|My mom, Anelda, around 1960.|
I come to this place honestly—this place of peace and mindfulness, of relative comfort with uncertainty. Today I feel like writing a bit about my journey, because I'm sad today, and enjoying a tad bit of wallowing—knowing this is a place to visit and not stay.
Today is Mother's Day.
I write this today for anyone who's ever felt alone. For those whose mothers are gone, for those who didn't have a mother figure in their lives, or for those with no children of their own. For me, that's all of these.
My mother left this mortal plane 20 years ago next week, on May 19. While she had been ill, she had been... not recovering, because it was far too late for that... but doing relatively well. So when I returned home from a morning run and got the call that she was gone, I felt like I'd run into a wall. Hard. Not yet, it's too soon. We were getting into a groove. She was doing so well... but she wasn't.
In hindsight, I am proud of my mother for living as long as she did, despite dying at 64, with the emotional pain that encompassed her life. The youngest of four children, she was the 'accident'—unwanted—something she felt throughout her life. When my aunt, her oldest sister, died at 48, my grandmother was inconsolable, and my mother was never the same. This was the last straw in that proverbial camel's back; my mother shut down any emotions she hadn't already closed off, and other than anger, she expressed very little from that point forward.
Can you say abandonment issues?
So at 9, I was on my own. Basic shelter, food, clothing, and physical safety were covered, but the rest was up to me. We moved in to care for my grandmother, but my grandmother was mean to both me and my mom when she wasn't feeling sorry for herself and doling out guilt. When she died three years later. I did a 180 from an obedient, thoughtful kid, to a rebellious, self-destructive teenager.
My mom wasn't married, so I didn't have my dad's family, either. He died when I was two, and though he mentioned me in his will, his family had nothing to do with me until I was 22 or so and wrote to my uncle. Suddenly my aunt, his sister, was accepting—even though she was certain I couldn't have been his when my mom got pregnant. My dad was the love of my mom's life, although I'm not sure that sentiment was returned. My uncle, his oldest brother, leaves me to believe otherwise, though he's never come out and said it. (By the way, today would also have been my father's birthday.)
|My grandfather, Ben.|
Looking for love in all the wrong places
So starting in my tenth year, I had no real mother or parental figures. I found family in friends, and of course chose those who were on the same self-destructive path. I think back to the mothers of my friends... and it's frankly laughable, in a very sad way. We grew up during the time of latchkey kids, when parents were largely checked out anyway, and many of my friend's parents were pretty fucked up (hence my choice of friends), with rare exceptions. While I could say I was neglected and occasionally the unwitting victim of my mother's anger (sometimes deserved), I wasn't abused.
When I got married, now 30 years ago, I chose a man whose mother died before I met him, and she reportedly wasn't much of a mother. He also had a daughter, and he wasn't much of a father. I have no children of my own, and until I signed up for Big Sisters, had few children in my life. My attempt at step-parenting was flawed at best, although I believe I made a bit of a difference. However, while I craved family and connection, and looked for that outside myself, I didn't fare much better. We separated in May 1994.
So I write this today for those who may feel alone. Know that I understand. I felt alone for much of my life. I was alone for much of my life. At some point, I even made sure I was alone, unconsciously pushing away anyone who got too close, afraid they'd leave. Let's just get this over with before it hurts too much.
We are both always, and never, alone
Thankfully, I rarely feel alone now, and I know that I'm not, even when I feel like it. Occasionally, I have days like this. Yet I have learned to be here for myself, above all else. Because in the end, we're all we've got.
I'm also fortunate to be with a man who has grown with me—been willing to grow with me, even with a rocky (and long-distance) start. We, too, have an important date this month: 24 years together on May 18. This wasn't a given. A therapist once said our wounds recognized each other. I think the odds were against us both—to come together in a healthy, interdependent relationship was not expected nor even anticipated. And yet, I believe what we created over the last 10 of those years will endure, and that it's largely because we learned to care for ourselves that we can care for each other.
We learn from our mothers, intentionally or not
Despite it all, I miss my mom. While we struggled for so long, we grew to appreciate each other in my adult years. While still emotionally closed, I see that she did what she could, and in her final years, after I moved home from Vancouver, we became fairly close. After all, it had always been just the two of us... we had weathered our share of loss and conflict.
Growing up, I wanted a mother I could be proud of, and in hindsight, I am. Not for the reasons I initially desired, however. I'm proud because she found a way to survive despite her deep sense of unworthiness and pain, and she did her best. She taught me much, indirectly, and offered some words of wisdom that still serve me well, like trusting my instincts, even before I knew how to access them, and to use my better judgment. I also vicariously learned resilience and determination.
I know my mom did the best she could with what she knew, and tried to do her best for me, even when she couldn't show up for herself. A therapist once asked if I was angry at her. I'm not, nor was I, once I learned to see... now, when I think of her, it's a mix of sadness, gratitude, and compassion.
I loved my mother, and I believe she loved me to the degree she could. To honor her, on this day and on other significant dates, I take extra care, including giving myself grace. Because I know she wanted me to have a better life.
I write this today because we are each on a journey, and we do this alone. No matter who we have, or don't have, in our lives, we have to show up for ourselves. We are here to grow and learn, and it can be painful. But through it all, we come out better, stronger, more fully human. The more we accept and embrace ourselves and the path we're on, the easier it becomes to change our minds, our beliefs, our experience, and ultimately our lives.
As my mother said so frequently, this too shall pass.
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