In my last post I touched on what life was like with my mother. I suggested that I needed to “come to terms” with being her daughter. I need to clarify … it is about coming to terms with the unanswered questions she took to her grave via suicide.
This is a very difficult and complicated part of my life. It is part middle child syndrome, part daddy’s little girl, part competitive drive and part driving need for approval to name just a few things. It has to do with the twins as young girls and one of them as a woman. It has to do with achievements and obstacles. Ultimately it has to do with my life and my mother’s death.
Let me begin in the middle and see if I can find an end … or two …
The twins were children of the ‘60’s. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Make love, not war. Burn the bra. Free love and free speech. They were rebels, anti-establishment, non-conformists. High school drop outs, drug addicts and teenaged mothers-to-be. Both of my parents considered them huge disappointments and took every opportunity to remind them of such. This, no doubt, is one of the driving reasons for their eventual departure from the family home at age 16.
Ultimately, I became my parents’ focus of disapproval. I was constantly compared to the twins in a negative way. I would end up a drug addict. I would end up dropping out of school. I would be a single teenaged mother. Over and over I was told these things. But I had a somewhat rebellious streak of my own.
I was determined to be better educated than my sisters. I was determined not to be a teenaged alcoholic or drug addict. And I was DEFINITELY determined not to be a teenaged mother.
I idolized my father. In my naïve eyes he could do no wrong. I wanted nothing more than to earn his approval. I couldn’t stand the thought that I might disappoint him. We had a very strong bond, he and I. I studied hard to earn the grades that I thought would make him proud. I worked hard to earn his respect. I endured the lessons my mother regularly “taught” to turn me into a young lady of “class” and sophistication. I had promised myself that I would not become my sisters no matter how much my parents told me I was “just like them”. It was through this hard work and dedication to self that I rebelled against following in my sisters’ footsteps.
My mother had a very interesting hold over my sisters and I. She was like a magnet, able to both attract and repel at the same time. For me, this was a struggle of epic proportions. I felt duty bound to respect my mother. I felt an obligation to “love” her at the same time I was feeling anger, disgust, even hatred toward her. Even as a child I understood to a degree how confusing and debilitating this was. I pushed on, through the years of adolescent emotions and into my budding adulthood.
I was forever on the hunt for ways to earn my mother’s approval. Ways to impress her. Ways to make her proud of me. The household chores, Honour Role grades, competitive sport accolades, musical accomplishments. This continued for many years, even after my own journey into the world of wife and motherhood. For nearly 40 years I struggled to find a balance in my crazy push – pull world.
As they say … hindsight is 20/20. As I look back now, it was inevitable that the tenuous tightrope walk that was my life with my mother was bound to snap and put me into an emotional freefall.
It happened in 2010. Vicky had finally succumbed to her enemy. She fought a brave battle for three long years against the cancer that finally claimed her. The same cancer that I battled at the same time, right along side her. She passed away shortly after Mother’s Day. She had told me several months previously that she wanted her life celebration to be held at my home. The reasons for this shall be told another time, but suffice to say I was left to the task of organizing and hosting the collective goodbyes of her family and friends.
One day, shortly before the day of Vicky’s memorial I was talking on the phone with my mother. I happened to say how odd I thought it was that neither her husband nor my parents had offered to organize or pay for the memorial. It was more mussing than accusation. I was thinking out loud. We were all grieving but I had to separate my grief from the task at hand. Perhaps everyone thought I was the one best suited emotionally. I don’t know. I do know it was extremely tough for me to acknowledge a death of a loved one by the very same illness that I was currently battling.
While sharing these thoughts with my mother she suddenly became explosive and yelled through the phone at me. Her words??
“I wish it was you who died from this damn cancer rather than her!!”
Even now, 7 years after hearing those words, I still struggle when trying to describe how devastating those 14 words were to me. As I sit here and write this story I still cannot find words. In addition, my mother chose those very words to be the last she would ever speak to me. Her suicide was not to come for another 5 years but she never again cast even so much as a glance in my direction.
When she died I was not notified by family members. My dad’s dementia had progressed beyond the stage where he was able to process the repercussions of her death. For reasons unbeknownst to me my younger sister chose not to tell me. It wasn’t until two weeks after she passed away that my father, in his clouded mental world, came across my phone number and dialed it, wondering where I was and would I like to “come for lunch”. I replied to his invitation by reminding him yet again that my mother did not welcome me into their home anymore. He very casually replied “It’s okay, she died”.
That was how I learned of my mother’s death.
Since that day I have struggled over and over again, trying to come to terms with my emotions. Do I love my mother? Did I EVER love her? Why did she reject me after a lifetime of trying to please her? Why did she wish me, her own daughter, dead?? These are the questions that continue to haunt me.
Am I sad that she passed? Am I horrified that she took her own life? Am I hurt beyond description at her callous preference of my sister’s life over my death?
Do I feel relief at her passing? Am I happy to finally have her influence gone from my life? Do I feel guilt because I finally have a certain level of emotional peace? Do I ???
I am afraid to admit that I don’t think I will every be able to come to terms with these unanswered questions …