Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dear A,

So, you asked for my advice. I'm sort of flattered and sort of wondering if you are in your right mind. But...anyway.

The problem being whether you should or should not go visit your Grandmother with whom you have a rather rocky relationship with and not a lot of respect for, but she is perhaps dying.

My answer is easy.

Yes. You need to go see her. As you may already know, I had a terrible relationship with my Mother and she disowned me when I was 24. She died when I was 35 and pretty much died hating me. This is the part where all you good hearted people come rushing in to tell me that OF COURSE, she didn't hate me. She was my Mother, how could she hate her own child?

Well, it felt that way. At any rate...when my Sisters were fairly certain that she was near her death bed (and they were SO wrong, my Mother lived for months after she saw me...), they decided that they needed to let me know so that I could come back home to Iowa to see her and hopefully we could reunite and she could die knowing that all was well with us.

Best laid plans...

They either didn't know my Mother or they didn't know me. She was only prepared to see me if I came with hat in hand and told her that I was ready to make my confession to the nearest priest and go back to being a straight girl. I was very certain that I was not going to say or do any such thing.

So, the whole thing backfired and it was horrible.

So, A...you are now thinking that I am some sort of a sadist, aren't you? That I am leading you to go to see your Grandmother and it will all end badly and you will feel terrible.

Well, that could happen, yes. Or not. We don't know, do we?

The thing is, A...you need to go see her no matter how it ends. Because you will never forgive yourself or understand what happened when you are my age if you don't.

It could go badly, like mine did. I went to see my Mother and she sat staring at me waiting for me to hit my knees and beg her forgiveness. When I didn't, she coldly looked away from me and refused to say another word for the duration of my half hour visit. Instead, my Sisters awkwardly began to ask me inane questions about my work life (avoiding my personal life like gangbusters) and I woodenly answered them, my stomach churning as I sat in the bedroom that had been my parent's room, in the house that I grew up in, had a lovely childhood in. After a half hour, I said that I guessed I should leave. I walked to my Mother, leaned down and said, "I love you, Mother."

She looked me straight in the eye and said exactly five words to me: Don't forget to get mammograms.

She died of breast cancer a few months later without restoring me to my inheritance and not saying another word about me.

And my life, which was already spiraling towards a nasty addiction to drugs and alcohol, spiraled even faster. Because, really? The ultimate question was answered for me.

If your own Mother doesn't love you, how can you be worthy of anyone elses love, including your own?

And then something crazy happened. I came out the other side of the pain. Because it was the only way, you see. I had to either walk through the fire or be consumed by it and I chose the first. It was difficult and I still have lots of trouble with self love. I also have relationship issues, trust issues. I pretty much suck big large at love.

But...remarkably, what saved me was that I realized something. A truth that was difficult. I realized that maybe, just maybe...my MOTHER was lacking in something and I wasn't. That maybe, perhaps, this was on HER and not on ME. That her lack of acceptance and love of her own child said so much more about her than it did about me. About her weakness and her plain...shittiness as a person.

It took me a long, long time to let myself see that. Because, as her child, I wanted her to be right. I felt that the only answer was that she was right and I was wrong somehow.

Having a child of my own helped too. I was a little worried that I would not have enough love in my soul to be a good Mother, but by that time I was older and wiser and had realized that the fault was in her stars, not in mine. So, I had my child.

And now, I look at my daughter and I cannot even fathom disowning her for any reason. I can't foresee anything that she could do that would cause me to turn my back on her forever, to disown her from our family, her rightful place.

And yes, it used to infuriate me. Now, no. It doesn't. Now, I feel about my Mother the way I feel about racists. They do infuriate me, yes...but mostly I feel a sense of deep pity for their ignorance.

Yes, I have come full circle. I now pity my Mother. Because she lost ME. And you know, I wasn't worth letting go like that.

It has taken me DECADES to wallow through all that shit, A.

So, do me a favor and spare yourself. Go see your Grandmother. Maybe it will be truly wretched. Maybe you will come away feeling as if you were burned in a bad fire. Maybe your throat will feel scorched and your pain will be flying all over the place and you will feel as if you have no choice but to let it go or find a big suitcase to put it in until you can look at it with proper attention.

Or maybe, just maybe...it will be wonderful. Maybe you will be so glad that you went. Maybe you will ride home with tears rolling down your cheeks, feeling thankful that you had this time with her. This goodbye.

Either way, if you don't expose yourself to it...you will hate yourself for hiding from it somewhere down the line.

So, brace yourself and reach inside and find that piece of strength that will walk your legs through to her.

You might not thank me tomorrow or the next year or the next. Maybe not for a decade or two or three. But, eventually, you will be glad that you faced her. That you stood with a kind, but firm face and didn't fold, but didn't strike either.

I dare you to do this. And come back and tell us about it, if you can. If not, then...yes...put it away somewhere for now.

But, do it. Do it. Now.


Karen said...

Love your answer.

Jacquelineand.... said...

You give good, honest, advice...not 'easy' advice.

Your mother gave away a precious jewel when she left you by the wayside.

t okaku said...

Great advice from the voice of experience.

thegrumpygirl said...

Maria, thank you for your reply. Thank you for taking that time. And as to why I wanted advice from you: Because you look back at this experience with a couple of decades of distance. I've been talking to people roughly my own age, but that was exactly the kind of input I was lacking until now.

And as for being in my right mind: Never. ;)

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I think it was great advice indeed...

Frontier Mom said...

Wow...powerful advice. Go for it, A.

E said...

When someone who is dying of breast cancer says don't forget to get mammograms it could be her way of saying: don't end up like me, or take care of yourself, or this is all the concern I can muster right now.

Maybe it was the best she could do at the time.

We are not all able to step beyond lessons learned at home and in school about who and how to love.

e said...

Good advice, Maria. This especially:

"...you stood with a kind, but firm face and didn't fold, but didn't strike either."

That's how to let go of regrets.


megan blogs said...

I agree with what you said, Maria. I've been disowned by family members, too. While i still wish from time to time it were different, i also realized that their disowning me said more about them than it did about me.

A friend who's a nurse shared something with me she heard from one of the best nurses she ever knew: "There are times you will need to choose between pain and pain. Choose the pain that will not linger with regret."

For me, regret usually involves things i didn't do. I offered olive branches to those troublsome folks in my family, visited as i was able. In one case, there was a reparation of sorts, and our last conversation ended with a laugh, where BOTH of us laughed. In another, the person came round just before completely slipping into dementia. In the third, the person has chosen to remain obstinate and uncommunicative.

All three situations caused me untold heartache and pain. Like you, i walked through it. Today, i have peace about it. I did all i could do. While i might wish things ended differently, i have no regret for trying to set things right.

Wishing A all the best as she sorts this out.

the only daughter said...

It was your sharing your experiences coupled with my own experiences that led me to give similar advice to a friend recently.

Sound. Sage.

kj said...

For what it's worth, my Mother and I didn't talk for nine years because I am a lesbian. Then one day she said, I had a dream I might be wrong . What's the least I can do?

The least! My partner and I still chuckle over that. I responded , 'a cup of coffee'

So JB and I went to my parents house for a cup of coffee , and then came Easter dinner and then my father 's death and somehow everything was alright. I'm grateful because my Mother and I love each other and we are both lucky we made it past those nine years

I think the grumpy girl wants to go and now she knows she can protect herself as needed.

I'm sorry about your Mother, Maria. She lost out


Jocelyn said...

The fault did seem to be something in your mother, a fact that was obscured since you had sisters who could sort of "hang" in their relationships with her. That would definitely have made it seem like the fault was in you.

However, I'd say a part of that dynamic between you and your mom was your unwillingness to tolerate her version of "love" or what it required to remain in a relationship with her. That's actually a strength in you--not compromising just for the sake of hanging onto something hollow.

Anonymous said...

Per my brilliant mother 'The hard thing to do is almost certainly the right thing to do.'

Excellent advice. Ever think of writing an advice column??