Last updated on January 31, 2023
Lots of grief today. One year ago today—on the day after our Theophany house blessing—I was still full of wobbly-hope that despite new conflict with my mom and siblings that we’d make it through, as a family.
My mom was staying with the children and I. She’d had a bad bout of COVID, I’d found her incoherent and unable to walk on her own, bringing her home and caring for her. We had both taken medical leave from the small agency where she was a social worker and I worked as a hospice nurse.
I can’t explain how on every level I hoped. The little girl inside me craved my mom’s approval, and presence and love. The grown up woman still craved my mom’s approval, understanding and love.
Even after so much water under the bridge in my family-of-origin I always hoped that the extra-work i had done on my side of things would make up for whatever partial-healing she’d been able to find herself. I thought I could fix us all if I was honest enough and strong enough and recovered enough.
All that changed one year ago, tomorrow. When the children and I got home from church my mom had cleared out all her things, leaving my house without a word. With the help (or insistence?) of my siblings she’d gotten on a plane and flew to my sisters house.
This was precluded by two or three weeks by my last violent outburst. I’d overheard my sister telling my mom to “watch out for Elise. She’s just angling to take advantage of you.” The betrayal and pain rammed me like a freight train.
I asked my sister to leave my home. She refused. I tried to force her to leave…screaming, cursing, just losing it.
I kept repeating “I know I’m having a trauma response. But I don’t care. I know I’m the canary in the coal mine…that I’m ruining everything. But I’ll be damned if I let this insanity go on any longer in my own house.”
The police were called.
No one pressed charges.
My mom immediately left with that sister.
And returned a week later.
Apologies were said. And accepted. I thought.
But it was just the eye of the hurricane.
In my boundaries email I said “the truth is our family is broken and it has been for a long time.” But the deeper truth is; whatever we were we were not a family.
Today my parents are strangers to me. And I’m finally free. And freer every day.
The realization has crept up on my this past year that I was not only hopeful for my mom’s approval I was still enslaved to it. In my childhood monitoring her every mood and desire had helped me survive. In my adulthood this survival instinct became an albatross around my neck.
What I hadn’t understood until she was very-gone from my life was that she participated actively in KEEPING that “relationship” going with me. And separately with all my siblings.
The “your my best kid” love-bombing she dished out was handed out to each of us, ensuring each of us would remain loyal and addicted to her, and alternately antagonistic to each other. The only time my siblings and I communicated with each other with kindness and respect was while my mom was too sick to keep spinning tales to each one of us individually. As soon as she got well and began communicating with each of us again…it all fell apart.
Of course she’d done this with each of us and our dad for the 30-some years they were married. Not one of us had the same childhood as the other as she kept us all spinning separately, keeping secrets from each other, and loyal to her alone!
Until her illness and recovery last year I hadn’t seen how she’d never stopped. All these years she’s kept spinning tales, twisting the content of conversations and “just between you and me” confidences. That, to her, is mothering.
The past year since she’s been gone completely (to be clear, I enforced no contact after she left…she’s tried many times to go back to “normal”) I’ve felt the old patterns lose more force in my daily life than in any previous season of my adult life.
Yet. While those are the facts.
My heart still breaks. And the tears still fall.
No one has died. But by setting firm, grown-up boundaries and making grown-up decisions without consulting the family-oracle, I’ve been going through a whole ‘nother level of loss and grief.
Yes, I have honored my mom as best as I can. I went to see her after a recent accident. It was oddly anticlimactic and empty. Without any script to follow there wasn’t much to discuss.
Towards the end of our visit she said “I’m so proud of you.” And it just sounded like words without much meaning.
After wishing for my mom’s approval for my entire life I no longer had a smidgeon of longing left.
When I was a teen at my 5th or 6th boarding school I saw a counselor for short time. I remember her saying to me after I’d outlined a quick introduction of myself. “Well, we need to work on grieving the loss of your mom and dad.” Immediately I blacked out. “I really don’t have parents do I?”
Seems my heart and my head are finally in the same place. I’m sad. And stronger for it.
PS. I’m incredibly grateful for our house blessing. The “joyful sorrow” story has just as much joy as sorrow in it for me today. This is the sorrow part.
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