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When a Loved One Disappoints

June, 2019

Yellow Hibiscus  Photo by Martha Clark Scala

Thoughts on Digging Out of Disappointment

I’m going to go out on a shaky limb and say thank goodness both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are over.

Have you ever seen either of these holidays approaching on the calendar and felt at a loss of what to do, what to say, or what to send?

I have.

Sometimes it’s tough to get in the spirit of these greeting card holidays when you have already lost your parents. Mother’s or Father’s Day can feel like a day to dread or endure when that parent isn’t alive. Similarly, someone without a sweetheart might dread Valentine’s Day.

But this month’s blog is about a different ache: disappointment.

Sometimes we disappoint one another royally. When I was in my 40’s, Mother’s Day was coming up and I dreaded it. My mother had made an impactful decision and I was very unhappy about it. I was so disappointed in her.

Looking back, I can see this was about a clash in needs. My mother needed one thing; I needed something quite different.

I thought about not sending her a Mother’s Day card at all that year. Despite my disappointment in her, I still wanted to acknowledge Mom and the good parent she had been, so I discarded that option.

Do you know how hard it is to find a card that gives a mother proper recognition without gushy words that would feel insincere? My gush-ability was at close to zero that year.

A clash in needs. Perhaps most disappointments boil down to this: our needs or priorities differ. The journey back to joy or harmony may require that we accept or tolerate our differences. How dull would life be if we were all the same?

“Nothing others say or do is because of you . . . When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of suffering.”

~Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz’s words of wisdom about the second agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally, provide solace. You may have to read those words over and over again before they really sink in. I certainly did.

The mistake I made with Mom was to interpret her disappointing decision as a reflection of her love for me, which dug me into a deeper hole than was necessary. Today, I have no doubt she loved me but I couldn’t get that perspective right away. It took time.

If we want joy or harmony to return, we may have to make peace with our limitations: theirs and ours. My mother’s limitations were reflected in her decision-making. And I was limited in my ability to see the situation from my mother’s vantage point to garner sufficient understanding.

We all have limitations. The challenge is to manage our expectations of one another, while bearing this truth in mind. Ironically, I believe it was my Mom who first taught me the idiom, “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.”

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

~ Alexander Pope

A noble goal is to arrive at a place of forgiveness. Frankly, it makes me nervous when someone says, “that’s okay, I forgive you” before they’ve given themselves a chance to experience the less savory feelings that go with disappointment. You can’t rush forgiveness. It, too, takes time.

The best takeaway of all? A major upset in my relationship with my mother back in 1997 forced a growth spurt that did nothing but serve me well. If disappointments are riddling you, maybe ask yourself: what wants to be grown? I hope it won’t be bitterness.

I eventually forgave my mother. When she died, there was plenty to mourn - her amazing assets as well as her disappointing shortcomings. They all added up to a flawed but beautiful human being.

And isn’t that what we all add up to, anyway? It’s hard being human. To expect perfection of anyone (yourself included) is folly.

Comments on this blog post are welcome — see the bottom of this page.



Front Cover of Assembling a Life by Martha Clark Scala

Find out what others are saying about my recently published memoir, Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself), by clicking here.

To purchase the premium softcover version of Assembling a Life, or to learn more about the book, visit this page.

For an Apple Books e-book version of Assembling a Life, click the Apple Books button.


Prompts For Joy

Click here to see how a mother responded to her daughter’s disappointment in a broken friendship.

Click here for a mood-altering train ride.

Click here for all previous Prompts for Joy.


Pictured Above

Mom’s favorite flower. Yellow hibiscus at Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, June 2019.

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