The power of a date on the calendar has never eluded me. A date holds memories, milestones, and celebrations of goals reached. A date can hold emotion: joy, gratitude, fear, regret. For me, dates also hold memories. Some good. Some bad. But memories, none the same.
On October 28, 2021, I was invited to speak at an event at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). On this date, not only did I share my story, I made a choice to love my mother in a way that I had previously withheld. And after years of putting up a wall, I chose to let her love me back. This particular date holds good memories.
Rewind three years to 2018, I was inspired to enter a nonfiction essay contest, in which I wrote about the day I was seconds away from killing myself. My story struck a chord with the judges and I won first place. This success led to an invitation to speak at an event on March 14, 2019 sponsored by the AAUW to share my journey from the pit of despair – childhood sexual abuse, neglect, and the destructive world of drugs – to the peak of success, embracing love. That day, the house was packed with community members, friends, and family. It seemed that everyone had shown up to support me. That is, everyone except my mom. Her absence was by design. I chose to not invite her.
Where It All Began
You see, for years when I was a little girl, my mom struggled with mental illness in a way that left her unable to care for me, and love me, the way in which a little girl needs her mother. That left the responsibility to my father, who sexually abused me from the age of six years old. That was the beginning of a long, difficult, messed up childhood that pulled me into the pit of despair and almost ended with an intentional overdose on April 22, 1994.
Even though my mom was physically in my life, she was absent of love and protection towards me until I was 13 years old when she learned what was going on and took me away from my father. If I invited her to hear me speak now, she would have to revive and remember all of the horrible abuses that happened to me. I didn’t want to invite her because I didn’t want her to feel hurt, or pain, or guilt, or embarrassment. All of the things you would think would come about because she is my mom and was not able to protect me or my sister from my dad and the awful abuse that occurred.
At least, that is the excuse I gave myself for not inviting her.
The Day Of The Event
Four months ago I finally decided to invite my mom to a keynote speaking event. The AAUW invited me to speak again at an event they hosted on October 28, 2021 – now a very special date for me. My mother had been asking to attend one of my events for years, and this time I said yes.
At 83 years old, my mother can’t fly by herself – I hopped on a plane to fly with her from Chicago to Massachusetts where the event was taking place. On the plane, we talked about what she should expect from the speech. My mom was going to hear me speak the unfathomable–hear me tell this audience that my dad had sexually abused me–her little girl–over and over again. She would hear me say that she–my own mom–was physically and mentally incapable of giving that little girl the love that is normal for a mom to give. She was going to hear that about herself, coming from her daughter, sharing it with a roomful of strangers. These things destroyed her little girl’s ability to love and be loved. I was terrified for her to hear it. But here we were.
Uncovering The Real Reason I Didn’t Choose Love
At the end of these types of events, I open up the floor for guided discussion and Q&A. We discussed this on the plane ride and I told her not to worry because I wouldn’t let the audience ask her questions. But she immediately said she’d embrace any questions–nothing was off-limits.
During the event, from the front row, my mother’s eyes never left me as I shared my journey to enduring success. I heard her cry and laugh and clap. We both exuded love and joy.
After many questions for me, an audience member kindly asked my mom:
“Is it hard for you to sit here and listen to how much pain your daughter went through?”
Without hesitation, my mom replied, “No. I sit here and experience and feel the amazing woman that my child has become and the love that she gives everyone and the love that she receives from everyone. I sit here and choose to love.”
My story isn’t about drug addiction and sexual abuse – it’s about the loss of love and my journey back to realizing love is a choice. And through five critical choices that I made, I realized my 5th choice (to choose love) was within my power. I had chosen to love before this day. But that day in October was the first time I chose love fully with my mom.
By finally inviting my mom to watch me speak on October 28, 2021, I realized the real reason why I hadn’t invited her. It wasn’t because I wanted to protect her from her own emotions. I wanted to protect myself from feeling or seeing my mom experience shame, sadness, and regret. I was choosing to withhold love from her to protect myself.
And that’s what a lot of us do, isn’t it?
When I Finally Decided To Give And Receive Love With My Mom
To choose to give all of our love is hard, and raw, and vulnerable. The easier thing to do is to protect it, guard it, be selective and hold some back. From that first speaking event after winning the essay contest, to three years later when I finally invited her, I was not embracing the love that she was trying to give me. She asked over and over to attend and I wouldn’t let her. I held her love for me at arm’s length and withheld some of my love to her out of fear that I would feel bad, sad, miserable. By not inviting her, I was trying to avoid holding my mom’s feelings.
I watched my mom continue to answer questions and see her connect with the women who attended the event. It was overwhelming to see how much love she had for me. And how much love I had given her by allowing her to experience the raw emotion that comes with my speaking events.
This is a present-day example for me of what it means to choose to embrace our boundless capacity to give and receive love. It’s a choice. A hard choice. An active choice. You may choose to do it once, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to choose it again…and again.
Love is a choice. October 28, 2021 was an amazing day for both my mom and me. The day we both chose to give it and chose to receive it.
According to Hubspot, 69% of employees said they’d work harder if they were appreciated. Book Trish for your next keynote or workshop to learn how choosing love can transform your team.
“… your story radiated BOUNDLESS JOY that comes from loving and allowing yourself to love unconditionally. Consider me officially signed up for thee Trish Kendall cheer squad.”