Recently, I’ve been on a Lumineers kick and the title of this post comes from their song, Donna. It wasn’t the first lyric in the song that caught my ear, but it was the one that prompted me to write it down. Let’s just say it resonated.
I’ve written, and even publicly spoken, about finding and meeting my father’s family as a young adult, about how much it changed my life by filling a place inside me that had always been empty. That story, including the joy of being embraced by my father’s siblings and their families is one that, despite never having met my father, has a wonderfully happy ending.
The tale of my mother and our relationship does not.
Parents do all sorts of things that inadvertently hurt their children and, of course, children reciprocate. I know that I’ve said and done things that have caused my children pain, but I’m pretty confident my words and actions were never intended to hurt my children.
And, that’s the fundamental reason I do not have a relationship with my mother. Hurting me has been her most consistent contribution to my life.
There are times, the holiday season being one of them, when I wish things were different. I feel sorry for my mother, a woman with two children and three grandsons, who only has regular contact with one of her progeny. About five years ago, I invited her to join all 5 of us for Thanksgiving dinner. She didn’t commit, or show up, and I haven’t asked again.
I imagine she’s lonely. I know she’s angry.
Through the years, there were countless occasions when she hurt me. These trespasses were not physical, rarely did she even raise her voice when she directed her personal frustrations and disappointments with life at me.
I guess I was an easy target. Was, being the critical word in that sentence.
But, after being brought by her into the city court system (twice), being accused by my own children of things I’ve never done (but they had been told by my mother I had), and feeling like every accomplishment in my life was an opportunity for my mother to grow her own bitterness and strike at me, I checked myself out.
As my therapist said years ago, I’ve basically been an orphan for most of my life.
I’m ok with that, truly. Naturally, there will forever be a sadness for not having experienced unconditional love from a parent, but I’ve developed friendships that satisfy that need in my life and I believe in looking forward.
But, when I received a text from my son telling me that my mother needed my brother’s contact info, I’m pulled right back into her orbit.
One of her oldest friends had died and she wanted my brother to accompany her to the services on Long Island. By having my child contact me, she gets two jabs in for the price of one – using my one son to facilitate the contact and making her point that my brother is, as always, the child she wants next to her.
I provided the information, having already gotten the ok to do so from my brother, and figured my role in the drama was done. Of course, I was wrong.
A few days later, there was another text from my child. It seemed that my mother had fallen while traveling (without my brother’s company) to Long Island. She was being admitted to the hospital. Fortunately, she wasn’t alone, but her friend’s family was in the midst of mourning the loss of their own mother and now they were inexplicably saddled with a medical crisis involving somebody else’s mother.
I called my brother, the retired doctor who had been my mother’s health care proxy until she, in a fit of anger, had replaced him in that role with my young adult son, and shared the news with him so he could expect a phone call.
Later in the afternoon, my brother called me. He explained why he had declined my mother’s request to travel to Long Island for the services of a woman neither of us has seen since our mutual college graduation party nearly 30 years ago. The connection simply wasn’t there – for he and the deceased and for he and our mother.
Our conversation quickly developed into a sharing of childhood memories – events and incidents that we sometimes remembered differently, but which had left their impact upon both of us. We recalled the time when our mother had left us alone for 10 days to go take care of the five children of the woman who had just died, while she and her husband took a well deserved vacation.
I was 10. My brother was 12.
Didn’t anyone consider who might be taking care of us?
Other incidences quickly bubbled to the surface. Claims she had made about my father that I had initially accepted because I was so conditioned to perceive my mother has a victim, the impossible to reconcile stories she had told us each about the men who gave her babies. Babies who it sometimes felt like she only kept in her care because of their potential to be weaponized at some unknown time in the future.
Kind of like she uses my son.
Over the years, I’ve said the following many, many times. It remains absolutely true:
If I wasn’t provided the security of needing my mother when I was six and given a radio alarm clock to wake up for school by myself, or when I moved to Albany to come to college completely independently or when my baby was gravely ill,* I most certainly don’t need her now.
The death of my mother’s friend, a woman who was always kind to me, prompted some long forgotten memories of holidays spent together with she and her family. Grapefruit sprinkled with sugar, mini Hershey bars, Christmas bazaars, and games of pinochle that went into the wee hours. They’re good memories.
I’m sad for her family and the absence they will feel this, and future, holiday seasons. Losing a beloved parent must be very difficult and I’m sorry that their grieving includes providing attention to the woman who brought me into the world. They deserve the time to honor and mourn their mother.
My mother never was one.
*Instead she told me his medical situation was my own fault because I “don’t listen to anybody.” My son was critically ill and if I had, in fact, listened to the medical practice that minimized my concerns, my child would have died.