It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I have a good excuse. On April 26th this year my mother died suddenly. This news found me in a very different place however than most sons who hear they have lost a parent. My relationship with my mother (like so many of us I am finding) was… complicated.
Well actually to say it was complicated is not only an understatement but also isn’t exactly true. The fact is for the last seven years of her life she had no relationship with me at all. That was her choice. So you can understand that I received this news of her death with no small amount of angst.
Upon receiving this news I felt all of the emotions one might expect. I felt sadness and anger, a sense of abandonment (all over again) and frustration for all the unresolved issues between us that would now remain unresolved forever.
I guess for any of this to make sense, I should tell you a little about my mother – at least what I understood about her. First, my mother was a strong, independent woman. A writer by trade who raised two sons largely on her own. What makes this more impressive is that while doing so she suffered from chronic pain – the result of a childhood injury that left her back broken in several places. Sometimes she would have episodes when her back would “go out” and she would be laid up for days, withering in pain and just sobbing constantly for it to stop.
I remember once sitting by her bed during one of these episodes, keeping her company and doing my homework. She looked up and caught me paying attention to my school work instead of to he, and she became angry I wasn’t focused on her and her pain. “Don’t you even care?” she admonished me. It was years later my therapist helped me realize I was only 10 years old. I wasn’t ready to be her caregiver…
This pain was severe and often debilitating and something she lived with all of my life, and most of hers. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live with the constant, never-ending pain she suffered with every day. Unfortunately, dealing with that level of pain for that long took its toll on her mentally as well as physically. When the normal prescription pain-killers no longer had any effect she started taking the really potent stuff (morphine and the like) in massive doses. When that still didn’t take away the pain she turned to alcohol and recreational drugs to smooth out the edges.
When I was a fairly young child when my mother taught me to make her coffee in the morning so I could bring her a cup in bed before I left for school. I thought for years that everyone took their coffee with two fingers of Canadian Mist…
Things got worse through my teenage years until by the time I finished high-school I was ready to be out and on my own. I moved out of her house the day after graduation and never looked back. The next 20 years were a bit of a relationship roller-coaster for my mother and I. While I went through college and my first marriage there were periods when my mother and I got along fine, and periods when she would have a crazy episode and cut off all communication for months at a time. I think once we actually went almost a year without speaking, but always would make up and renew what relationship we had.
Ironically, my mother found a partner in all of this in my older brother. He too suffered from chronic pain (due to a fall off a cliff during his college years that left his legs and hips shattered). He too turned to alcohol and recreational drugs to dull his pain. In his case however, he also has been diagnosed with genuine mental disorders, and has been in and out of institutions several times. Basically over the years he and my mother wandered down the path to crazy-town together.
When I got into my thirties however, and was married to my second wife (the true woman of my dreams) things started to get worse. Mostly I think it was the years and years of constantly inducing large amounts of prescription painkillers and alcohol that caused my mother to truly deteriorate mentally.
During a visit to our home one summer (she and my step-father lived about a 100 miles north of us) my mother had so much to drink that she passed out on a float in our pool. My children thought their grandmother had died when they could not revive her and were terrified…
There were numerous incidents over those last few years where my children were exposed to their grandmother either being passed out completely, or too incoherently drunk to string together a meaningful sentence. I had decided finally that I did not think that was a good thing for our kids to be exposed to.
Then the fateful day came. My mother called me to announce that they were coming for a weekend visit. No asking or checking of schedules of course, just an announcement that she would be there. Slightly panicked because I had not really worked out how to tell my mother I didn’t want her around my children anymore, I bought myself some time. I hurriedly provided that I thought we might be going away, and I wasn’t sure, and I had to check with my wife, but I would get back to her…
That was all it took. She snapped. A few days later a letter arrived in the mail. Two letters in fact – one from my mother and one from my brother. Both of them rambled on for ten or twelve pages, hand-written and single-spaced. Both of them declaring neither of them ever wanted to see or speak to me ever again. That was more than seven years ago, and so it has been ever since.
So you can see that it was with some mixed emotions that I received the news of my mother’s death.
As I tend to do when emotions are having their way with me, I took to writing to sort through it all. I actually wrote several posts for this blog that I decided not to post at all. I was working through my feelings and my writing ran the gambit from raging in anger to wallowing in sorrow. One of my all-time favorite books is Trinity by Leon Uris. In it the hero Connor Larkin loses the one true love of his life. The only woman he has ever loved dies and his sorrow is so great that they chain him to a wall to let him scream and rage it out. It takes him days, but when he finally crumples in exhaustion, he has worked all the grieving out of his system. I chained myself to a literary wall and made myself write until I felt better.
Then I deleted it all. Every word.
As I set about sorting out my feelings, and coming to grips with it all, I posted a Facebook status that asked my friends how I should feel about my mother’s death. I received lots of support and encouragement from my large and wonderful circle of friends, but one response affected me like no other. It was just one word, and was posted by a dear friend who happens to be a counselor by trade (God bless her for that). She said only: “Liberated”. I read that word and sat stunned for a moment. I had not considered that. Then I burst into tears for the first time since hearing the news, and I knew that it had struck to my heart. Liberated. That was it…
After that I took a deep breath and began to look around me with clearer vision. I began to realize that I was liberated, in more ways than one. My mother caused a huge amount of mental anguish for myself and my family over the years. Always a source of stress, she took her toll on the health of all my other relationships.
Seven years ago she chose to end her relationship with me, and my brother followed suit and did the same thing. Since then I have mourned the loss of them both, and assumed that eventually they would come out of the darkness and want a relationship with me again. Always waiting for them to come around. Always hoping that they would see how crazy they were being.
Now I look around me and realize I need none of that. My mother gave up having me in her live for the last seven years of hers. That was her loss, not mine. I have a beautiful wife who loves me with all her heart, and loves me for who I am, not for who she wishes I was. I have beautiful children, a job I love and the financial security to travel and enjoy life. I have a large and loving circle of good friends – chosen family – who rally around and support me the way families are supposed to.
They say that living well is the best revenge. I have learned that this doesn’t just mean being financially successful. It means being spiritually successful too. It means being at peace. Finding your own way and making your own bliss. You can’t be happy if you are carrying other people’s baggage with you. Let it go. Realize that we all have worth and we all have value and if somebody in your life does not recognize that then drop them like a bad habit.
Surround yourself with people who truly love and accept you for who you are. Say goodbye to negative people who would bring you down. That is what I have done, and life right now looks pretty fricking fantastic to me.
And so I am officially back. I will be posting more often, traveling with my beautiful wife and enjoying life. Liberated at last.