“Being at Peace” whether it is with a person, thing, or an emotion, is a concept I understand but had never experienced. Until recently.
I have always been open about my falling out with my mother (adoptive) several years ago. Our relationship has always been stormy to say the least. The reasons, dark and convoluted for many, and for me today, not ones I will delve into here.
But it has been two and ½ years since I’ve spoken to her. She is now 75, and I know there is always the chance that I might not speak to her ever again. I have worked out this possibility over the last few years and have come to accept the consequences. Choosing to stay away from our toxic relationship has been difficult, but has slowly faded into the background of my hectic life. I think of her at random, when a memory tickles it way to the forefront of a thought.
She’s my mother and I love her, but still…she is toxic. I remind myself when thoughts of her surface.
I was in Florida earlier this week, saying goodbye to a friend who is dying. Her children and I grew up together. I know her as well as I know my own mother. In fact, they have been close friends for almost 45 years. As different from each other as any two people can ever be. They embraced and accepted their differences, sadly something she could never do with me.
Walking through the hospital with my friend’s eldest daughter, our conversation went like this (she didn’t know my mother and I hadn’t spoken at all in 2 ½ years):
“We were all surprised that your mom and dad aren’t coming down to say good bye to mom.”
“Really,” I said. I was surprised as well.
“Well, especially after your father’s bout with cancer last year.”
“He has cancer? I didn’t know,” I said. She stops walking and looks at me.
“You didn’t know?” she asked.
“We haven’t spoken in 2 ½ years,” I reminded her.
“Oh, early last year, your mother had a mini stroke. No one told you?” she asked.
“Not until now,” I said, waiting for the tears. They didn’t come.
I realized I was at peace. Seriously, it was like getting smacked. It struck me so hard. I stammered. “I...I’m at peace with her.” I actually said the words and knew I meant them.
Over the last few years, I had worked out all of the anger and frustration and I had buried her. I had forgiven her for everything. She was old and unhealthy and would never change, never understand, and never admit her shortcomings at being an adoptive mother and a biological mother all at once. I forgave her for telling me, in front of my children, that she wished she had never adopted me. That she hated me. That I was the reason her life had been shit.
Because the truth is, I know all of these feelings are hers and probably about herself. I know that she is an angry person, one who never achieved all of her desires. I understand she has always felt trapped in a life she didn’t want. I am at peace with her, because carrying all of her around had stalled my own life; has been a burden I just could not carry any longer. So much of my energy poured into someone who was so negative, who would never see the real me, because she could not see past her own
I know, by removing her from my life, I have become the person I was always meant to be: a happy, healthy, and loving mother, wife, friend, teacher, poet, and author. I have achieved so much and worked so hard to become this person.
I no longer worry that I won’t meet her expectations, because they were always unattainable, ever-changing before my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong I miss her, but not the mother portion. I miss the educated, intelligent woman, the one that had real fire, who could convey her ideas and argue a point. The woman whose hands could form clay into sculptures, who could paint, could recommend a great book, and talk philosophy. The woman I always wanted as a mother, but never felt connected to, nor a part of.
“She’s old an walks with a cane, maybe even a walker,” The eldest daughter told me. “I can’t believe she isn’t coming to see my mom.”
I can believe it. I can even take a guess at why. But I won’t put that into words here. Instead, I’ll share a poem I wrote while working through this experience
The mourning happens
When I most miss you,
Each longing a small death,
Leading me through
the family crypt of dysfunction.
I break the lock, swatting cobwebs
of memory from my face, spewing angry epitaphs
etched into granite heart.
I wonder if your skin has papered thin.
Have you forgotten what you need to remember?
Preferring age as your excuse.
The sharp shards of your slated words,
“I wish,” impaling me.
The “never had,” scraping, flaying me, exposing
Gasping, I turn back to my life,
Shrugging off the mourning cloak
Of my life, of you
Locking the crypt once more.
So for now, just for a moment, I wonder if my mother can’t travel because of her health, because she can’t walk, or because coming to see her friend dying would be admitting that she is so much closer to the ending than to the beginning?
I wonder most of all, if she has made peace with herself.