June is the month of the parents for me, and this past week, it arrived in concentrated form, even though both my mother and father passed away many years ago. Father's Day came out on June 17th this year; and my mother was born on June 18. Since his passing, it's been easy enough to reminisce fondly about my dad, warts and all. He was a character to be sure, but I largely made peace with him even before his death.
However, until recent years, remembering my mother was likely to put me to bed for a few days. She was—to quote the King of Siam in the old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. referring to the headstrong British schoolteacher of the royal children—"a very difficult woman, and much more difficult than generality." I could get lots of agreement on that statement and could even provide compelling evidence, but I think I'll save that for a worksheet and tell you what I've realized about my mother instead.
As I said, it has been a simpler matter to resolve my issues about my father in spite of our disagreements and my judgments. This isn't because I'm highly evolved and have done tons of work on my "daddy stuff," but rather because I never doubted his love for me. Pearl Skolnick was another story...and a story it is!
My mother was sick and confused, and I was sick and confused in her presence. I lived in fear and resentment of her; Alternately I tried to win her love and approval, and tried to blow her off. Ours was a crazy tango between two frightened people (depression is fear; anger is fear; resentment is fear) who wanted to love each other, who ultimately did love each other, and did not know how to live sanely out of that love.
When my mother's surgeon called to tell me that she had stopped breathing, and asked if I wanted to put her on a vent, I said I didn't know. That was partially true; because she wouldn't fill out the DNR statement at the hospital, I had no idea if she wanted life support or not. (After she died, in her bedroom, I found her signed and dated Living Will, which she had never shared with me. How very like her; this was the ultimate in passive aggression, I believed at the time.)
My real answer, the answer of my heart, was "no." I didn't want her life supported, only mine. I couldn't wait for my mother to die so that I might live; I'd been praying for this moment for years.
The doctor said I had a minute to decide. I called my friend, the physician, who had been slated to go with me that day to the hospital and decipher her charts. She advised, "Put her on the vent; she's going to die anyway." I was about to call back when I got the second phone call: too late. Decision made without me. My vote didn't count.
I killed my mother: is that true? No, I can't know that with any certainty. Can I know she would have survived on life support, or that her living longer would have been for her highest good? Absolutely not.
Can I know that she didn't consciously check out?
I tried to kill myself for years, believing what I thought about my mother. I was an inept serial killer, attempting to snuff myself out and make myself wrong for living at all. But I didn't kill my mother; I am not that powerful, to end someone's life with a wish.
Today, for the first time, it occurs to me that my mother both lived for me, and died for me. Without her, I would not be this, now. Without her death just as it happened, I would not be this, now.
This, now, is good...very good.
Thank you, Mommy. Thank you for this, and for all of it.
Happy birthday...to us.
P.S. Got Mom? Transformational Inquiry: Working on Mothers and Others is a handbook for navigating your relationship with your mother, with 73 pages of exercises and insights. Let this practical guide help you to heal your past as you unravel your most stressful thoughts about the parent you think you know so well.