August 8

It’s my mother’s birthday today. She would have been 67.

In the seven and a half years since her death, I have missed her sometimes, but not as much as I think I ought to miss her. I think of friends with fresher grief than mine, and I wish there was something I could do to ease their pain.

I was one of the first people out of all my friends to have a parent die, and so not a lot of people knew what to do with me. No one who hasn’t been there can imagine how your life changes when a parent dies. Everything is different. In hindsight, I hope I have been a comfort to friends whose parents have died since, and helped them with the transition and the strangeness of it all.

Because she and I had a difficult relationship, I can now look at it with a lot more clarity and objectivity than I could when she was here in the world deciding who I was on my behalf.

Bo and I talk about her sometimes, and that’s really useful since he is maybe the most self-aware male I know. Also, as my sibling, he grew up in the same family culture and has insights on events and attitudes that I sometimes don’t get.

She wanted complete control of my body and his finances. I think a lot of that was because she spent the last eighteen years of her life as a semi-invalid. She wanted to live her life and she had to spend most of her time lying down. Now that I have friends with chronic illnesses that cause them pain, I can have sympathy for her. But when I was growing up, it was just a massive obstacle for my brother and me: No parties, constant monitoring, and, at least for me, a tendency to tell me what a disappointment I was when I was really vulnerable (IE, sit down on my bed when I couldn’t find my glasses so I was blind and couldn’t move, and tell me how I had too much fun in Port Hardy and was a massive whore). It was untrue, and it hurt.

These days, Bo and I mostly just live our lives, but our dad, because of our mom’s need to make every decision, still lives a curious half-life. He sails, he visits us, he has a girlfriend. But it’s like part of him is still waiting for instructions from our mom. Part of him is wherever she is, and that is the happiest part of him. That makes me sad.

I try to take the good parts and leave the bad. I know I can thank her for my aesthetic sense, and my ability to cook, and my love of reading and knowledge. Other things, I get because I learned how NOT to do it. I try not to be controlling, manipulative or judgmental (that last one is hard.) I try to let things go. I let the people I love speak for themselves. I don’t assume.

I’m glad she was my mom. But I’m even gladder that I have the intellect to realize that she did some things wrong.

6 Comments to “August 8”

  1. By Stephanie, August 9, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    Nice.

  2. By Liz, August 9, 2010 @ 9:54 pm

    Thanks

  3. By Arwen, August 9, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

    That’s lovely and painful and real.

  4. By Beth, August 10, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

    My mom died a month after my 11th birthday. It took me until I was 30 to realize she was human. I wanted her to be flawed because then I wouldn’t have to live up to being the daughter of a saint. That’s what people told me just after she died, “your mother was a real saint.”
    One day when I was 15, my dad came home to find me reading and the potatoes I had been asked to peel and cook had boiled dry and burned. I didn’t notice because I was in my book. Dad said, “You’re just like your mother. She burned things all the time because of books.” It was wonderful to learn she wasn’t perfect. I always wanted to ask Dad other ways that she wasn’t perfect but never did.
    But finally, at 30 and with help, I figured it out. Mostly I was able to get angry because she hadn’t warned me or prepared me for her death even though she knew she was going to die from before my birth. Her last words to me: “be a good girl for your father”. No good-bye. No permission to be sad or angry. Nope, “be a good girl”. Not fair, Mom, not fair.
    So, I got mad at her, and at my dad. And then I accepted that they were human and did their best with the hand they’d been dealt. And I recognized the good stuff they gave me. And I try to avoid the mistakes they made.
    I made my very own mistakes instead. It’s kind of the way being a human works.

  5. By Liz, August 11, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

    Beth, I have the anger as well. It’s irrational, or maybe it isn’t but it is there for sure. And how awful for you to feel that she was this perfect being to live up to. How incredibly worrisome for a young person, lacking the frame of reference of being able to actually ee her screw something up.

  6. By Derek K. Miller, September 27, 2010 @ 10:37 am

    It’s likely my kids will be fairly young still when I die. They’re 10 and 12 now, and I’m still plugging along at 41, but stage 4 metastatic cancer only gives me so much time, probably not too many years of it. I realize that I’m sort of casting around for how to be with them and what to say to them. Perspectives like these help me think about it. Thanks.

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