“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

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.