Maybe you already know this. And maybe you can’t know it because it’s only true for me.
The things that I hated about my mom are the worst things about her sickness and death. The ways she wasn’t done getting to be perfect, or even happy. The things that oppressed me in her life are even sadder now that she’s gone. I don’t miss her faults, but I think about them as much as I think about missing her.
That’s something I wasn’t prepared for. There’s no “If only she were here to give me the silent treatment one more time, I’d appreciate it more…” Not like that at all. Those irritating, dysfunctional things? I’m relieved I don’t have to deal with them again. I just wish we hadn’t wasted our time, I guess. Wish we’d laughed more.
So don’t think you’ll miss your mom hollering at you, “Jimmeeeee!” at 5am. You won’t. You won’t miss her forgetting your birthday every year, won’t miss her inappropriate humor, or her giggling with your sister and excluding you, or giving you the silent treatment, or throwing food, or feigning illness, or ignoring your spouse… those things don’t get sweet after someone dies, as far as I can tell. They just make you sadder.
I wonder if it’s particularly sad in my case, or her case, or whomever’s case we’re talking about. I wonder if she was really as dysfunctional as I felt she was. Or is every body dysfunctional and you just don’t know most people all that well. What do you think?
But let me tell you some things about my mom. You can’t love her as much as I did without knowing these things. Because (and this is theme in my life that gets me in trouble) somehow they made me love her more. Hope for her more, defend her more, take care of her more. I knew her, warts and all. And I loved her anyway. And writing it down isn’t worth a damn unless I can get that across.
If I can’t make someone who didn’t know her, read about her, pull for her, get frustrated with her, fight with her, puzzle over her, cry with her, talk about her, thank her, marvel at her, laugh at her, laugh with her, fear her and love her anyway; if I can’t do that, what’s the point?
So if you knew her, let me know if I’m being too hard on my mom. That’s my stupid tendency, to be too hard on the people I love the most. Just so the world knows I ‘m not blinded by love. In my family, if we’re not mean to you, we’ve either given up on you or we’re worried about your mental health. In those cases we’ll be mean to you when you walk out of the room.
Which , let me tell you, can contribute to troubles in the mental health area. I’m not saying the whole arrangement was or is healthy. But it is what it is.
But back to my mom. I think my dad said it best when he said, “With your mom, the thing is, you’d wonder which Susie would be waiting for you when you came home.” Oh so true. To say she had mood swings is to be gentle and generous. I think of them, and you know what? I think, “But I loved her so much”. How dumb. Anyway, he had it right.
Really I think she went through periods where she was insane. Does everyone do that? I’m still trying to figure that out. I can’t decide which would be worse: Having her be just about as crazy as the average Joe, or having her be deeply troubled.
She could carry a grudge like few women I’ve known. Go for months living in the same house with someone, but not talking to them unless she had to. I think my senior year she had been in a silent phase with my step-dad for about 9 months. It got so stressful I went to stay with my dad for a while so I could study. Unless you’ve lived with people who are fighting (if that’s the word for it), you can’t imagine how icky it is.
I found out later, if she had to walk by him, she’d whisper, “I hate you.” under her breath. He slept in a chair in the TV room. For months.
In the middle of a normal conversation, her voice could shift, turn icy, and you knew you were in deep shit. The only way out was to admit you had been either thoughtless, careless, mean or stupid. If you wanted true and lasting forgiveness, the only way out was to confess to being depressed, crabby, jealous or secretly angry. The surest way out was to confess that you were being mean because you were jealous. You were jealous because you were unhappy in your relationship with your husband, kid… someone else. And if you told her enough details about this other troubled relationship, she might chastise you for your mean stupidity, but she wouldn’t stay mad.
We learned early on that “sorry isn’t enough.” But “I did it on purpose because I’m jealous that she’s prettier than me, and she always will be and I wanted to hurt her” was good enough.
And she drank. As a child, I can’t remember her drinking to excess. But adults aren’t people to kids. They’re landmarks. I don’t think I would have known if it was a problem. But once I got to be an adult, and she started to fall down the stairs, and hide liquor around the house… I noticed. She stopped inviting us kids to events with her family, we decided finally, it was because she didn’t feel comfortable drinking around us.
Trouble with the drink runs in her (my) family. But it didn’t kill her, like I thought it might. When she lied to the doctor about whether she had ever been a heavy drinker, I had this terrible dilemma. Do I pull the doctor aside and say, “She’s lying to you. Does it matter?” or do I let her drive her own life? I decided it probably didn’t matter. It probably didn’t. But I feel bad for her shame. She knew I noticed the lie. I didn’t correct her, didn’t call her on it.
And she lied. Oh my god, my mom lied a lot. Lied about big things, lied about little things. Lied about whether there were onions in dinner (there always were). Lied about drinking, lied about smoking (I still don’t know how much), lied about sex, about money.
she was deeply troubled, she was also deeply gifted. It was worth the trouble.