Passing It On

Helen had a rough start.  Her mother was terribly unkind to her, abusing her regularly with scorn and ridicule.  Some of the stories from her childhood are simply too hurtful to print here.  Helen was so eager to escape from her angry mother that she, while still very young, married a man she didn’t love.  She was desperate to get away.

It was a hard life.  Money was tight, and her marriage was difficult.  But Helen was determined not to repeat her mother’s unkindness.  Somehow, despite extraordinarily difficult circumstances, she showered tenderness on her little daughter Bonnie.  In the midst of her own heartaches, Helen was a gentle and loving mother to her girl.

Bonnie learned from her Helen’s example and became the same kind of mother to her own daughter, Cathy. 

Cathy did the same.  She grew up to be a loving and affirming mother to her daughter…

me.

Helen was my great-grandmother–my mother’s mother’s mother.  Though I’ve known her life story for years, it’s only since becoming a mother myself that I’ve been able to appreciate her courage.  I know how hard it is in the trenches of motherhood even when I’ve had gentle, kind motherhood modeled to me my whole life.  I can’t imagine how much gumption it took for Helen to reach deep into her heart and find her own way into motherhood, breaking the hurtful cycle she’d seen for so many years.

I think of her today.  I wish she could know how important her spot is in my family tree–the "branch" where a courageous woman chose to love her children well.  I can’t tell her that, of course–she’s been gone for many years.  But I can love my daughter the way the women in my family have for decades, and I can teach Corrie the kind of tenderness that will serve her own children well someday. 

It’s my gift to Corrie.  And it’s my tribute to Helen.

43 thoughts on “Passing It On

  1. Sherry says:

    Thanks for the touching view into your family–how appropriate for Mothers’ Day coming. ‘Breaking the cycle’ is real for me; I call it ‘breaking the mold’. I’ve chosen to do just that and there is not a day that I don’t hug and kiss my baby girls–knowing love is priceless and selfless…and contagious, thus creating a new cycle!
    BTW, I’m a wannabe blogger and hope to have a title & URL on my next visit!
    Thanks for your inspiring words!

  2. Beth/Mom2TwoVikings says:

    Excellent job! “Breaking a cycle” hits home here too. So many changes for women over the last few generations – but how could we not expect a few courageous and amazing stories about women like your family who were determined to not let struggles beat ’em up but rise above! Bravo!

  3. Mandy says:

    What a beautiful post, and what a beautiful heritage you have.
    My own mother lost her mom to suicide (gruesomely) when she was just 14 years old. As a result, she has always felt that she doesn’t know how to be a mother. But oh, does she ever. Perhaps because she knew she had to work harder, not having her mom around to help. I don’t know, I just know that she is the dearest, most self-sacrificial woman I’ve ever known.
    Happy Mother’s Day to all, and thank you for the reminder, Shannon, of the importance of mothering.

  4. Tirzah says:

    What a wonderful story! I hope I can be that kind of mother. On the days that I am not, I hope that my children remember the good days!

  5. Laura says:

    Thanks for this fitting and tender tribute. It reminds me of Sara Groves’ wonderful song, “Generations” – “I can pass on a curse or a blessing to those I will never know.”

  6. military mommy says:

    I come from an abusive past as well. It is definitely a challenge to break the cycle. But I find with each success, it actually begins to feel “normal”. That is a blessing in itself – that God gives us the mercy to recreate in us who he wants us to be.
    You come from rich soil, friend.
    Michelle

  7. The Preacher's Wife says:

    Thank you so much for that encouragement..I have found myself in the place of your Helen, breaking a many generation cycle of unexpressed love. The prayer I said when I had my children was “let demonstrated love begin with me.” I’m in no ways a perfect mother, but my kids hear those precious words, “I love you” every single day. Doesn’t sound like such a big deal unless you are a girl who can count on one hand the number of times it was told to her…My children and my God heal me…Praise Him!

  8. Jane says:

    I have a similar story in my tree-only it was my grandfather who decided to be a different kind of man. During the war he was training down in Florida and went to church on Sundays. It was the custom for church memebers to invite the soldiers home for Sunday dinner. My Grandpa happened to end up in a home where the father hugged his children and told them he loved them. He called his girlfriend up and told her that he was going to be this kind of man. To this day he doesn’t hang up the phone with out saying “I love you.”
    I agree with Tom Brokaw that was the greatest generation.

  9. mod*mom says:

    happy mother’s day!
    mother’s like your great-grandma are the best!
    i’m delurking to ask you to please send me your blog button for my mother’s day blogroll + enter my 9 giveaways + tell your friends 🙂

  10. Faerylandmom says:

    That’s amazing. I know my grandmother was abused groing up – I don’t know how badly because she won’t talk about it. I wish I knew her story though. My mom was in no way ever abusive, and I’d like to know where the chain broke in our family.

  11. Christy says:

    What a lovely post. What a rich reward for breaking the cycle … generations of tenderness and love. Makes me stop and think carefully about my own approach. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Lei says:

    Boy can I relate to this. I am the women in my family who has to branch off to stop the cycle of abuse. It’s so not an easy job and I really appreciate recognition of that!
    Happy Mother’s Day

  13. Polly says:

    Shannon, I was touched by this story. But mostly because of your previous posts about how close you are to your mother. I have a strained relationship with mine. I want to ask you for some advice. What do you think your mother did, or didn’t do (specifically) that made a difference in your relationship.
    I’m not the type to want to be my adult daughter’s best friend. But I do want to share one another’s lives when she’s older and living her life. If you have time, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
    Take care.

  14. Deborah says:

    Touching story and as someone who is trying to break the cycle in my own life I can relate to many of these comments. Have a great Mother’s day and thanks for sharing this story it allows me to know that I am not only in the fight to break the cycle. Happy Mother’s Day.

  15. Sarah's in the Midst of It says:

    Excellent encouragement 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day!
    And Addison now has enough hair to wear all the little bows without the headbands–she wears one of Corrie’s almost everyday! Thank you again for those 🙂

  16. suzanne at Just a Bunch of Nothin' says:

    (wiping tears away)….what a beautiful and heartfelt tribute. Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. Melissa says:

    What a fabulous tribute and a great example for all the women in your family. I think it is so amazing that you have remembered her story and let if guide who you are today. Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

  18. Chris says:

    Shannon,
    I don’t know if I have ever left a comment before, but today and for this post I had to. My husband’s message today in church was exactly what took place in the life of Helen. I just read him your post as we sit here resting this beautiful Mother’s Day Sunday. It was a message of hope reminding moms of their place of influence in the home. Thank you for sharing your story of Helen with us and for reminding me of what I am giving my own two daughters.

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