Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom, and she loves me, and she’s been a strong influence in my life. Some of it’s been positive, but there’s been an awful lot of negative in there as well.
Mom clearly played favorites with her children, and wasn’t subtle about letting us know who those favorites were. Suffice it to say I was not one of them. The second of four children, I was apparently a cute, bright, cheerful but quiet and undemanding baby, and an intelligent, curious and sociable girl/young woman who loved to read, and did well all through school and in the activities I pursued. Whatever I did never seemed good enough though, and if I wasn’t being ignored I was being compared to others and found wanting. I was adequately fed, clothed and sheltered, but was never hugged or cuddled, there were no words of love, no positive reinforcement, and little to no interest in what I did or wanted to pursue. I was expected to behave and do well, but there was no encouragement, no rewards. Others may have known my parents were proud of me, but I never did.
Within the family I was considered flighty, flaky, too talkative, emotional. I had no voice; my parents spoke for me and decisions were made for me. If I stepped out of my role and tried to assert myself, or wanted to do something differently from my parent’s expectations, I was told I was difficult. Nothing has changed much. I’m in my 60s and still feel expected to play my role with my siblings. However, because I choose instead to keep my distance these days or not go along with my siblings’ ideas of what I should do and when I should do it, or how I should feel, I’m still considered difficult, or I’m dismissed.
I became deeply depressed as I was growing up, but was blessed (and lucky) to have people in my life along the way who encouraged and valued me. They saved my life. There was my grandmother, who held me and called me her “diamond in the rough,” and who told me over and over that I would go on to do great things. She was there for me many times when my parents didn’t show or step up. Mrs. P, a family friend and licensed psychologist and counselor, knew our family dynamic and warned me (and Brett after we got married) to keep my distance, that it was possible and OK to love my family but still not like them or want to be around them. Their goal, she said, was always going to be to put me in my place, to make me stay in my family role. It was Mrs. P who helped me accept that I was in fact a very strong, smart woman, and not at all the lightweight my family imagined. According to her, that I never turned to drugs or alcohol to blunt my depression was proof of an innate inner strength and resilience that my family refused to recognize and couldn’t destroy. There were other women as well along the way – neighbors, my friends’ mothers, teachers, my sister-in-law – who comforted me, supported me, held me up, told me I was beautiful and smart, and stepped in when Mom should have but didn’t.
My mother is 92 years old, and she is dying. I feel relieved that she will not have a long, lingering end-of-life experience (i.e. stroke, bedridden, and such) which is what I feared the most for her, but I also know it’s not going to be an easy death either. I have already made plans to visit her this summer, and will be her strong daughter. I’m the child who has worked with the elderly, who has nursed them and cleaned them, the one who has sat in the middle of the night with the dying so they were not alone, the child who will be there just to be there for mom, with no expectations. I have no illusions about what’s coming, but hope for her to pass as peacefully as possible. It’s time to put away the past for awhile.
I already feel a great sadness, not for how things were and for what will be gone, but for what could have been and never will be. She is my mother, for better or worse, and I will always love her, and I will miss her.