Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday. And, Friday marked one year since she passed away. As I have shared in this blog before, her passing was an event that did not hold much significance to me at the time because I felt I had said goodbye to her many years before. Despite that, this past year has left me with the need to do a lot of reflection to help me come to terms with my feelings about this complicated relationship in order to begin a healing process resulting in forgiveness and transcendence from decades of trying to love someone who was fundamentally incapable of experiencing or giving authentic love.
This is a journey I did not enter into willingly. In fact, I had my mind all made up when I learned that her life was nearing its end that I was relieved and ready to move on to the next phase of my life – a life without having to look over my shoulder and wonder when the next onslaught would occur. I welcomed the freedom that came from knowing that the hurt, the humiliation, the constant anxiety about when she would next strike out would finally come to an end. When I got the word that she had died, I texted my best friend to let him know and he immediately called me in bewilderment, wondering if he should console me or plan to take me out for a celebratory toast. He gently prodded, fascinated by this highly unusual circumstance of someone losing their parent and not immediately kicking into the rituals of mourning, honoring, etc., and asked “How do you feel?” Of course, he knew that the feelings would be complicated. He implicitly knew that I would be struggling to find words to make sense of the emotions, even in my own mind. At the time I was quite laissez faire about the whole situation, resolved that I was ready to start anew. I had prayed for an escape from the grip she had on me and suddenly my wish was granted and now I had the time and space to react and redirect myself.
In the year since my mother’s passing, I have had a metamorphosis of sorts. In my own way, I have undergone a process of grieving and realigning myself without the force of my mother’s mental illness driving an undercurrent in my life. Despite the fact that I had terminated my relationship with her nearly 7 years before her death, I was still struggling on a daily basis, balancing my indignation and my guilt while continuing to fear her wrath, her scorn, her outbursts intended to try to regain a connection with me. She patented the art of attempting to have bad behavior rewarded with attention. It took great resolve and discipline to not take the bait. As an adult child, I still yearned the love of my mother and wanted nothing more than to wake up from a seemingly bad dream and find myself in a fairy tale, basking in the glow of love showered upon me by my mommy. I never lost the wish, the unwavering desire to curl up and be loved and nurtured in a way that I understood was a gift meant for other little girls, simply not me.
As I worked through the process – one that I intentionally pushed to the background to be a backdrop to everything else that was going on in my life – I began to see answers and understanding emerge around me like giant thought bubbles bursting over my head. I knew when I began the journey of healing that I would never truly understand my mother. I acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that her actions and behavior would never make sense to me. I did not have all the puzzle pieces. I was missing huge chunks of her history that informed who she became as an adult. I did not understand the demons that she confronted as a young child and had no way of understanding the role they played in the destruction of her life. I never had a clear sense of the roots of her mental illness. All of that, however, was intellectual masturbation because none of it mattered in how I felt. And, frankly, for the better part of my adult life, I spent my time trying to understand, trying to solve the equation. How I felt was always secondary. I knew I was a victim of her illness and I knew that our relationship was ultimately detrimental to both of us. I woke up one day and realized with crystal clear certainty that we were better off without each other than with. And I walked away. As my therapist has explained to me so many times, I nearly erased myself from existence by abandoning the most primal and pivotal relationship in my life. I annihilated myself by rejecting my mother. And, at the same time, I gave myself life.
I have struggled over the past year to find my way with this. Life has presented me with seemingly unending complications to derail my focus and challenge my own mental stability. I have struggled with my own purpose, my intentions and my truth. Losing my mother without ever closing all the loose ends left me with a complicated web of questions and emotions that I knew I had to tackle when I was ready and in my own unique style. No one – absolutely no one – could help me make sense of it. I was living an experience that not a single person I know has ever experienced. I was alone on an island left to sort out a big giant tangle of ropes in hopes that, when untwisted, I would be able to toss them out to pull in my raft and return the land of others. I had hoped that by whacking through this mess I would suddenly feel differently, look like everyone else and be able to return to life feeling more complete and more connected.
It’s been one year and two days. 367 days of quiet contemplation. 8,808 hours of attempting to locate a lost piece of myself in order to better fit into my world and begin to blend in with everyone else.
On the bright side, I am beginning to forgive my mother. I am finding ways to have compassion for her and understanding that hers was the road less traveled – and not in a good way. No one would ever sign up for the cruise that she took in her 82 years. No one would willingly leave the earth with a scant few by their side, having more regrets than joy. Four marriages, three children, four grandchildren and her passing was barely noticed. I feel sad for her. I grieve for a life that was lost to an illness left untreated and an unwillingness to relent and accept that perhaps the darkness that she lived with was not simply the way it was meant to be. I take no comfort in my righteousness that she deserved what she ultimately received. I wish, I truly wish, I could have made a difference for her. I wish I could have saved her and brought her to my island. I tried so many times to heal her with my love, thereby, hopefully, healing myself. However, it was always short-lived. She thrived on chaos and manipulation. She needed to break things down and then attempt to put them back together in order to feel like a savior. She needed to be a victim and find blame in everyone else. She did not know what it meant to forgive. She only knew how to hold a grudge and suffer as she exhausted limitless mental energy feeling anger and resentment, ironically usually targeted towards those she most frequently hurt.
For me, today, I am learning to get beyond all that and am starting to understand the impact of her life and her behavior on me. I am not a victim of my mother. I am a product of my life experience and it is my choice to continue down the pathway she led me or to take a detour and find my own lane. She is not a compass for me – a fact that pains me greatly because I believe so deeply in the power of motherhood and the role we play in guiding our children to their own paths while standing by to guide them to another and another as they need us to. Nonetheless, my mother is all around me. She shows up in my life in the form of other people that create struggles for me – the narcissists that invariably make their way to me; the angry, damaged and pained individuals that sniff me out falsely seeing me as a safe harbor. I am simply not that port and I am learning to accept that about myself. My job is not to rescue anyone but to provide an atlas built from my own painful journey. I am not a walking support group and I have come to accept and, in fact, insist, that I am not here to be pitied or protected or, quite frankly, understood by anyone because we can never truly understand the complexities that make each of us unique. Instead, I am here to give love, receive love and hope to leave a legacy that includes inspiring and empowering others to live a more meaningful life. And, for that, I thank my mother. Without her, I am not sure that these lessons would have made their way to me. I am not sure that I would have the courage to look at life the way I do. I have no certainty that, without my mother, I would have broken down and been rebuilt in a way that provides me with my own brand of power. I am not perfect and I struggle to make sense of things every day but I feel grateful to have the opportunity to tackle life and connect the dots in the way that I do. As with many things in my life, I would never go back and change history. It all informed my place today. The road could have been easier and my choices could have been better but it is all about the journey.
This morning I talked to my best friend again and shared with him a piece of my truth that has crystalized for me. I have spent so much of my lifetime trying to adapt myself to fit into the world in a way that would enable people to understand me better. I have twisted myself up so painfully trying to blend in and make sense in other people’s worlds. However, today, my own gift to myself on my mother’s birthday, I committed to allowing myself to be me. 367 days after my mother left the earth I am finally becoming the person I am meant to be. And, after 45 1/2 years of life, I know I am just getting started.
Happy Birthday Mom. I wish you could have gotten to know me.