Aspects of My Mother
. . . that I have glimpses of and have many questions about:
The beautiful woman I see in the picture is having a wonderful time with her friends, sisters and boy friends, she is dressed to the hilt in fashion and her hair is long and gorgeous, and she has a wonderfully free sense about her.
She is enjoying herself here and I wonder why I have never seen her — this woman in the photo — have never seen my mother that carefree and fun-loving. Where has she gone and why is she hiding?
I wonder for all the years that we have shared that there is something very alive missing between us. As a very intuitive child, I know she is holding back some vibrant and powerfully present part of herself from me and I am angry with her for withholding it. I am angry at her for withholding that person from me to enjoy and love, and to be loved by.
It’s as if I have looked for her all my life and have never been able to find her, except for in those intriguing pictures with her cohorts before she was married. To spend my life angry at her for this, something I surely do not understand I am doing, has created a huge unspoken chasm between us — one that gets carried out in many different ways which I never understand — like the always present yet unspoken questions, “Why can’t we talk?” “Why do I feel like I can’t trust you?”
The hidden woman she keeps secreted is like a shadow between us.
Anger for me has always been a very hidden and elusive emotion. Until I hit my 40’s, I had no conscious experience of anger until one day in early June and I was driving east toward Philadelphia on Rt 70. Both sides of the rustic two-lane highway were strewn with wildly blooming azaleas and rhododendrons of every hue. It was breathtaking, and in just that one moment of awareness, I felt my shoulders on fire and realized that this was anger emanating from my body — my first true understanding that I knew anger.
I have no idea what precipitated that episode, however from that moment on, I kept exploring my anger and how it showed itself to me somatically within my body. Soon I felt it — the deep burning in my belly and the tight clenching of my throat.
It was the time of my mother coming to stay with my family and me to recover from a serious illness, something with which we felt we could help her with and positively affect her.
Fortunately, I had no idea of the repercussions, or I may not have done it. It had last been when I was 17, when I had moved away from home and entered college, that I had lived with my mother. Now years later, I was not prepared to meet what would unfold between us.
She was very needy which I expected, but I was not prepared for a woman who was not interested in forming her own life or relationships as she got better. My mother was depressed, not from anything concerning my family, or me but because she had always been depressed, even when I was a child, and in retrospect, I now understand that I really never truly realized that, nor did any of my siblings. We saw what we wished to see, a woman who was Mother, and in our illusions someone who was here to nurture us even as we grew older.
I was not equipped to take on her unhappiness, being overwhelmed with my own that I was so desperately attempting to deny. How could I deal with it when she was in my face, and I kept thinking, “Isn’t she supposed to be content with her life as she gets older?”
“Why is she so unhappy and not willing to do anything to help herself?” And, “Why am I so angry at her?” So angry that I treat her as I would a naughty child! I am so angry about the fact that she cannot find her own happiness!
Looking back now, a few years later and with much greater perspective, I can detect, and pinpoint the fact, that within the first six years, she made a decision to stay with my father in a marriage that she felt imprisoned by for many reasons, namely her children. I remember her saying to us that she had determined she would make it through marriage “ . . . even if it kills me!”
Therefore, I never once saw my mother as a person who was content in any way with her life. I never saw her truly happy! And that really is such a miserable message to send to children.
As a child, and not knowing, I am sure I took on her unhappiness, I tried everything in my power to help her. I’m sure my siblings all have their own version of how they did also. Finally, in my teens, something inside me snapped and I decided “no more” — it was there one eventful day that my mother demanded, in her undemanding way, that I do something which would require me to back down about a problem, and for which in the first time in my life, I said “No” — it just came out, “No!” I had never before denied her anything that I had until that moment. For some reason, I just did not have anything left to give and I said “No”.
She was so shocked — only one half as much as I — that I could see it upset her terribly and she, with as much courage as she could muster, and with tears in her eyes as she realized that something devastatingly important has just occurred, and that things between us would never be the same, backed off as I stomped away.
I had taken an irretrievable step and we both knew it.
It was then that I knew anger towards my mother. The woman who in just moments before, I loved, adored and respected — thought of her as a saint. And now, in this one moment, on the other side of it, I had lost all that for her and it was replaced with revulsion and contempt.
Now, here she was, in my face years later. All of the buried and unresolved contempt and revulsion surfaced like flotsam on top of the water I am now barely treading in my own life.
My frustration to not be like my mother, — not be depressed or unhappy is floating up against my face and it is dark and dirty and shaming. How could I be here in the same place as she? Am I not more educated and am I not a thoroughly modern woman? My shame, embarrassment, and frustration of being in the exact same place overwhelmed me. The years of “work” denying and judging to avoid repeating her mistakes, reveal I had gone nowhere, but in fact had only circled round to the same place, ground zero.
Ah, yes, I wish so much that my mother could have somehow lived out that other life that she appeared to be happy with before I ever knew her. I would wish “that” for her and I wish that for myself now.
Now, years later and with a great deal of personal work undertaken, I am seeing more and more of who I — that child was, and I have been able to assist that child’s differentiation and development furthering my own adult individuation.
Now I can still know that some of “my” anger is my mother’s anger that I agreed to carry for her. When it comes forth there is an understanding that I am granting that child of mine to release some of her burdened sack of my mother’s frustrations and dashed hopes.
In my own attempt to engage in other relationships, the one with myself must still come first as I continue to realize the difference between that which is “me”, and that which is not.
I see who I have thought myself to be, and it no longer fits for me to be that. So I lift the mantle of my Mother’s burden like a yoke, returning it from where I took it — humbly asking for forgiveness from her and all which I have affected, by taking what was never mine to take in the first place.
At the same time I enlist all my compassion for the child I was and which still resides within me who was only doing what she knew how to do out of her love for her mother.