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Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Mothers are all slightly insane." ~ J.D. Salinger

I've been waiting a long time to write this post. Until now, I could not because there were too many unresolved issues floating around inside me. Today I'm both relieved and sad that I've finally made it to the point where I can express the things I've wished to say for decades.

My mother is mentally deteriorating. A couple of years ago she suffered a small stroke. When the results of her medical tests returned, small dead spots had been found in her brain. At the time there was chicken/egg speculation as to which came first: the spots, which caused the stroke; or the stroke, which caused the spots. At this point, most of her physicians believe that the spots were there first--no one knows why. There is no genetic anomaly, she does not have Alzheimer's, and she has reported no trauma. However, what they do know is that the spots are becoming larger and no medication seems to deter them.

No trauma has been reported--which doesn't mean there has been none. My mother was a childhood victim of physical abuse from an alcoholic father. She used to remember the beatings given to her brother. Today she has no memory of that. I have no doubt that she was the recipient of similar abuse and that the dead spots in her head are a result of the trauma suffered from the time she was a toddler. I have no evidence nor medical records to back me up. It is simply my opinion.

Today my mother has no short-term memory. She has lost her sense of verbal social boundaries. She does things that baffle us, but also cause tragic laughter--because the situations are funny, but also very sad. I'm watching my father battle depression. This was not what he hoped his older life with his spouse would be--but then again, there have been many things she has done throughout their marriage which have caused him pain. My maternal grandmother lives with them. She nursed her husband through Alzheimer's disease, institutionalized him when he became dangerous to her, and sat with him as he died. She never dreamed she'd watch her youngest daughter slowly lose her mind, as well.

My dreams of rediscovering a parent/child relationship with my mother are gone. She has no capacity to form and nurture relationships. Most of the time, I'm okay with this. She and I worked very hard for a number of years to mend some of the pains of our past. She has apologized abundantly for the years of abuse and neglect. I've seen her weep as she talked of being monstrous, and drove her to therapy appointments so that she, too, could mend from past abuse. She did not have the stamina required to sift through her past and ceased her therapeutic venture after two months. At the time, I was angry with her. Today I understand that going through therapy to heal from abuse requires more inner resources than those with which she is equipped, and truly, I believe she did her best.

Recently, I sat beside Tolkien Boy's mother during a church meeting. At one point I was commenting about a topic I found deeply emotional. She put her arm around me for a few moments. My response shocked me. I felt completely baffled as to why she would touch me--ever--for I do not see myself as a person with whom others wish any sort of physical contact, and at the same time I experienced a huge surge of envy and anger toward Tolkien Boy who, for his entire life, has experienced love and nurturing from the woman beside me. All this was followed up by intense shame for my anger and jealousy, and that enormous cocktail of questions that always follow such an event: Why didn't my mother want me? What was wrong with me? Why would she not hug or touch me? Why does this still bother me after aeons of time?

I hastily excused myself when the meeting ended and went to the restroom to put my head back on.

I'm unsure whether I'll ever get to a point when, if I'm caught off guard, those questions will stop surfacing. There's something grounding and necessary about being deeply loved by one's mother. While I've made enormous progress through the grieving and acceptance process, it doesn't mean I no longer wish my mother/daughter relationship had been different. I believe I'll always wish for that. And occasionally, when I catch glimpses of the beautiful relationships shared by my friends and their mothers, I might feel that ugly envy and anger. It's not personal, it's just me acknowledging that I still wish for something most children are automatically given simply because they are born.

Today, I can admit this. And quite honestly, I no longer feel I am less of a person because I wish for something I cannot have. However, I can also admit that there are many things my mother gave me that other children are not given, and for those things, I am grateful. So on this Mother's Day, I give tribute to the woman who bore me--the person who is healthy and alive, but slipping away from our reality daily.

Dear Mom,

I'm writing to let you know of the many positive things I have learned from you which have enriched my life. Though most of the learning was stressful--I like to do everything myself, I don't like instructions, and I'm always certain I can do things better than everyone else--you resolutely continued to teach me the things I needed to learn.

You taught me to cook. Today my methods and choice of foods are vastly different from yours, but I learned about baking, and measuring, and stirring, and kneading, and how some foods mix well but others don't. I learned to preserved fruits and vegetables, and make jam, and dry foods. You taught me to experiment, to find out for myself what foods taste good to me. You helped us learn about nutrition and tried to impress on us the importance of growing a garden. 

You taught me to sew, and knit, and crochet. You allowed me to take that knowledge and adapt it to my abidexterity, rather than insisting I use just one-handed direction. When my finished products showed more uniform stitches than those which had to be turned with each row, you encouraged me to enter them in contests and shared my glee when my entries beat out those of more experienced knitters and crocheters. You showed interest in my next project, provided me with materials and encouragement, and made certain I knew you were proud of me.

You recognized my aptitude in academics. You encouraged me to read and write. My earliest memories find you reading to me daily. You made certain I had access to books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and academic magazines. When you found me reading the classics, you bought more for me. You made certain I learned and spoke with proper grammar. You told me from the time I was a child that I would attend college and graduate. 

You paid for music lessons on a shoestring budget. It was vital to you that I be given the best training you could find. You recognized that I had unique ability and did all that you could to foster it. I was chosen to learn the violin and given my grandfather's instrument. You allowed me to practice at 5:00 in the morning when I know you wished for more sleep. Somehow, on a farmer's salary, you squeezed out enough extra money to send me to music camps and clinics. 

You taught me to clean and do laundry and care for myself. Through you and Dad, I learned the value and satisfaction of work. You taught me to budget money, to provide for my needs, and to use all that I could spare to help others. 

There were some things about our lives that both of us have said we wish had been different. But there are so many things you did for me that were life-affirming and wonderful. Jill Churchill has said: "There is no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one." Thank you for discovering some of those "million ways" and giving me many gifts which helped me to become the person I am today. 

I love you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day.


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