Today would have been her 95th birthday.
When my brother called me early on that one morning in August 1999, to tell me that she had died in the night, I was relieved. Hugely relieved. It was over, I was free. Finally.
I have a memory of that day, of myself dancing, slowly swinging my body around by the open patio door, humming along to some imaginary music, raising my arms into the hot summer air. But maybe that was just in a dream. My boss at the time gave me a week off and warned me to take it easy, that no matter what, I would be shattered. It's the hardest experience, he warned me, the death of your mother. His words. Not mine. I wasn't shattered. Not then, not now, not once since her death.
There was no funeral, she had donated her body to science. She announced this decision the same way she always announced her threats, of starving herself to death, of jumping off the roof, in front of a train, down a bridge, swallowing ground glass, or sharpening the fruit knives. Nothing was ever without drama, nothing was ever normal. This one, she followed through. We did not stop her.
There was a short memorial service, siblings, a cousin, a neighbour from long ago, one of my brother's old school friends. As expected, my father didn't come.
For a child of an addict growing up is hard work. It marks you. It marked me, for life. Something sitting inside my chest that will never lift. Never allowing me to feel good enough. The smell of stale cigarette smoke coming from a woman makes me wish I could walk away. If I can, I run. But most of the time, I stay, try to be polite. Try to be good. Always trying to be good.
It has taken me years to understand that my mother had not simply been a careless addict but that she had been suffering beyond my comprehension. That all her angry rants, her harsh punishments of our never ending faults, her endless physical ailments, imagined or real, always headaches, back pains, colicky stomach, her inability to eat a proper meal while at the same time forcing us to finish what's on our plates, all her special diets and bottles of medicines on the kitchen window sill beside the full ashtrays, that all of that was part of something so much bigger.
I have no name for it, I cannot call it depression, sometimes I tend to call it PTSD. And under my breath, behind closed doors, I whisper, the war, the war. While just as easily, I could whisper, the nazi childhood, or, the glass ceilings all along her way, or, her 1960s unhappy housewife valium and martini days. Or. Or. Or.
But what I can say now, one month before my 63rd birthday, what I know with certainty is that it was not my fault. I played no part in it. I just happened to be one of her kids. And it has taken me, oh, so many years to understand and accept that.
Addiction is a disease. But
often we don’t see it that way. We see only the bad
behavior, the actions that wound and betray us. And yes, she did all that. And I admit that much. The wounds will never heal.
The photo is haunted with wounds, wounding, and woundedness. No wonder it takes us so long to understand that we were not to blame for the fact that a family member suffered beyond comprehension from addiction.ReplyDelete
Thank you. A bit older than you but much the same cycle of emotions over a lifetime. As a child, the fear and confusion. As a teenager, the anger. After her death, the relief, the guilt, the understanding, the compassion, the forgiveness. And finally the forgiveness for myself too.ReplyDelete
What a reminiscence. I suppose we all live with the specters of our childhood. It had to be hard for smart women in those years, when conventional society so severely limited their options.ReplyDelete
My mother was not an addict that I know of but so much the same. Threats of suicide all the time, the crying, the screaming. The anger. Headaches constantly. Surgeries to remove every organ one can have removed and still live. And when she did, no- there was no crash. I still struggle with guilt. Not for her behavior although she somehow always made me feel as if I was responsible for her happiness. (Impossible task.) I figured out years later how abusive even that was. What I feel guilty about is that I know that sometimes she was loving and yet, the older I got, the less I could love her.ReplyDelete
This morning, a day later, I realized why I found your photo so haunting. Your mother's eyes look very much like my mother's eyes.ReplyDelete
oh Sabine, with the exception of some parts that was my mother. mine did not threaten or complete suicide except through the slow death of smoking and TIAs, she wasn't an addict but her bedside table was full of uppers and downers. I remember the day I recognised all those pills...valium, seconal, tuinal, nembutal...I knew them as reds, christmas trees, and yellow jackets. I was shocked. all those lectures from our (doctor) father about drugs and he was providing mother with all of them. and the headaches. I saw my mother in the morning before school when she got up long enough to fix us breakfast and then again when she would emerge from her bedroom about an hour before my father got home, usually around 7 so dinner was always late. When I was 15, I switched to the more formal 'mother' which I called her til she died. she was selfish and self centered, complained constantly about everything, didn't like to be touched, and when I would try to snuggle up with her as a child on the couch she would push me away. later when we were older she didn't have time for her two daughters but thought the sun rose and set on the one son. there's more of course. by the time I was 20 and from then on there was little if any love left for her. by the time she died there was no one to mourn her. I cried when she died for about 10 minutes but it was not for loss of her but for the loss of any chance I would ever have the kind of mother I so desperately wanted as a child. the grown woman, me, was indifferent. I rarely dream about either of my parents (had just as crappy a relationship with my father until a stroke changed his personality). the last time I dreamed about my mother she showed up to criticize me about something and in my dream I just started shouting at her that she was dead.ReplyDelete
I'm lucky I guess, my mum was none of those things. She wasn't perfect but she was a good mum. My dad was the difficult one, always angry although now I understand why he was and you're right, it was never about us, it was about him.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you were able to come to that understanding as well, but it leaves marks, doesn't it? Wounds that never heal that find their way into our own children's lives.
My Dad was an alcoholic with a lot of rage. I know now how he came to be that man. We were actually able to make our peace with each other when I was an adult, and I'm grateful for that. I know also that none of the abuse was my fault.ReplyDelete
The wounds don't heal. They are a part of who we are. But we can own them, use them, accept that they make us unique. Forgiveness is never saying what an addict did to us was okay. It means walking away and letting the sin stay with the sinner. It was never about us.ReplyDelete
All of these comments resonate -- the power of your post. It resonates, too.ReplyDelete
Painful memories have a way of lingering always.ReplyDelete
Sometimes I just think---poor woman, all those kids. She wanted to stop but she had two more. Her cruelty, her drugs and alcohol, trying to numb the pain in her life. The damage stops with me.ReplyDelete
This is the hardest thing, of course it marked you. How could it not? But you broke that cycle with your own. You healed the next generation, even if you will never quite be able to heal yourself.ReplyDelete