Saturday, August 04, 2007

If My Mother Were Alive Today She'd Be 68...

So, since I am 50, that means my mother had me when she was 17. But, wait, it also means my mother got married at 15. Think about it.

It was 1957 in Salt Lake City, Utah. My mother was the oldest of 5 kids. Her parents were terrible drunks. I mean awful. Long weekend binges when they'd disappear and leave her in charge. She was deeply damaged from her parents behavior, in a way her siblings were not. She got the brunt of it.

So. She married at 15 to escape her home. Well, and for awhile she loved my father. He was two years older. They both graduated from high school, but with a family to raise. By the time my mother was 22 she had three kids and was divorced. A few years later she married again and had another child.

Over the years my family moved from Salt Lake City to Idaho to Wisconsin, to Texas, and finally to Illinois. During the years we lived in Idaho and Wisconin my mother was deeply depressed and addicted to valium. In those days the doctors did not know valium was addictive. She eventually went cold turkey and got off valium.

She went to work in Dodge County Wisconsin working with families with autistic children, then at a mental health hospital. She also worked with addiction and drug abuse.

Eventually her second marriage fell apart. For lots of reasons. She was not an easy person to live with, too much damage from her childhood made her fragile. And my step dad was an alcoholic (no surprise there, family systems being what they are). So. The marriage ended.

My mother lived and worked for many years in Chicago managing a bridal store. Then, shortly after I married, she returned to SLC to care for her dying father. She lived there for 7 years and then returned to Chicago. Unfortunately she moved in with me, under the auspices of helping me care for my two children,a newborn, and a four year old. It was a horrible situation. My mother's depression returned. She was a great burden on me, not because of her depression per se, but because she began to criticize me. My parenting. How I ran my home. How I spent my money. And, because I wouldn't buy everything she wanted. It put me right back into therapy...

Eventually she moved out. A friend from SLC moved to Chicago to be her roomate. It was a great choice. This friend was a quirky as my mother, and as brilliant. My mom was indeed brilliant, with a great sense of humor. She would have been somthing if she hadn't been hurt like she was. Well, she still was something. Despite her own damaged self she still did a pretty good job raising me. I mean I had a lot of work to do to become healthy, but it's all relative. Given what she had to work with, she did the best she could.

Over the years I made my peace with my mother. She remained very difficult to get along with. At any moment I might say something that she'd percieve as a slight, and that would be it, she wouldn't talk to me for months. Some say my mother was Borderline Personality Disorder. I think there is great truth to that. At the end of her life she had managed to create a very small safe world in her apartment. She had macular degeneration and heart problems and rhumatoid arthritis and, from a blodd transfusion she was HIV positive (non-progressive). For years she told my brothers and me that she was dying. It got to the point that we didn't take her seriously. I thought for certain she'd out live us all.

But she didn't. She died of a massive heart attack on Sept. 21, 2004, sometime in the middle of the night. Her room mate found her in the morning. It was very sad and tragic. I was able to get there before the body was removed and say some prayers over her. I can still see it my minds eye, her room mate and me praying for the repose of her soul.

Later one of my brothers told me that he had talked to her just the day before. She called to say that she was very sick, but she would be all right. My brother said, "That should have been my first clue. Always before it was about her dying, and she never did. Then that time she said she'd be all right...I should have known."

My mother told me, a few years before her death, that she wanted to be cremated. I was not to get the remains back and there was to be no service, no flowers. She wanted flowers while she was alive, not after she died.

Well. I simply could not do that. After her death I did have her cremated. I called my brothers, and her brother and told them her request. I suggested we do something else. I wondered if we could bury her remains in SLC with her father. Actually this cemetary is on the side of the mountain over looking the entire SLC valley. Many of my relatives are buried there. Anyway, the whole family agreed. So we made a trip out west, later in the Spring. The day arrived in SLC was cold and stormy, snowing. I worried that my mother would hate me for all eternity because I did not follow her wishes. But the day we buried her the sun was shining, trees and flowers in bloom, temperature perfect. I took that as a sign that she was pleased. Her remains are in the same plot as her father. Next to them is her mother and one of her sisters. I like to think that their lives have been healed in the afterlife and all is well.

On this day, I remember my mother. We had a complex relationship. Not the kind of mother-daughter relationship I always wanted. But when I realized that there was no way to ever have that I was able to accept my mother for who she is, was. In many ways she died for me year before her actual death. So I mourn what might have been. I rejoice what was. And I hope she is happy at last.

17 comments:

Jan said...

Mompriest, thank you for sharing about your fragile, funny, brilliant, difficult mother. How alcoholism affects so many lives. You had a hard childhood moving so much and with an unpredictable mother, who was always struggling. When did you realize God's presence in all of this? You are the caring and strong woman you are because of how you grew through it all. Thanks be to God.

mompriest said...

Jan, you are so correct, about God. I was keenly attuned to God my entire life. God was who I leaned into, trusted, the "One" who watched over me and kept me safe. I prayed every night at bed time. I was deeply connected to my image of God. So. I believe that it is truly by the grace of God that I found a way to be (and become) healthy. Indeed. Thanks be to God.

Barbara B. said...

Thank you for sharing about your mother. I think your courage and insight are remarkable.

mompriest said...

My courage and insight are the benefit of some incredible therapy and therapist. I was very confused for a long time, as one would expect.

But I am also living proof that hard work and good therapy and faith in a living loving God can bring one to wholeness - for which I am grateful. Don't you think?

Diane said...

yes, thank you for sharing the journey for you and your mom... you show much wisdom, and mercy in the way you write.

Kievas said...

I'm glad you were able to accept her for who she was...thanks for sharing your story.

Jan said...

Mompriest, you wrote "But I am also living proof that hard work and good therapy and faith in a living loving God can bring one to wholeness - for which I am grateful."

That is also how I feel about my life. I have been so blessed.

mompriest said...

Jan, indeed.
kievas, me too. It's part of the healing process, at leas it was for me.

lj said...

This is a beautiful post and honest tribute. Thank you for sharing.

Katherine E. said...

Oh, I love this post, mompriest. So much wisdom here...thank you. Your blog is one of my favorites, by the way.

mompriest said...

Thank you, lj and katherine e.

Mary Beth said...

Very beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Serena said...

What they all said. Different issues between my mother and I, but much of the same process for me in accepting, forgiving, therapy and faith. Thanks for sharing.

the reverend mommy said...

I still think about "that which might have been" and I mourn. It's sometimes less painful to forgive what WAS than to give up those dreams that might have been.

(o)

mompriest said...

yes. Thank you for understanding.

revabi said...

Just beautiful and must have been in a way difficult to write. So glad you buried her ashes where you did. So glad you resolved with yourself so much with her.

What a woman she was, a survivor of so much. Perhaps one day one day....
Thinking of you.

mompriest said...

Thanks Abi. Grace can lead us to wholeness regardless of the challenges life brings.

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