May 13 is Mothers’ Day this year. May 13 also happens to be my mother’s yahrzeit. *rueful smile* My mother, may her memory be blessed, always understood the importance of timing. As an actress she knew that timing, delivery and performance were key to making a lasting impact. She always wanted everything to be “all about her”. With remarkable timing, she has ‘captured’ Mothers’ Day. I will never reach this date without thinking of her and reflecting on our lives together. (To be fair, my father also made sure I’d never forget his yahrzeit either – I turned 50 sitting shiva, instead of throwing the big birthday blow-out I’d started planning.)
I used to have such fun with my mother. When I was a toddler I wanted to grow up and be just like her. I wiggled my way into her newspaper interview (what an adorable photo we made). I cried at a play when she, in character, cried. My father had to carry me out. 🙂 I cued her for her plays, I went to every show she was in, I envied the times she and my big sister would go out shopping without me.
Even through grade school and high school we were best buddies. I could tell her any and every thing. My friends all thought she was incredibly cool and would confide in her. When I went off to college she wrote me letters every week, and sent me zillions of clippings from the newspaper. *laughing* My beloved advisor once said that my mother was the only mother he knew who could be replaced by a subscription to the NY Times. 🙂 She came out to visit me at college and I was so proud to introduce her to everyone.
I graduated, moved back home for grad school, got married, stayed home until my husband also graduated. All that time my mother and I played together, had fun, had key jokes (Mickey’s Donut Land was one), traditional shopping trips (Black Friday after Thanksgiving – a day we loved to go out because we didn’t NEED anything so we could be relaxed while everyone around us went crazy).
My husband and I bought a house in the same town where I was born, grew up, where my parents lived, where my sister and her husband lived. We were a very close family. We did a lot with my parents – my husband and father were close, both engineers, liking sports, politics, conversation. My son was born and Grandma and PopPop took care of him regularly.
But somewhere along the line things began to change. The seeds were always there. I have an ugly story about my graduation present from college. There were some other harsh memories of things said, selfish behavior, controlling emotions. Beginning after college I went into therapy. Years and years of therapy. What I learned there was to be NOT my mother. What I learned and began to see was how unhappy she was, how emotionally damaged she was from her childhood experiences. I had absorbed ALL of that myself, modeled myself that way, being just like her. But I wasn’t happy. She wasn’t happy. I wanted to be happy and I wanted to be happy more than I didn’t want to have to change myself. I spent years and years and years learning how to undo the self-destructive patterns.
As I changed, I saw my mother differently. I saw her unhappiness, and she always admitted that she was not happy. But she refused to look at herself for the source. She always felt that happiness is derived externally. I think too that she became more and more her negative qualities – selfish, emotionally controlling, putting down others to feel as if she were better, hurtful comments trying to be funny. The more time I spent with her, the worse I would feel. A lot of negativity and anger radiated from her. It was draining and dispiriting.
But it was tolerable. My father was there, my sister, her husband, her daughter, my husband, my son – we were family and we saw each other regularly and happily. Okay, sometimes annoyingly too. 🙂 After all, we were family.
You need to understand. My father adored my mother. He thought she was wonderful. One time my sister and I were talking and laughing with him and we both mentioned how we heard our mother “talking out of our mouths” and he didn’t understand why we thought that was NOT a good thing. I love you so much, Daddy. He would do anything for her. He was her security. He was her rock. She was the glamorous butterfly, flitting and flirting and exciting but she would always come home to him – her safe haven.
And then my father became ill, unable to travel a lot. My mother was cruel. Comments like “well we can’t do this now because of you”. It got worse. He was in the hospital, ill. She didn’t visit him because she didn’t feel up to it. My sister and I were sitting shifts at his bed, dropping in exhaustion so that he would not be alone but she couldn’t be troubled. Had the roles been reversed, he’d have been there every day, dragging a lung machine and any other apparatus just to be with her. When he finally came home, she wouldn’t let him back into their room. He lived downstairs on a hospital bed. She did cruel things like move his toaster to a storage area because it was “in her way”. Every morning he’d have to struggle with his walker to get the toaster, bring it out to the counter, and then struggle to bring it back. She raged when we added safety bars to the bathroom for him. It was ugly. Very very ugly.
She was so angry. So afraid. She couldn’t forgive him for being human and not being her rock. She was terrified. He was her safe haven. He was her security. Her life, as she saw it, was evaporating rapidly.
Then he died.
I’d like to say that things improved but that is not what happened. She turned her fear-fueled anger on my sister and me. There were more cruel words and selfish selfish behavior. It was very hard for several years, but she was our mother, and we loved her, and you do what you have to do. She was still active, going into the city for theater and art and friends.
Suddenly she was ill, in the hospital, emergency surgery – a perforated ulcer. Who even knew she had an ulcer? Recovery was slow, her spirits were poor. We tried to keep her home, but we had to keep upping her in-home care. Finally we moved her to a nursing home. The odd thing is, in hindsight, we think maybe she’d have wanted that immediately. We moved her to a second, better nursing home when it was available. And it was there, finally, that for me, things began to heal.
I could visit her, chat with her, talk to her as we had in the past. There were flashes of my mother there, her sense of humor, her intelligence. We’d have cheese and crackers, drink coffee, eat chocolate. I could even classify some visits as enjoyable. My own anger at her for her treatment of my father began to ease. My anger at her for her lack of commitment to trying to recover from her surgery began to ease. My compassion became dominant, as I saw her living the very life I knew she had dreaded forever.
She died last year, suddenly, the day before Mothers’ Day. On Sunday she’d been okay. On Saturday she was dead.
I miss her. When I think of her now, I don’t think of those last 12 years or so. I think of the fun things we did. Our little jokes. That she’d like this weather. She’d like knowing this event. When the rabbi came to talk to us about her in preparation for the funeral, he asked me if I had forgiven her. I thought about it for a moment and told him no, I had not. I will probably NEVER forgive her for how she treated my father. But that was not the whole of my relationship with her, even if it did poison so much of our time together. I am grateful for that last year in the nursing home. We had time to sit together. Smile. It was quiet then and peaceful and there was room for love and warmth. Time and space for the positive interactions to flourish and bloom. When they say time is the great healer, I think this might be what they mean.
I miss you, Mom. Happy mothers’ day.