One of the hardest things about losing my mother, was the expectation people had of my experience, based on their own ideals or their own experiences with my mother. My mother, like most people, was a complex person. I’m empathetic to her life, and what made her, her. Its the same empathy I hope my children will employ with me, as they continue to grow into adults and see me, their mother, as a fallible human being. I hope that they will remember what I did well. And forgive the times I failed. Because being a mother is hard. And being a mother while trying to simply live your life, is hard. I wrote a piece, about my mom, a few months back. And I read it and think, I know my children can at times relate to these sentiments. There are times as parents we check out. There are times we snap, yell, or become distant. There are times I wasn’t there, or wasn’t appropriately there for my children. But the one thing that I hope I’ve done, to change the path of handing down disfunction from parent to child like the worst of all family heirlooms, is I say I’m sorry. And I hope my children know I LIKE them as people. Those two things, are a break in the pattern.
My mother is not a villain. I am not a victim. This is simply part of the story of me. Of her and I. There are other parts of the story. There are even some nice ones. There are a lot of people, whose experience of my mother is much different. And I’m glad for that, for them and for her.
I lost my mom at age three. I didn’t physically lose her. I just lost her as herself, as a semi-whole person. The mother I was left with was a boarded up version, wrapped in self-protection and delusion. She was somehow saving me from a lifetime of pain, if she simply cut herself off from me. Didn’t allow me to attach, and vice versa. Only I was three. I had attached. And my 3 year old self didn’t understand this new dynamic. Didn’t understand that her mothers death had sent her into a spiral that would take her away.
I have very few memories of my mother from my childhood. She’s a ghost in blue light, sitting in the dark watching Mash and crying as she connects to characters inside the filament. She’s bathed in the yellow glow from the light she sits under. Cross stitching motivational sayings about being authentic.
She’s right there, a million miles away.
She tries at times, to bridge that gap. She takes me to her favorite restaurant. I feel lonely and confused as we sit and the wait staff joke with my mother. In this place I’ve never heard of. They laugh like old friends and tell me what a wonderful mother I have.
Who is this person sitting across from me. Laughing and smiling and making jokes? Where is the furrow between her brow and the look that tells me I’m being too noisy, I’m invading her downtime? This person isn’t my mother. And this happy person somehow belongs to other people. I’m quiet.
For my 16th birthday she wants to buy me a piece of antique jewelry. It’s important to her. So we go. And I try to find something that will make her happy. A purple broach. Small little flower. She likes it. I take it. Thank you mom. I still have it. I’ve never worn it.
My first heartbreak happens. It’s the beginning of summer. My boyfriend wants to meet at the park. He tells me he loves me. But he can’t be with me. My heart rips from my chest. I walk home sobbing. I want cars to run me over. To leave me bloody and broken on old mill road. I enter my mothers room. I’m interrupting her show. I lay down on the bed next to her like I’m three agin and cry. “He broke up with me mom. It huuuurrrtts”
Her hand never touches me. Her voice steel. “You don’t share any of your life with me. Don’t expect me to be there now”
I close the door. Leave her with Oprah.
28 years later I sit next to her bed. She’s not conscious. I’ve not said goodbye. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her, before the cancer got bad. Before she slipped away. To tell her anything. To tell her I was sorry. To tell her I forgive her. To tell her I love her. To tell her I missed her. That I’d been missing her since I was three.
I sit next to her bed. I listen to her moan in pain. “Mom. Mom. Can you hear me?” Nothing. “Mom….”
I can’t say it. It’s stuck in my throat. The anger wins.
I walk out of the room. Into the cold January night. Wish I had someone to call. Take a drag off my cigarette.