A Glimpse into the Past

I had an interesting opportunity this past weekend to get a glimpse into my mother’s long-ago past.  She has a friend, Beverly, who she hasn’t seen in many, many years.  She is a friend who my mom met when she was 24 years old (and Beverly was 19) and had just moved to NYC from Cincinnati, OH.  They met and quickly became friends and roommates.

Beverly was pursuing a career in the theater on Broadway while my mother had moved to New York for opportunity in the business world.  This was a rare thing in those days (the 1940’s) for a woman especially.  But my mom was unusual for her day, having gone to college and studied business (one of only a few women in her department).  Then to make the decision to come East by herself was very daring.  Even today she wonders what she was thinking!

So, she and Beverly were fast friends.  I think Beverly was fun and exciting for my mom and my mom was an intellectual with many interests which intrigued Beverly.  They were good compliments to each other.

Even once they both got married and had children, their friendship remained.  I remember going to Beverly’s house up in Chappaqua many times when I was young.  In fact, there is a house near where I live now that I drive by quite often that always reminds me of her house from back then.  How funny the way some things stick in our minds.

Theirs was a “normal” friendship with its ups and downs.  They went through a low period in their friendship at one point and stopped speaking for a time, but then the friendship won out and they picked up where they left off.  But now, so many years later, age, time, distance, has kept them from seeing each other.

So, this past weekend, my mom and I made the trek up to Beverly’s home about 45 minutes away.  I hadn’t seen her in probably 35 years, if not more, but when she opened up the door, I would have recognized her anywhere.  Her hair was grayer and her frame more frail, but that was it.

Watching Beverly and my mom together was like looking back in time.  They obviously knew each other well and reminisced about their shared past.  Several times I would turn to my mom after Beverly said something about her and say “oh, you did that back then, too, huh?”

Watching two old friends come alive again in their youth helped to remind me that my mom had a life before she became my mother.  She was once young and vibrant with the hope of the future in her eyes.  She didn’t know where life would lead her or what challenges would be put in her way.  She was just like me when I was that age … looking toward the future with excitement and naivety with friends there to join in the journey!

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9 responses on “A Glimpse into the Past

  1. julianna

    My mom passed away on Wednesday morning at 8:59 am, March 14th, in the midst of her long battle with cancer. Exactly 1 day and 4 hours after the anniversary of my father’s passing 15 years earlier. I had the honor to be by her bedside leading up to her big transition, and to be with her as she released her final breath. She was surrounded by her children during the final hours of her life. We stroked her hair, massaged her hands and feet, rubbed her swollen belly, swabbed her parched lips with a tiny wet sponge, and told her how much we loved her over and over and over. It was an experience that left me all blown open to the mystery of life and filled with a wild awe at the transcendent force called love. In a family that has seen more than its share of sorrow, conflict, confusion and separation, finally here was an experience that united us all in a way that left no doubt that love is, in fact, stronger and more powerful than any other force.

    After a lifetime of confusion, doubt and regret – interlaced with great love, passion and deep family bonds, my mother at last made peace with life – and death – in her final days, and I was graced to be the one who shared the long final nights with her as she wrestled with her demons and prepared to move into the next adventure. My sister and I were on a schedule by her bedside, so that she was never alone, and I had volunteered to take the night shift. Fortunately all of the personal history between us was dissolved during the time we spent together last year, and by the time she passed on, we were just two souls sharing one of the most intimate gifts that life has to offer.

    No longer mother and daughter, no more regrets, disappointments or resentments. Just two hearts opening more and more as the great mystery of Death moved quietly into the room and waited patiently for her to accept his outstretched hand.

    Throughout my life, my mother always seemed moody, in and out of depression with a bit of a predisposition to narcissism, self-centeredness and much exaggeration. She was prone to temper tantrums and in general was hard to live with. But she could be warm and loving — and always insisted upon how much she loved me — though her mood-swings and emotional behavior were definitely more predominant.

    My mother could be extremely witty, however always quite insecure about her Philippine accent and lack of life experience. Bitterness and depression seemed to be her anchor. Her marriage to my father seemed to be a constant source of frustration and regret. Our relationship waned and finally fizzled as I grew into adulthood and middle-age. Finally, after much heart ache and forgiveness my mother and I enjoyed each other’s company during her final years, though mom didn’t really remember much from moment to moment. The irony of life.

    When my father died years ago my mother was understandably falling apart. By this time, I had painted a picture of her as this vicious, mentally ill woman…this crazy woman! What kind of woman was this? What kind of daughter was I to be thinking such thoughts?

    After a prolonged hospital stay and the discovery of her cancer. I was told that my mother probably also suffered from dementia. I really do believe to some degree that her dementia was somehow always lurking in her brain, perhaps already influencing her behavior many decades ago.

    Strangely enough, as both the cancer and the disease progressed and mom went into an assisted living home — she became generally more pleasant, even-tempered and positive. She smiled often, loved going to observe and chat with all the widowed men and charmed the heck out of most of the staff much of the time.

    She also had down days where she griped at her roommate whom she didn’t care for and asked about her grandchildren who she missed terribly. But all in all many of her days were good ones. She occasionally became very aware of all that she has lost – her freedom, her home, her husband, her financial struggles, her beloved pets, time not spent with her granddaughters – those times were indeed hard to observe her going through.

    However, last year, I was finally able to appreciate a gift I had received at birth but had never unwrapped. I transformed my relationship with my mother.

    My mother and I were at odds ever since I was a little girl. Blame it on personalities — Whatever it was, there was never any love lost between us because there was never any love.

    My teenage years were painful, the dysfunction went deeper than anyone could imagine. Due to other dynamics in our family, there were several factors at play which severely undermined my relationship with my mother until the two of us were almost strangers.

    My mother was just not the kind of woman who put her children first. She was never there for anything that I can recall. I would see other girls having a close loving relationship with their moms. I resented the fact that she was just not capable of that. I grew up feeling that I had no mother; I cooked my own meals, packed my own lunches, cleaned, and took care of my sister. I never had a childhood like the other kids had. I never felt she loved me. When I was old enough I told her that I didn’t respect her and that I would leave home as soon as I was old enough. I believe she resigned herself to the fact that her eldest daughter was lost to her. Over the years we stopped the cattiness and wars and settled into a kind of cold artificial politeness.

    When I got married, you can be sure my mother was not in the picture. I was on my own shopping for my dress, picking centerpieces and menus, and all the trials and tribulations of making a wedding. My mother showed up as a guest, late of course as always, cordially invited yet coolly welcomed. She watched from the sidelines as I married the man I had chosen as my husband and I made no attempt to hide my satisfaction at finally being free of her apron strings.

    For too many years, I deeply resented my mother, I unconsciously held her accountable for her inability to acknowledge the pain I felt she inflicted on me as a child.

    However, when my children were born I found her to be a much better grandmother than I ever imagined. She and my father were lovingly there for every step that each of my daughters took. Of course I would find fault in anything she ever did. With each passing day, unknowingly I was passing on my entrenched anger and resentment to the next generation, giving my children subtle vibes that their grandmother was really nothing special.

    Our favorite, time-honored tradition together consisted of getting into an argument, then analyzing our dysfunctional relationship, crying together, vowing to reform, and then blowing up at each other anew. Most of the time it was best not to have anything to do with each other at all. But I could tell she never gave up hope that one day I would come back to her and give her the pleasure of allowing her to be my mother in more than just a figurative sense.

    One day, a friend who I admire for living with such exuberance and joy, told me that she and her mother had always had a severely strained relationship. But one day she thought about the fact that her mother was getting older and would eventually pass on to another world. Suddenly she realized that she wasn’t comfortable with the status quo. She hated the thought of her mother dying as a stranger to her. So she did a good bit of praying, took a deep breath, and made a move toward reconciliation.

    It was a long process, she told me, but they both invested much time and effort and it paid off. Finally, she and her mother were able to find the love that had been lost between them for so many long years. A short while later, her mother passed away, and my friend felt very at peace with her mother’s death.

    “When I meet my mother in heaven,” my friend told me, “I know she will tell me, I love you and I’m proud of you’. And we will hug and embrace.”

    At first, her story didn’t move me. Very nice that she and her mom had reconciled, but me and mother? Forget it! Our relationship was beyond resuscitation; the patient was long dead. Besides, I was battle-weary from thousands of attempts to reconcile our differences and attempt to stoke the cold ashes of our “love,” searching in vain for even a single ember that could get the fire going.

    And then my father passed away, my marriage was falling apart and my mother lost her entire life savings due to all the money that was given to my family and never repaid. I blamed myself for the devastation that this caused both my mother and father. I couldn’t fix what had been done. As a terrible twist of fate resulted from my own failures, my daughters have now sadly become estranged to me.

    And in the lowest point of my own sadness and pain, I said to myself, “Why?” and thought about the message I had sent my own children and the tragedy of feeling orphaned despite having a real, live mother whose professed love for me I constantly spurned. And suddenly I imagined myself, with grown children, and wondered how they would treat me. After all, they had never seen a model of parental honor and respect in their home; what made me think my children would treat me any differently than I treated my mother? I deeply regret what I had unconsciously done.

    And I realized that my utter disregard for the respect and honor I was obligated to show my mother was creating a huge hole in the fabric of my spirituality. Even as I made excuses about why I wasn’t required to respect my mother (after all, ours was a “special circumstance”), deep down I knew my obligation was just as binding as anyone else’s. And the pain of this honest revelation drove me to give it one last try.

    So I flew my mother out to visit me.
    This time, we did things differently. This time we went no holds barred. She told of her pain and suffering and I told of mine. I willed myself to listen to her instead of refusing to let her venture onto certain topics that I had deemed taboo. I finally allowed her to tell me things about her personal life which suddenly put a new, heart-breaking spin on why she did the things she did as I was growing up. My anguished cry of “You were never there for me!” withered on my lips as I contemplated the woman who was unfolding before me. Now I acknowledged the truth: that she had truly struggled through an abusive childhood that left her broken.

    And then my father passed and she was forced to file for bankruptcy and lost everything she could barely keep her head above water. She was just afraid and only did what she thought at the moment was right. When I was a child she had never hated me or wanted to neglect me; she honestly was fighting to function day by day and only her love for her children had kept her going. And when I was an adult and she had financially lost everything because of decisions that involved my family, well she just understandably “shut down” and withdrew from me.

    Over forty years of pain melted away as we shared our disappointment, our rage, our insecurities, and our shame and heartache. I finally saw my mother as she truly was — a brave, loving person who was a lost soul, who lost everything, instead of the cruel, stingy monster I had made her out to be. We spoke for a very, very long time.

    We celebrated her birthday a short while later. I cannot properly describe to you the eagerness with which I sought out the perfect birthday gift for her — and the ecstatic joy I saw in her receiving it. For the gift was just a symbol of the real gift we had both received, a long overdue gift that had been waiting 40 something long years for both of us to unwrap.

    Today, I can honestly say that I had a mother. And my mother had a daughter. We actually loved each other. We could talk about things openly now and resolve problems like, well, like mothers and daughters normally do. We shared our tears and pain. We enjoyed our times together and missed each other when we were apart. We forgave each other. I finally had the privilege of finally showing my mother honor and respect on a daily basis. I listened to her, supported her, and left her loving messages on her answering machine. I bit my tongue when I knew my tone of voice was too strong. We both honestly acknowledged when a topic came up that triggered us back to our past struggles, and we moved on together. It was not easy, but then again, most worthwhile things in life aren’t easy. Now, when my mother and I interacted, there was a palpable positive energy between us; the bond of two people who cared deeply about each other. I wish my children could see it. My sister sees it. And I know God sees it.

    In the end her mind was slipping and her short term memory fading. However, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to heal our relationship in this world. I enjoyed the many months she spent with me last year making up for lost time.

    All of the little things and big things that used to upset her she no longer noticed. I didn’t have to worry about her obsessing about the things that used to consume her. She would say the funniest things and we were always laughing with her, not at her. She was extremely possessive of her purse and junk she managed to collect (yes, she managed to find “things” even in the hospital). Many times my sister and I would discuss breaking mom of her hoarding habits. To which we both agreed that there was no way to stop her. The stuff stays. Let her keep something familiar.

    I don’t make excuses for my mother’s past behavior, nor do I pine for another crack at a childhood with a June Cleaver sort of mother. What was simply remains in the past. In some strange way, the dementia seemed to have made her a more content person — probably a result of a combination of good drug therapy, a safe, controlled environment and her ever-changing brain.

    Things did get worse for mom in the end but we all worked hard to live day by day when it came to just making her happy. To stay positive and to model positive behavior in her presence. I recall when I was younger, how I use to consume so much energy fighting every word that she said – protesting her every thought, frustrating her further. However, I learned in the last few years that after love and forgiveness to just simply enjoy the present with her. Something I wish I could have learned earlier in my life.

    And so as the final days passed, I’ve come to see that my mother’s death was truly one of the greatest gifts she ever gave to me. In her dying, she allowed me to share in her confusion, regret, fear and doubt. She was perfectly and beautifully human in her vulnerability and need for comfort and support. By witnessing her final struggle to make sense of her life, to release the fears and regrets of a lifetime, I was given permission to step fully into the often confusing and stormy world where my own life plays out.

    While I like to say that I feel her spirit with me now, wh

  2. sheree

    I learnt to deal with my Mother after 40 years. Finally I just cut all ties and havnt spoken to her in almost 7 yrs. I just got so fed up with all the bullshit. Its hard on my relationship with my Dad and I seeing that we have always been close. But at 46 yrs of age it was time for me to put it to rest. It hasn’t been easy and I miss her about 5% of the time. But you know what she is a fuckin bitch and this is beyond repair. I am at a good place in my life right nown. No real regrets for the loss of her.

    1. motherrr.commotherrr.com Post author

      Sheree, we’re sorry to hear about your estrangement from your mother, but sometimes that is the road one needs to take to find peace. Sometimes with distance and time, relationships can eventually be repaired. Sometimes not. We are including the link to the Estrangement section on Motherrr.com in the hopes that you might find it helpful.

  3. M. Morgan

    While I was always close with my father, the normal bond I saw between my friends and their mothers never existed with my own mother. I was the youngest of three and from the time I was five I felt “different” due to the way she treated me as opposed to my older sister and brother. I spent more than half of my life trying to make a relationship with her and half trying to put space between me and my mother to avoid the pain of her remarks and the fighting. My siblings said nothing when she went on a tirade and I learned early it was easier to avoid her than confront her. As a teen, many of my friends would not come to my home due to the way she treated me. I didn’t get it. I got good grades, I didn’t get in trouble for fear of what would happen and yet I was the constant thorn in her side and often the object of her anger. As an adult I learned from relatives and acquaintances that she often told them things about me that were flatly untrue. Terrible things. She went so far as to tell things to my own children who were young and impressionable. I become so angry with her for telling lies about me that I cut her completely out of my life for long periods of time. As I reached middle age, my relationship did not improve with my mother but I had resigned myself after many years of reflection and therapy to make peace with myself if I could not with her. All of our lives changed drastically over the last summer. My sister suddenly moved my mother into her home and told none of us. I knew something must be wrong but my sister not only did not tell us mom was suddenly living in her home but would not talk about what the catalyst to this move was. I had always envied their relationship which try as I might , I was never able to attain with mom. After weeks of silence and no answers I decided to go to my sister’s home and see what the issue was. What I found was at once devastating and cathartic. My mother was delusional. She thought demons were after her and she was the angel of mercy. I tried to calm my mother who was very agitated when I got there but nothing helped. I convinced my sister that she needed to be evaluated at a hospital. My mother had often told grandiose stories and I just labeled her a liar in my mind. while listening to the doctor who saw my mother, the pieces began to fall into place. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. How could I not have realized how serious her behaviors were for so many years? I was educated. So many times in anger I had said my mother was “sick” due to things she said or did to me but hearing those words from a doctor did not validate me as much as they stung. I felt I had let her down by walking away and not pushing to find out WHY she had done so many things in the past. I was overwhelmed with emotions at this revelation but at the same time I was relieved to finally understand. What I had grown up in, I never questioned as being abnormal. It was what it was. It made sense looking back how she could “lie” and defend her words as truth. They were truth in her mind. I also found myself hurting that I had given up for so many years when I didn’t realize she was sick. The guilt was terrible but I decided at this stage there wasn’t time for worrying about water under a long ago broken bridge. It was time to forge a new relationship. My sister had great difficulty seeing mom in this new light insisting that the psychiatrists and doctors must be wrong and minimizing the issue. We had many talks late into the night. Slowly she began to concede as we went over incidents we had witnessed as kids that it was not as normal in our home as we once thought and that my mother was indeed ill. Since I work with dual diagnosed and have witnessed psychotic breaks like my mother had, I took over the reigns informing and enlightening my sister who didn’t like the thought of medication to manage her delusions. I explained that while it might seem cruel to put her on anti-psychotics and sedatives so late in her life, the alternative would by far impose on her quality of life at this late stage. I explained that her agitation going on for days on end (At one point prior to going to the hospital she had been up for nearly 6 days with little sleep screaming that demons were trying to kill her great grandchildren and her) would take a toll on her overall health and her heart. I found material for my family to read on the subject. slowly through all of the chaos of those weeks that followed her being admitted to the hospital and coming home, I watched my family begin the process of healing. It was tentative at first but slowly we all came to see each other in a new light and I also found myself coming to terms with understanding the woman my mother was. It is not an easy road to walk but we are finally finding peace we sought for so many years.

    By Michelle Morgan

    1. motherrr.commotherrr.com Post author

      Michelle, thank you for sharing your story. It’s great that you were able to be forgiving, let go of guilt and move forward to a healing place. We found it so inspiring that we also have posted it on the Motherrr.com website under Mama Drama.

  4. Nita

    I haven’t e-mail in a long time. My mother has cancer. The doctor got it in time. She just had to for como And take her med. But she wouldn’t take them right, she won’t eat, she smoking more. They had to stop her treatment and not she has spots on her liver. I ask her mouths ago has she given up. She got mad and said no.But all she wants to do is stay in bed and sleep. And she swear she doesn’t sleep. How can people just give up and not fight to live. Why would she want her family to come see her get weaker and weaker, when she can take her med, eat and fight to live. I just don’t understand.

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