Me, my Grandma Winans, mother and my sister, Christine.
It’s easy to convince myself that I’ve grown to be a much better person than my mother ever was. But then, neither she nor anyone else in my family is alive to challenge that statement.
In the three and a half years I’ve been writing this blog, you haven’t heard me talk about my mother much. I’ve alluded to the fact that ours was a cantankerous relationship. I stole change from her purse as a kid, she threatened to “give me a run for my money” with my husband at the time, if she’d been younger. You know, just regular dysfunctional family stuff!
I’ve never wanted to talk about her here because I was afraid of sounding like a victim who hasn’t moved on, of suggesting that she still haunts me and that I’m nowhere near forgiving her. It was sixteen years ago today that she passed away. In some ways, it feels like yesterday.
My mother in me
When I disappoint myself or yell out of frustration or hurt, it’s her harsh voice I hear spewing out hateful and vile zingers. It took me getting older to figure out just how unhappy she was, stuck with a man (my dad) she didn’t love who lashed out at her every evening after a few of their too many martinis, and how stuck she felt by being forced to cheerfully accept a military life that took her far from home and the familiar. Despite figuring this out eventually, I still haven’t let her off the hook for being verbally and emotionally abusive.
“Gee, I wished you’d met my mom. She was pretty, petite, smart, cleaver, and a talented writer” no one ever heard me say. She was, in fact, all those things, but her nasty, negative, evil vindictiveness overshadowed all the good. How she was in life was how I turned out in life … behaving poorly too many times. I was defensive, hyper-sensitive and lacking self-esteem.
Everyone in the Albany clan labeled me “too sensitive.” I took everything personally and wasn’t able to shake things off — especially their ridicule in jest or their criticism. With all my family members having passed, it has secretly pleased me to be the last family member standing. Now that’s the value of sensitivity, I’d often think with a smirk!
My mother was a writer and language expert. You could say I’ve gotten my gift from her, but I didn’t. She competed with and belittled my writing, pointing out every minute error I made. Praise never came, so I put most of my writing away — at least the writing I might share — until she was no longer around to criticize.
Why am I bringing all this up now, here, in this blog?
Because doing so shows that, after all this time, I have work to do. I have work that involves forgiving her and forgiving myself. We both did our best with the circumstances we had, and no amount of re-hash will change the past. But I think I’ll be able to reformat our relationship, despite her not being here. My goal is to gain peace of mind about what it was then and what it is now.
Even at sixty-eight, I’m looking for something good to get out of being my mother’s child. I could say, “Well, it got me to where I am today, and that’s great!” But, it’ll be even better when I believe it.
Contact Antonia at Antonia@TheJoyofAgingGratefully.com
This is a terrific post. Thanks for sharing so honestly and from the heart. I was riveted, from your first words to your last, because of that.
I suspect all of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, can recognize that we have forgiveness work to do while we’re here. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that it’s the most important work we will do.
And let’s face it, if you’d had a fabulously perfect mother and could spend your time telling us how idyllic your childhood was, what could we have gained from that, other than a mild case of envy and inferiority? 🙂
But given your childhood was gritty and difficult and yet here you are soldiering on…THAT we can relate to and learn from!
This was a difficult post to write for obvious reasons. It makes it all worthwhile when I get comments such as yours.
Thank YOU, Katie, for showing me it was worth the discomfort to be vulnerable and share my personal experience.
Antonia, I appreciate your honesty and authenticity. Mother-daughter relationships are complex – at least mine was, even though we had a good relationship for my entire life. I read a book called “Death Benefits – how losing a parent can change an adult’s life for the better.” It dealt mostly with abusive mother-daughter relationships, which ours wasn’t, and I was still able to use many of the concepts to better understand how I and my life changed after she died. Thanks for the courageous, thought-provoking post.
Thank you, Debbie, for recommending this book by Jeanne Safer. I’ve reserved at our local library. I’m sure it’ll be insightful.
Thank you also, as always, for reading and sharing the blog.