My Mother

Mother was up early and studied and wrote. She wrote a novel. After one rejection she dared to show it to her sister, an English teacher, for comments. She sent her revision to a publisher and when it was rejected again, she destroyed it, so I was only able to read pieces of it while it was a work in progress, and I was a child for whom reading the entire novel would have been too much.

She also wrote poetry, but when she knew she was terminally ill, she culled her poems and saved only those that she was willing for others to see. I do still have those, along with poems that other family members wrote.

Somewhere along the line I learned that Mother had told a preacher that she wanted to be a preacher. Apparently he told her mother. That’s all I know about that.

Mother had breast cancer and was treated with surgery, where she got hepatitis from a blood transfusion, and cobalt radiation.  About ten years later it had metastized to her bones and she died at 56.

In the May 1974 Women’s Caucus Newsletter of the Southern New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, I wrote the following:

Anger, guilt, self-doubt,
strength and determination;
Struggle against ancient concepts of woman’s place
and family comments of “She’s the odd one.”

The fight is lost in bits and pieces:
She cooks and cleans and loves her man;
She types and smiles,
Soothes crazy patients,
and rears a daughter to avenge her.

And then she dies at fifty-six,
of internalized rage
and cancer of the bone.


About Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith has 20 years’ experience in technical writing and management in software companies. She also has more than 20 years in Christian ministry as an educator, course designer, retreat leader, spiritual director, pastor, and coach. A United Methodist Deacon, Smith has her M.Div. from Boston University. She is a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, and is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership from Boston College.
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2 Responses to My Mother

  1. Nancy Nichols says:

    Nancy, I love your poem because our story is similar. My mother had a degree in education and loved teaching, however after I was born (the 4th child) she sought a job she was denied because she wasn’t the head of the household, and he already had a job in the school system. Her desire to work, in addition to bringing self fulfillment was also to ensure that her 4 daughters would have at least the level of education both she and my father had achieved- we did.She found work at the local college, but was never paid at the same level as the men with comparable educations. She somehow achieved her Master’s Degree from a school 45 miles away – and she never drove because her father and brother made fun of her. She too died of breast cancer that spread to the bone after cobalt treatment, and a horrible case of the shingles. She taught us not to judge people based on skin, nationality or status.

    While I don’t know that rage filled her bones, I know that until she went back to work she struggled with depression – also brought on by extremely low thyroid function and medication for that. Although I didn’t really know her as an adult I suspect that her anxiety was brought on by a sense that she was always being judged… perhaps because she chose a path that was unusual for women at that time. I just don’t know.

    Thank you for challenging me to think about her in a new way.

    Nancy N

  2. Frank Ober says:

    It does make one wonder what she might have accomplished if she had been encouraged instead of discouraged. Years ago, In the nursing profession, we were cautioned to “not eat our young.” meaning that we should not discourage any who expressed interest in studying to enter the profession. Some nurses were discouraged by the crazy hours, hard work and perceived lack of appreciation for what they did, hence the discouragement of others becoming a nurse. It was self defeating as it potentially could create a shortage of nurses thus making the job all that more difficult. Frank  

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