Tuesday, November 19, 2013
I guess it’s time to write about my mother, since we are coming up on the one year anniversary of her death. For a long time, I didn’t know what to write, how to express such a jumble of emotions. I loved her. I spent years hating her and longing for her love at the same time. I pitied her. I resented her for not being the person I wanted her to be. I held her accountable for human failings. As much pain as she caused me, I am certain I caused her a significant amount in return. I was angry because I wanted June Cleaver for a mother and I got mommy dearest. At the end of the day, I just wanted a mother I could confide in, a mother I could rely on, a mother who could guide me through the complexities of life. The greatest part of my disappointment was in not having what I wanted. My mother was not capable of those things. It’s like asking me to be an engineer when math bores the snot out of me. I just can’t do it. My mother could not be the person I wanted her to be.
When I heard the news of her death, I was numb. My mother threatened me with her demise since I was sixteen, so though I understand mortality well, I didn’t really expect it. I was stunned. When I made the announcement on Facebook, I got the expected expressions of condolences, but I felt odd accepting them given the way I felt about my mother. Her death was hard, but not in the typical “I’ve lost something sort of way.” It was hard because so much of my life was focused on how to deal with her, how to have a relationship of some type with her and now it was over. Even now, I don’t miss her. After reality set in, the tears came and I didn’t even know why I was crying. I shed exactly one tear for my father. I didn’t understand why I was crying over the loss of my mother. Over the days, the grief got worse. I sobbed until I was exhausted. I was so confused. I couldn’t be grieving the loss over something I never had. It wasn’t as if I had any hope I would ever have a relationship with my mother, either. The loss of my mother left me feeling like a fifty year old orphan and that was something I didn’t expect. All of a sudden, I had no parents. I felt like a balloon that was no longer tethered.
The depth of my grief tore at my soul and it seemed without basis. Then, I finally understood what was happening. I have always been somewhat of a spiritual conduit. I absorb the emotions swirling around me and it took me a long time to understand the chaos it caused inside of me. I had to learn to release the emotions that invaded my soul so it didn’t create such chaos. Those emotions weren’t mine; they belonged to the people surrounding me. Some people are extraordinarily sensitive to emotional energy and it affects them deeply. I am one of those people. When my mother died, she released all the pain in her life and I received it. I wasn’t grieving for the loss of my mother, I was experiencing her pain. It was overwhelming. The depth of it penetrated me in ways I was unprepared for. Once I understood the pain I was feeling wasn’t mine to bear, I could release it. I let it go; something my mother was never able to do in life. In her death, she gave me her pain and I accepted it. I’m glad she did. I’m glad she was able to go to her next spiritual level without the life she lived here burdening her spirit. Once I understood this, I no longer grieved and I never shed another tear. My mother is finally free of the prison she created for herself here.
I wanted to write a moving tribute to her, something that would bring value to the life she lived but there isn’t one to write. My mother helped to create the adult that emerged from childhood, but I made the adult I am now and it took stripping away almost everything I learned in childhood. It took accepting the way I grew up was not normal, healthy or successful. It took accepting my parents failed in the most important task they were to be given. It took reinventing the person I was in order to be a person I could be happy with. I can’t write a tribute to my mother because it would not be honest. I can’t write a tribute to a mother I didn’t have. Still, my mother was not without merit. I believe my mother tried the best she knew how to be a good person, if not a good mother. I got an email from one of her coworkers shortly after she died. It was very nice; telling me how much my mother would be missed. She made them laugh, she was kind and they looked forward to seeing her. In her apartment complex, she would often cook dinner for others. I got my love of Christmas from my mother. She would decorate the house with all kinds of colorful decorations and Christmas was always special. It was the only time of the year I think my mother was happy.
When my parents were married, she tried to be a good mother, or at the very least do what was expected of her. The house was always clean, the meals were always prepared and on the table at expected time and she even was the leader of a Girl Scout Troop for a while. She attended the PTA meetings and our clothes were always clean. We had what we needed. After they divorced, it seemed like she didn’t care anymore. The house wasn’t cleaned, there weren’t any meals and all she seemed to do was sleep but to be fair she did work midnights at a factory. She became very physically abusive to me, something that I expected from my father, not her. One afternoon she was particularly brutal to me and I walked out of the house, never to return. I was scared to death, it was the ultimate act of defiance for me, and the ultimate rejection of my mother at the same time. I walked out of that house, I didn’t run. I walked with my head held high, terrified she was following me, terrified I was to feel a blow to the back of my head and yet I refused to turn around to look. I refused to look back as she screamed at me from the porch. I was so entrenched in fear I cannot remember what she screamed at me but it was a moment of vivid victory with every step. That moment was a defining moment in my life in more ways than I could have imagined. I had no active memory of the sexual abuse my father imposed upon me, none at all. My mother, however was well aware of it. To my mother, I was rejecting her in favor of a man who was sexually assaulting me. That was an insult I don’t believe she ever forgave me for.
One happy memory of my childhood was going to estate auctions with my mother. We would be given a small sum to make bids on anything we wanted and I almost always came home with a great treasure. My find generally included books, but sometimes I ended up with a box of various items. We ran around the auction and played with other children. At some point, we would beg mom, grandma or Aunt Eileen for some money to buy cookies, soda, hot dogs or chips that were always on sale at a little stand. Sometimes my mom would take just me and leave my brothers back at the farm with my dad. Those were the trips I felt special.
While staying at the farm, my mother would sleep in the same room with us kids. It was a huge bedroom and it had three beds in it with a wood burning furnace. I had a bed, my brother Kevin or Richard would sleep in the twin bed beside me and my mother would sleep in a double bed with Charlie and either Richard or Kevin. My dad slept in a bedroom by himself upstairs. I have no idea why this was. I’m sure there would be a number of Freudian interpretations, but I have none to offer. After my brothers went to sleep, my mother would talk to me deep into the night, confiding in me things a child should probably not be privy to. Of course, all I knew was that this was the one time I felt close to my mother. This was something special she didn’t share with my brothers, only with me. I would listen intently, nod like I knew exactly what she was talking about and fall asleep to the gentle painful whispers of my mother’s voice. Maybe that’s one of many reasons I have such difficulty sleeping at night to this day, I am subconsciously afraid I will miss something important if I fall asleep.
I love to sing. I sing all the time, every chance I get. This is something else I got from my mother. She sang quite a bit, to the sounds of Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, The Four Tops, Loretta Lynn, Gene Pitney, and so many other greats of that era. I loved it when my mother sang because it seemed like all was right with the world. My mother was happy, and that meant everyone was happy. I grew up watching “All My Children,” “One Life to Live,” “General Hospital” and “Dark Shadows” and I watched them well into my adulthood. I sat with my mom in those afternoons as we followed the lives of Erica Kane during her first pregnancy and controversial abortion on a daytime TV, I followed the storyline of the mental illness and subsequent suppressed memory of sexual abuse by her father of the noble and great Victoria Lord, and I watched as Leslie & Rick Weber was immersed with a love triangle with Monica Quartermaine and we wondered who was the real father of AJ Quartermaine. I followed the story of Barnabus Collins at the end of the day, all the while sharing a moment in time with my mother. Later, the only place I could spend time with my mother was The Eagles in downtown Barberton. You had to be buzzed in because it was a member’s only club/bar but in those days, 15 year old children at a bar with their parents was quite acceptable. It was at this bar I would meet my first husband, a 21 year old bass player in a really terrible band. I became their lead singer and everyone lied about my age.
From there on, my mother became less of an important part of my life. When I became pregnant with my first child, my mother made it very clear she was not to be called to babysit. As she put it “I’ve raised my children, I don’t want to raise yours.” For the next few decades, I struggled to make her a part of my life. It was a struggle I was to lose, but I never stopped trying to come to some kind of a peaceful resolution with her. I was to learn more about myself in the process than I could ever have dreamed.
I reconnected with her that last year of her life because Spirit placed in my soul a sense of urgency. Spirit is nothing if not wise, for it allowed me an ending to my struggle. It allowed me to have a sense of having made every possible effort, though I am not sure even now the ultimate success or failure of that effort. It is difficult to place that type of a label on it. After my mother’s last call, we never spoke again. Just a few months after that call, she would die quietly and without ceremony in her sleep. I was never to know my mother on any level that really mattered. I would never know her hopes, her dreams, I would never know what events made her into the woman she was. What I do know is that my mother had a childhood from hell, being raised with an alcoholic and profoundly abusive father. I know he would come into the bedroom she shared with her brothers and he would take her in the middle of the night. I know her Uncle Harry was a pedophile who bragged about “having” all his girls. I know nothing of her mother except that she died when my mother was just entering puberty and my mother hated her new step-mother that followed. I don’t know what kind of relationship she had with her mother, but if her relationship with me was any indication, it wasn’t very nurturing. I know my mother married a man who was in the military and while he was stationed overseas, she had an affair with the man who I was to know as my father. I know my father was mentally, verbally and emotionally abusive to her. She spiraled into a haze of alcoholism after they divorced and met a man named Jim who seemed very kind but I don’t know what kind of relationship they actually had. My mother never spoke of her struggles to anyone. I have spoken with her brother Danny and he didn’t know her very well either. She confided in no one and had no one she could call a close friend. My mother had walls built around her so high, so thick and so impenetrable, no one would ever scratch the solid exterior. She became a soldier so efficient that no one would be able to get close to her heart, not even her children. It is how she survived.
My mother died as she lived, without ceremony and alone. She died on a day when she was expected to be at work, and her coworkers alerted the landlord when she did not show up for her shift. Had it been during the weekday, it might have been days before someone found her body. When my brother called me, he had also taken her cat home with him. He asked me if I knew the name of her cat. I did not. My mother’s memorial service was attended by two people, my brother Charlie and my brother Richard. I had just started a new job and could not afford the flight back to Ohio to attend. She was interned quite by accident next to my father, a man she hated until the day she died. He returned those feelings. Somehow, it seems a fitting ending to this story, that the two people who created and destroyed the lives of four innocent children should be bound for eternity next to one another and yet I do not believe their souls are entwined. I believe my mother is finally free. I believe her pain has finally lifted and I am grateful.
There is no loving tribute, no moving memorial to write. There is only the end, and thanks to the sense of urgency Spirit instilled in me to make contact with her, I have an end to write.