My mother passed away yesterday afternoon, far from where I live, in her sister’s home in Delaware. Two of her sisters were with her, but none of her children. Nor her husband. The reasons are a long story, as complicated and sad as my mother herself.
To say we had a fractious relationship would be an understatement. Although I have never been a sparrer, just a sponge for wounds and hurt. My mother, young, beautiful and smart when I was born, had an impossibly deep capacity for both being sad and inflicting sadness. She was unutterably miserable for most of the time I was growing up, languishing in her bed with crippling depression. In and out of hospitals during my childhood, her homecomings always meant the same thing – blame, not recovery. And I was the scapegoat.
She was first hospitalized when I was about six years old. When she came home, I was overjoyed. Until the volley started. It was, it seemed, my fault she had fallen in the first place. If I hadn’t been such a bad child, she firmly screamed in my face, she never would have gotten sick. It was my badness, apparently inherent, that was the source of all her ills. Her doctor’s were the ones who had told her this. Get rid of me and her problems would be solved. Get rid of me or, at a minimum, make me into a good girl.
Of course, not only did her doctor’s never tell her any such thing, but I was a good girl. Probably the goodest girl on the whole of our city street. I was a paragon. And the more she told me how bad I was, the better I strived to be, all the while pleading with her to not be mad at me, promising I would be as good as she needed me to be.
But I was never good enough and she told me so, over and over and over. For decades.
The Family Tragedy behind all of this actually did involve me. One June morning when I was four years old, I wandered out of our apartment. I do not know where she was, but an educated guess is she was in bed, under the covers. And I, a gregarious child, was beckoned by the other kids playing outside. In a flash, a piece of glass was thrown and altered the trajectory of my life. It cost me my right eye. I vividly remember being comforted by the other children while people went looking for my mother. Her version of the story was that she was standing right next to me and watched helplessly as the accident unfolded. Because we Never Talked About the Accident (a Family Rule), I only found out about her fabrication recently. But I am old enough to realize now, what else was she to do? Admit to her family, her husband, that she had neglected her child to the point of maiming? It was an impossible position and she was impossibly tormented by it for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, I was swept away as well in her river of guilt and shame. As I grew, there were times I had to stay away from her because of the toxicity, sometimes for years. It was the only way I could survive.
And now she is gone.
My mother was such a force of nature, I am simply shocked that she has actually ceased to be.
I am commanding myself to acknowledge how wounded she was. Our shared, often grievous, history cannot be erased, but it can be understood and forgiven. I must remember that she was a complex, anguished woman who also was shrewd, funny, smart and quick-witted. She had been breathtakingly beautiful in her youth. She was frequently manipulative and selfish but just as often, I think, her heart was in the right place. She was a brilliant and proud cook. She was a devoted daughter to my beloved grandparents. In her later years, she was a model grandma, taking the kids apple picking, playing with them, engaging with them. Apple picking! My sister and I still find our jaws dropping when we contemplate it.
In my belief system, she is now healed and whole with God. She is
suffering no more, neither physically nor emotionally. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4
I love the idea that she is happy. It makes me so happy for her.
Mom, may God hold you until the day we meet, happily, again.
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