It is 9 days before my birthday and my Mom's avoiding/shunning me. She knows I disapprove of a choice she's made recently and since she can no longer exile me to my bedroom for weeks on end, she just doesn't call. And it sucks. A lot.
My Mom's health has been fragile my whole life. A couple months ago she started talking about finally moving to an apartment much closer into town. We were really relieved to hear this from her. CK and I would be able to check in on her, take her shopping, and drop food off for her regularly. She'd also be able to access public transit and have some sense of independence, something she's felt very depressed about since she remarried.
There we were, finally looking seriously at meeting her needs and doing things to improve her quality of life, quite likely increasing the time she does have left. I did a lot of searching and out of the blue she suggested a retirement community. I hadn't hoped for anything that good and was really excited about her choice. We'd even found a wonderful place in SE Portland. She put a deposit down on it and talked excitedly about her new apartment as I drove her back to Gresham.
Then she didn't talk to me for 2+ weeks. I tried to call and the number had been disconnected. Her mobile phone went directly to voicemail. After a few days of that I finally called her husband's business line and after a moment of saying hello to me he asked if I wanted to speak with my Mom.
She was sick, coughing and had laryngitis so bad I could barely understand her. She'd been out at her husband's for a few days and was really ill again. She managed to tell me that she wasn't going to move to the apartment in town, she was moving back out to her husband's home in Corbett.
My Mom has been told by two different doctors that she cannot live out at her husband's house . There are too many things that could cause her to fall (and have) and there is so much mold and dust there that it compromises her lungs. Every time she is out there for more than a couple of days she gets sick, sometimes to the point of hospitalization.
My Mom has been in the hospital over 13 times in the past few years since marrying her husband and moving out there. She has also told me over and over and over that there are far too many painful memories in Corbett, where she was raised, and she doesn't want to live there. She really loves her husband, but living with him endangers her health and he refuses to move into "town" to be with her. Even the small suburb my Mom has been living in is too much town for him and he hates the idea of leaving Corbett unless his health makes him. His health is failing too, he has ALS, and she isn't capable of caring for him.
After my initial shocked, "What." I managed to calmly ask her to please phone me when she was well enough to talk to me about it.
That was at the beginning of the month and she hasn't called. There is a part of me that is worried that her health has worsened and no one has remembered to contact me. It is possible, but it is equally likely that she doesn't want to talk to me because it will make her feel bad and ashamed, which makes her angry with me.
I'm not calling. It grates on me daily, as does the lack of voicemails on the phone, but I resist the nagging urge to call her and make her feel better. At this point it isn't just anger and stubbornness on my part (which she'd accuse me of), but both of my therapists have advised me not to call while I'm feeling so hurt and angry.
I feel like a terrible daughter. I feel furious. I feel deeply ashamed of myself. I feel terribly hurt. I feel abandoned. I feel betrayed.
I am also profoundly sad that she has given up on the excitement and happiness I witnessed in her so briefly. It has had me recalling a line from A Bitterness by Mary Oliver, a poem I've mentioned in relationship to my Mom once before.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
My Mom choosing to live in an environment that physically endangers her, choosing to reject the possibility of happiness and comfort, and finding ways to sabotage it, is my Mom stumbling on joy again. Regardless of how much I wanted her to make the right choice for herself, no matter how it made me feel so much relief and like my needs around her were being met because she made a healthy choice for herself, she stumbled. She had joy in front of her and she stumbled, just like she always has, my whole life.
Last night my EMDR therapist, PB, leaned in close to me, her hands on my knees, and said emphatically, "Your Mother is mentally ill. She can't change."
I'm still letting these words settle.
PB told me that it was time for me to write a letter to my Mom. I don't have to send it, but she thinks it is important for me to express the depth of betrayal and hurt I feel over all the times in my life my Mom stumbled and made choices that didn't take my needs into account. Giving voice to my anger and hurt in this way will let me return to the place where I can love my Mom without judgement. PB also suggested drumming and spending some time in a batting cage.
I do love my Mom. I do believe she was cheated by this life. I deeply want to see her comforted after all the pain I've watched her suffer my whole life. As a Buddhist I know we suffer when we cling to anything, but it is exceedingly difficult to not cling to the desire to see my Mom content and at ease.
So that I may not stumble upon the considerable joy in my life I am going to learn to give back the shame my family gave me, over and over. I will acknowledge that it is not unnatural for me to be angry about my childhood and angry that my Mom's abdicated the role of a parent, forcing it upon me for nearly all of my life. I will continue to try and make the right choices in my life; learning from my Mother's mistakes and breaking these toxic patterns in my family.
As painful as it is to take in, I hold close the knowledge that my Mom is mentally ill. I will hold this carefully so that I may love her without any hope that she'll ever grow up and make the right choices.
I really treasure this picture I took of my Mom this spring. It is incredibly rare to capture of picture of her smiling and experiencing joy. My Mom has only experienced joy as a fleeting moment in her life, not a real presence.