Wednesday, January 4, 2017

no room in society for this kind of grief


Before we even begin, let's just breathe for a moment. Can we? Inhale, drawing that breath all the way down, filling all the space. Then hold it. Count to yourself up to seven slowly, then let it out a little at a time until it feels like everything is gone.

Do that a few times, then we'll go on.

I'm being serious.

Posts like this one are draining to read, I know.

Trust me when I tell you that they're even harder to write.


I also wanted to preface what I am about to write with a warning of sorts.

My words, they're not for everyone. There are a great many people in this world who don't quite know what to do with my experiences or my willingness to share them. Some of them insist that I'm somehow mistaken or wrong, that things surely couldn't have been the way that they were. I've had family members tell me that I was a liar before. I'm sure that it wasn't the last time. I've grown accustomed to what others think of me. Their words, their accusations, their glares that could bore holes through walls...I've gained immunity. Get hurt enough by people you love and you develop these mechanisms, I suppose.

There's a price to pay for writing, and it's a price I'm willing to accept in exchange for the necessity of this exercise. I need to write these words. They need out of my head.

And so, if what I am saying doesn't resonate with you, that's okay.

If my experiences don't mesh with yours, that's okay.

If what I say might seem harsh and vastly different than all that you know, that's okay. In fact, let me say congratulations. I don't wish for people to understand where I've been. I just wish for those who don't to respect my story, my life, my experiences.

This might, and hopefully will, look a lot different than the mother/daughter stories you've lived or read or been told.

Maybe this isn't for you.

For those who understand, this is for you as much as it is for me.

Perhaps it is the changeover of the year, the turning of the pages on the calendar. Perhaps it is the season, the one where we're all told that we are supposed to be surrounded by loving and supportive family members and, gasp, happy. Perhaps it is the uncertainty that lingers in the air now like an oppressive fog, makes us reach out for something with which we can firmly root ourselves.

I don't know what the reason is. In fact, I'm not even certain that my observations are wholly legitimate ones. I know that so much of the way I see the world is shaped by the lenses I wear. I see things differently than most people do or ever will.

Regardless, it seems, from my perspective at least, that there is an abundance of things out there in the interwebs about mothers and daughters and the ties that bind them. More than ordinary. More than I've grown accustomed.

Or, perhaps it is just because as time marches forward, more and more of my contemporaries are joining this club. We get older, our parents get older. Well, their parents get older.

Mine never will.

So, maybe it is that we've become older and the natural consequence of our collective aging is the loss of our parents, or at least the impending loss of them. Or, at a minimum, the realization that parents won't live forever, even if once when we were very small, they seemed so sturdy and strong.

Nevertheless, there's an ample supply of these articles and posts and poems and memes in my newsfeed at the moment. I wish sometimes that there was a way to shut out the things in social media that can harm us most deeply, but there isn't.

Besides which, it's only a half-hearted wish. I wouldn't elect to remove myself from the world, even if it protects me to do so. I'm there, eyes wide open, even if they're sometimes filled with tears.

And for me at least, the most damaging things that float through my screen aren't the ones that most people would think. They're quite the opposite, in fact.

The posts about gratitude for mothers, about how women I know and love and respect proclaim to all online that they are who they are because of the strength of their mothers. About how their mothers taught them everything they know about love and family and relationships and how they wouldn't know where they'd be without these women guiding them.

Well, they might be sitting here writing this post, for one.

I push away the bitterness that rises up in my throat when these posts drift by. I try not to be envious of this thing that they have or at least claim to have with their mothers. I struggle with it.

I wish I had those things.

I didn't.

And now, because of the finality of death, there is no chance remaining.

My mother has been gone over three years now. She'd long before stopped being maternal. For too long, the roles reversed and I was trying to help and guide her through the world, shielding her from the things I didn't want her to know, frustrated at my abundant failures.

I know this role now, and I know it well, as the mother of two adolescent daughters myself.

I don't want them to ever be in the place that I was. I don't want that.

I fight with every cell in my body to make sure that they'll never have to experience the things I've lived.

And still, there are no guarantees in life.

I'm certain that when my mother was young, she wanted things to be different than they were. I know that she wanted them to be different than they were at the end, but virtually nothing about her reality (or mine at that time, if I'm being frank), was within the grasp of my control. Anyone who knows me now or knew me then knows that I tried.

I tried.

I tried so goddamn hard.

For nothing.

I made promises to my dying father that I would take care of her.

The only thing he ever asked of me towards the end was for her to be looked after. He wanted assurances that she would be okay in this world without him and she wasn't and no matter what I tried, I couldn't make it be.

There is so much more to the story, one that still, after all this time, trickles out in tiny pieces.

I loved my mother.

I hated my mother.

Those two feelings existed in my life simultaneously. For years.

And when she took her last breath, over a thousand miles away from me, there were tears of sadness and loss and tears of relief.

And no one, least of all me, ever knows quite what to do with that combined reality.

I've been shamed for it, mocked for it, and worse.

Trust me when I say I've beat myself up for it sufficiently.

So much about our society is illusion based. The Rockwellian paintings of how life is supposed to be. The notions of the virginal bride and the faithful marriage and the easy pregnancies and planned number of children. The health, the perpetual youth. The picket fence and the well behaved, but occasionally naughty dog. The gradual rise in career, the picture perfect holidays. The fond relationships with our parents based on gratitude for our solid upbringing and unending support, where they are allowed to grow old.

And sure, maybe some people have those things.

But a lot of us don't.

And when we lose a parent who wasn't what society said she was supposed to be, what other people were given, what we needed, that grief is compounded and twisted and manipulated and complicated.

The day after she died, I wrote about her.

Within hours, a message was sitting in my inbox, from a family member.

The words, how dare you.

I don't expect people to understand. I don't ask for their forgiveness for whatever it is that they believe I've done. I know my truth and I walk in my truth and I write my truth, even knowing what will come.

Instead, I wish that they, and that the rest of this world, could understand that we never really know the whole story.

Sometimes people lie.
Sometimes people manipulate your emotions.
Sometimes mental health issues cloud everything.

Sometimes what you think you understand has just been manufactured, packaged and screened for an audience of one.


I know that she wouldn't have chosen to be the way that she was, if she'd had the choice.

I know that she didn't mean to hurt me in all the ways that she did, or I at least have to be willing to believe that because the alternative is simply too awful to bear.

I know that I wish I had only fond memories.

I know that I wish I didn't cringe every time another post comes into my line of sight.

I know that no matter how much I fight the envy, I envy those who have functional relationships with their mothers.

These are my demons.

And I'm not alone.

I know that there are many more people out there in this world than might ever admit who struggle in these ways. I know that their silence is often intended because it's easier to pretend that things were fine and so you pretend to mourn the loss of the parent everyone thinks you were given.

I know.

I see you.

This one is for you as much as it is for me.

So, to all those out there who can thank their mothers for teaching them coping mechanisms, for teaching them how to firmly draw boundaries, for teaching them that to survive, sometimes they need to eliminate their own flesh and blood from their lives entirely, I salute you.

You aren't alone.

And neither am I.


  1. You are such a brave woman. I admire you.

  2. Every single word of this. For both of my parents. Thank you.


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