made a matching bedspread. We made it as pretty as possible but it still looked like an old pig decked out in lipstick. 

The trailer had a tiny bathroom with a sink and a shower with hot and cold running water. But the toilet couldn’t be hooked up to the sewer so brown water drained via a hose onto my sister’s lawn. My sister thought it would be okay if the toilet flushed into her 'organic' vegetable patch as well. I didn’t. 

So we bought this composting toilet from Amazon for my mother to use while she lived in the trailer.  

Now the concept of a composting toilet was a beautiful thing. Leave no footprint. Recycle. Save the world. The toilet looked quite regal when it came out of the package. Before it was used.

It had a front tank to catch pee and a pod in the back for poo. It became my job to empty it when I cleaned her trailer which I did every week or more: top to bottom, front to back, every drawer, every crack. 

Glaucoma had robbed my mother of her ability to see more than a few feet away. It was impossible for her to maintain sanitation when she couldn't see grime on the floor or slime in the sink, and hoarding food became one of the few remaining ways she tried to maintain control over her life. 

I found chicken bones in her pockets, moldy cheese in the drawer with her bras, and tired tomatoes inside her shoes in the closet. Milk soured and separated into curds-and-whey in the cupboard while baby maggots hatched in the trash. These things didn’t bother me. She was my mother and my job was to keep her clean and safe from herself. 

Someone needed to save me. 

I found two half-full paper cups of apple juice in the kitchen sink when I began my cleaning. I picked up one cup. I loved apple juice and I thought that’s what it was. I opened my mouth. Tidbits swirled at the bottom of the cup. Maybe it was unfiltered apple cider? Yum. I took a whiff one millisecond before I gulped it down. The juice wasn’t cider. It wasn’t juice at all. 

My mother’s pee was in the cup. I screamed with panic. I shrieked. I yelled. 

“Why did you pee in a cup and leave it in the sink for me? I almost drank it!”

“I usually dump it out before you get here. You were here early today.”

Why did you pee in a cup?”

“It’s easier to go in a cup then in the toilet when I get up in the middle of the night.”

“Mom! Use the toilet! That’s what it’s for!”
The coup de grace of my cleaning day was the composting toilet: dump the pee tank, rinse, add bleach and rinse again, hang it out in the sun. Disconnect the poop pod, haul it into the berm of the yard, spread out a tarp, keep the chickens from investigating and pecking at the nuggets, scrape, retch. Disconnect the hand mixer, the one that stirs poo into the composting soil in the pod, scrape it with a stick. My mother takes Lactulose, Colace, and Miramax so the poo goo sticks to the pod and mixer.

Prevent the mess from contaminating the grass, dump it into a double layered bag, tie it twice. Wash the pod, rinse, dump again, gasp. Change gloves, step away, adjust the mask, fight the migraine pounding in my brain, throw the scraping stick in the trash, rinse the pod, add bleach, rinse again. 

Keep the dog from licking the poo splooge, oops, yuck, chain her up. Set the pod under the UV’s of the sun, stretch out my aching back, soak the block of fresh compress, break it up into chunks. Chase away the goat after it jumps the fence not once but three times, note the black smears on my shirt and pants, heave, gag …

I was a retired RN and was used to disgustingly putrid odors and muck but this - this was too much. 

Through soiled grass stubble, my mother walked up to me before I was done and said. “You haven’t been my daughter since you left the Message.” 

I was drenched with sweat. I stank of excrement. 

My parents raised me in a misogynistic pseudo Christian religious cult. I found it impossible to live with prejudice and condemnation against everyone who didn’t believe exactly the same as the beliefs taught in the cult. I refused to pass on a heritage of fear and grief to my children. My choices were to leave or die. I left.

I choose to believe in a Christ of joy and hope and the truth of His unconditional love. 

I looked at my mother. Her once dark brown eyes were clouded over with the ravages of age.  I looked past her bent frame, her white hair, fragile skin, wrinkled face, dark spots discoloring the backs of her hands. I pictured her as she once was, holding me in her arms, sewing me my very own dress I didn’t have to share with my two older sisters, and telling me the black and white puppy was all mine. 

Years later, she looked past my son’s missing arm and accepted Adam as the special child he was. She was his only grandparent who did. For her kindness to my little elf boy, I would always be thankful to her. 

It would take me a while, but I would forgive her. Again. 

I peeled off my mask, removed my gloves, rolled them into one another, and tossed them into a trash bag. I heaved a few deep breaths, whispered a prayer for patience, looked into my mother's angry eyes, gave her a hug and said, "Mom, I forgive you."

(My mother, holding me)

As Long As I Breathe is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a misogynistic religious cult,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.


Joyce A Lefler is the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.

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