Be Careful with Your Words

Earlier this week my mom tearfully apologized for something she and Daddy did two decades ago — they refused to attend my wedding.

‘Daddy wanted you to know before he died,’ she told me. ‘We both did.’

But Daddy died three years ago this month, the words still stuck in his throat. And the only reason Mom was confessing is because without my marriage, she wouldn’t have My Favorite Domer (my son) around.

Domer is, in her opinion, better than sliced bread.

Her apology sent me right back to what was supposed to be one of the most wonderful times in a person’s life. Having met the one I thought I wanted to spend eternity with, I was happy. Busily planning our wedding ceremony. Attending pre-wedding parties. Shopping for a gown. Sending out invitations. Basking when someone complimented my engagement diamond.


Mom and Daddy told me over the phone they wouldn’t be at the ceremony.

‘We don’t approve, and we don’t think it will last,’ they said.

I thought they’d change their minds.

Then a terse, formal rejection to our invitation came. In perfect Emily Post wording.

They really weren’t coming.

So be it, I thought. I was over 21 — shoot, I was over 25! I was an adult; so was my fiance’. We didn’t need anyone to “give” me away when I was old enough to walk myself down the aisle.

Which I did.

Until that moment, I’d hoped Mom and Daddy would show up, maybe with an apology.

It wasn’t to be.

Shortly after our wedding, my new husband and I moved several hundred miles away, seeking, I suppose, a way to strengthen our bond without the interference of family and friends who didn’t approve. We found jobs, built a house, made new friends, and loved our new life.

Eventually we got the happy news I was expecting. However, that coincided with my husband’s job loss.

As my midsection grew, our finances tanked. The bank repossessed our beautiful home two months after Domer arrived. We separated, Domer and I going to stay with my sister, and hubby to stay with his brother. The plan was to put the fractured pieces of our life back together after we were stronger and he’d found work again.

That didn’t happen. Instead, we got divorced.

And while Mom and Daddy didn’t say, ‘We told you so,’ neither did they do much to empathize. Their philosophy seemed to be, Better to erase all traces of that phase of my life and move on.

So Mom’s apology is two decades late, and while it might be the “right” thing to do, I find it hard to forgive. The hurt just goes too deep.

The one good thing to come from this is my conviction that even wild horses couldn’t keep me from Domer. Whether it’s a major occasion or a minor one, I’ll be there, cheering him on, supporting him with my love and attention, and never ever forcing him to choose between me and somebody else.

I’m not posting this to play on your sympathies. Rather, I’m hoping you won’t leave unsaid the words that need to be spoken to those you love, that you’ll think twice before doing or saying things that can’t be undone.

Whoever penned the old quote, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ didn’t know what he was talking about. Words do hurt — sometimes for a very long time.

16 thoughts on “Be Careful with Your Words

  1. Hard one to comment- since the hurt, rightly, so runs so deep. I will share my personal view from my own life though with the cavat that it is much different than most people believe. I have never considered forgiveness, as something one does for another person but what you do for yourself. It is so freeing to make the choice to forgive. I believe that we choose a life that includes certain challenges and when we accept those challenges other people make an agreement to help us live out those challenges. Did Cole choose to be born into a life where his dad died when he was so young or did I choose to become a widow….I believe we did….we are not victims of circumstances. Did my friend choose to be a rape victim, she would say she did and was able to forgive the rapist (In time). This work is often not done at a human level where we feel all things human but at a spiritual level. You can’t look at a battered or molested child and say, “you choose this…” but if the child comes to realizes this in time they can often forgive and move forward. In the case of crimes, we can say those people made a choice as well and are now living out the consequences. To me the worst feeling in the world is feeling like a victim.
    In my opinion when it is hard to forgive another…I find I need to take a deep breath and forgive the person it is hardest of all to forgive myself…
    This comment in no way implies that I know what it best or right for another person. All I know is what works for me in my life.

    • What a deep, thoughtful reply, Katybeth, and I sincerely thank you for taking time to post it! You’re right — forgiveness starts with us. Long ago, I forgave Mom and Daddy in my heart. It wasn’t easy, but I realized they were adults and could make and deal with their own opinions and actions. It was their loss not having a relationship with a son-in-law. My point here, though, is that the only reason Mom was apologizing was because of my son. She realizes now how much she’d have missed out on his life, had my hubby and I stayed together, and she and Daddy had stayed away from us. I think what I need to do now is TELL her I accept her apology and forgive her in turn — maybe she needs to hear the words. What do you think?

      • Thank you for your gracious reply..I worried about it. Our parents don’t always do the best they could…I hope that i have learned from my parents mistakes and don’t repeat them but i know I have made some of my own. I did not bring Cole home from school the day Joe died and in fact let a friend take him to a soccer game try-outs that had been so important to Joe and Cole. i realized after the fact that he should been brought home immediately. He realized it too. I did not do it for “him” I did it for me (I could not bare to tell him) and I am truly sorry–Cole get’s it and has never “blamed me” but somehow I know this will come up later in therapy 🙂 It looks like my circumstances are much different than your parents…but we were both misguided in doing what we felt was best and we were both selfish. I guess what annoys me in your case is your parents benefited from your divorce and and left you to struggled. That is very very hard. ♥

        • Oh, Katybeth, your heart was in the right place as far as Cole was concerned. That’s the difference, you know. My folks did what they did not because it was best for me, but because it reinforced their judgmental opinion that they knew what was best for me. Cole was just a little guy when Joe died and you, as his mother, had to make a horribly difficult decision while you, too, were suffering. So often the choices we make when we’re in the throes of despair seem in retrospect a bit “off.” I’m glad Cole has forgiven you; I suppose he had to forgive Joe as well for dying. Those are adult choices no kid should have to make — in a perfect world (which, of course, this isn’t!)

  2. Oh Debbie, this post brought tears to my eyes. You brought me right into your experience. I can only imagine the depth of pain and sorrow this has provoked in you. But I believe that forgiveness has the power to free us from the bonds of pain. While it may be difficult to forgive, at least right away, it seems the door has been opened by your Mother’s courageous move to attempt forgiveness. And I’ll bet your Dad is smiling from above that the truth has finally been spoken. Thank you for a very powerful ,brave and heartfelt post. My thoughts and prayers with you as you move forward on new ground. Blessings to you and your Mother, Kathy

    • Thanks for empathizing, Kathy. It was a difficult time. However, while I can accept their decision (after all, it’s a person’s right to choose whether they want to attend certain functions or not), I don’t guess I’ll ever understand how parents who profess to love their (adult) child can turn their backs on them — just because they don’t happen to agree with their decisions. They had to know they were making an irrevocable choice, one that could have left our family in tatters for decades. Yes, I’ve forgiven, but thankfully, forgiveness for me doesn’t hinge on forgetfulness!

  3. I know you didn’t post to garner sympathy, but still, we feel so bad for you! How awful. But your post is poignant and beautifully told. I cannot imagine the pain that must have been and continues to be. I do hope you find a way to forgive your mother (not that she necessarily deserves it). But it must have been hard for her to admit now, 20 years later that she’s sorry. This must have eaten away at her all these years, and imagine how your dad must have felt knowing he never apologized to you directly. Unfortunately, this is something that parents sometimes do, turn their backs on their children, when they do something they do not approve (as if that could make you change your mind), or when they learn their children are gay. It’s like they pull the rug from under their children, no longer there to support them, when they need it most. Thank you for sharing, Debbie.

    • Thanks for extending your sympathy, Monica. And thanks for your words of praise — that means a lot! It’s a rather complicated situation. My mom comes from a family where, if one does something the others don’t approve of, they can go for YEARS without speaking. My dad would have apologized a long time ago; I felt his sorrow many times, though he wasn’t much for saying the words. He also, unfortunately, too often deferred to my mom in parenting issues. I’ve long suspected he would have been there to walk me down the aisle, if not for my mom’s stubborn stance.

  4. What a painful experience. It’s sad because all of you suffered for all those years because of the unsaid words. True, it is hard to let go of the hurt, but like Katybeth said, forgiveness is good for you. I think you’ll get there – it’ll just take time. Although her apology doesn’t feel like enough, it is a step in the healing direction.

    I also agree with your sticks and stones comment…I always thought that it was a stupid saying because words could make me cry more than any physical pain.

    • Thanks, Janna, for being so understanding. While I’ve forgiven my parents in my heart, I haven’t actually said the words — it’s almost as if saying them negates all the years of hurt and confusion. Plus, I kind of got the feeling she wasn’t apologizing for hurting me; rather, she was apologizing because it had suddenly dawned on her that, if hubby and I had stayed together and she’d stoically maintained her position, she wouldn’t have my son to dote on — and that, to her, would have been unacceptable. I suppose a lukewarm apology is better than no apology; maybe a lukewarm acceptance and forgiveness is, too!

  5. Still, late or not, she did say she was sorry. And she has probably felt bad about it for the entire 20 years. Or at least the latest years. I’d let her know you forgive her. Even if it’s all about letting it go for yourself. Don’t have regrets your Dad probably did before he died.

    • Thank you, Dawn, for visiting and leaving your thoughts! You’re absolutely right — I have forgiven in my heart, but perhaps she needs to hear the words as well. It’s a nice Christmas present to tie up these loose ends at this time of year and start fresh in 2012.

  6. Debbie, I think your message of not “leave unsaid the words that need to be spoken to those you love” is such an important one. I’ve always felt the “silent game” is harmful for both the one on the receiving end and the one keeping mum. I feel it doesn’t serve to accomplish anything, other than hurting deeply those who never get to hear our words. I can only imagine how painful if must’ve been for you to not hear your parents provide you with an explanation; an apology. That said, only you know what’s best for you. No one can tell you what you should or should not feel. The only thing you can do is own your pain and release it only and when you want to. It’s ironic, but sometimes pain is what allows us to keep going; to make changes; to assure that whatever happened won’t ever happen again. Your child is lucky to have you and your mother is too. It takes great strength to right a wrong that has been done to us and through our acts, provide our children with the support and understanding we did not receive. Perhaps witnessing your loving and unconditional support to your child is what has allowed your mom to realize she made a mistake. And if this is the case, then you, my friend, have relayed your message in more ways than words ever could. Hugs to you.

    • Bella, your support and encouragement bring a tear to my eye (a tear of joy!) How wise is your comment here! Yes, the “silent game” is harmful; I’ve seen its effects first-hand, and no good comes from it. I’ve forgiven my parents (to start with, more for my sanity and health than for any need they might have to be forgiven), but it hasn’t been easy. Domer has seen the craziness, though I’ve tried hard to shield him from the pain.
      In the hospital before he passed, I kind of felt Daddy wanted to say something to me but a ventilator prevented words. We don’t get a choice in how (or when) we move on from this earth, so perhaps taking the high road and being kind and loving to everyone is our best bet!

  7. Hi Debbie, this is my first time visiting – and what a powerful post I’ve found. And it’s one that’s deeply resonant in my life right now. My family dealt with a similar situation this summer. My sister-in-law was married in June and her father (also my husband’s father) refused to attend. I know he had his reasons for refusing to attend and my SIL has reasons to be deeply hurt – and the ripple effects of these reasons have fanned out and encompassed all of us. My deepest wish is that they can communicate with each other, try to move beyond their differences, and eventually reconcile. Life is just too short to be estranged from the people you love.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and the lessons you learned from it.

    • Kristen, thank you for visiting and leaving your thoughts so I’d know your were here. Welcome! My heart goes out to your SIL and her family. This is such a delicate situation, as you’re finding out, and I hope your family can make amends soon (maybe the holidays would be a good time to try?) It becomes even more difficult when children enter the picture. They, with all their innocence, do NOT need to be subjected to stoney silences, puzzling innuendos, and angry words. I’m glad you were able to glean something from my painful experience — I wonder just how often this sort of thing goes on, and nobody ventures to talk about it??

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