Without a doubt, I am currently fumbling through the complicated, messy and overwhelming grieving process over the loss of my mother. The past three months have been filled with unexpected waves of emotions that continue to catapult both my heart and head in a million directions. Moments of denial, fueled by longing, sometimes try to creep into defuse logical with false hope that things will go back to normal, or at least as normal as my family could muster. That her voice would be able to be heard over the phone, rambling on about the characters encountered at the food store trip with my father and the latest antics of the family dog that only will eat dinner if someone sits on the floor beside her.
Driving through the streets of Philadelphia, I sobbed alone in the car navigating rush hour on my way home from work last week, smearing mascara all over my sweater while navigating rush hour traffic as ‘Knock Three Times’ blared through the car. The song was one of her 70s favorites like Joy to the World and Bad Boy Leroy Brown that served as the soundtrack to summers of my childhood. To happier times spent floating in our above ground pool, playing gin rummy with Mickey Mouse playing cards and drinking our matching margaritas, mine sans tequila. Those summers took place so long ago, before either of us had the terms bypass surgery, stents, blood thinners, disability, cognitive impairments and brain damage in our vernacular.
At times, thoughts tangled in unfairness and pain tend to raise my blood pressure. I try to be mindful not to venture too far down the path where there are unturned stones of unproductive feelings that will only cause me to mentally stumble. Why didn’t she fight harder to mend herself physically and mentally? How can someone who has a daughter and a husband not care enough to be there for them- in all capacities. If these questions had logical resolutions that brought any comfort, then myself and others dealing with complex emotional wounds would be all over it faster than flies on a garbage heap. But questions that tend to haunt us in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions for the grief, are more elusive than Bigfoot.
Without a doubt there are ebbs and flows of peacefulness that accompanies not having to anticipate the illogical but certain chaos associated with my mother. No longer does my stomach churn while driving up the street I grew up on, because I longer go there. I removed myself from participating in the emotional version of Russian Roulette-not knowing what version of my mother would be waiting for me when walking into the door or picking up the phone. And the role that guilt has played through this experiences tends to flair up when coming across stories or posts on social media. Stories focused around the heartache losing someone who was actively participating in life until fate decided to be an asshole and cut their time short, impacting their loved ones. Because their grief is accompanied by literally burying a body into the ground. Exactly where my current journey with loss and grieving differs.
In a physical sense, my mother is propped up on the couch of my childhood home and, to my knowledge, is still breathing. In every other sense of what makes a human being ‘alive’ mentally and emotionally, she is gone. The body that occupies the space is a shell, an imposter with a hollow inner core. There have been countless of encounters between us throughout my 26 years of life that have almost led me to swear to cut off all contact, but never lasting more than several days. The past decade has left my mother with lingering effects of several strokes, creating an obstacle course to navigate emotional and physical roadblocks impacting the relationship with herself, my father and I. With every stretch of ‘bad days’, eventually a series of ‘good days’ would follow providing some sense of familiarity. But over the last year, ‘good’ began only being quantifiable in hours, rather than days and ‘bad’ became the constant state of existence.
Yes, I understand my mother has unresolved health issues causing her heartless deeds. Sure, if my mother was in her right frame of mind she would had never acted upon herself-fabricated lies. And more than anyone, I am aware that she is the only mother I will ever have with her years left on Earth limited. These are all the things that jerked around in my heart and soul before arriving at the decision to cut off contact with her. Her unpredictability and unaccountability finally drove me to make the decision to go no-contact with her.
At this point in life, the responsibility to ensure the best protection and treatment of me rests squarely on my shoulders. I have started to take the perspective of self-care similar to a mother protecting her daughter. Would I let someone inflict verbal, physical and emotional disrespect to her? Why would I repeatedly inflict a well document cycle with always grim outcomes to her? As a mother, I would be adamant that those in her life were supportive and brought out the best in her. At age 26, it is my turn to step up to the responsibility to be the person I needed when I was younger, and honestly the person I so desperately wish would come into my life now.
For weeks after making the decision, leaving silence between us, I struggled with doubts. It was not until last week that the sign from the Universe I had been yearning for smacked me in the face. After three months of ignoring her five-word text messages and not visiting, a series missed calls and text messages were left on my phone in the middle of the night, with me not seeing them until waking up for work that morning. My mother was now demanding me to deliver $500 paid in full by the end of the day. Money that she had gave me to pay rent while between jobs almost two years ago. Which she had assured me that could be paid when able, and admittedly other bills and debt collectors took precedent over.
This two-year old debt is the only piece of ammunition left in her arsenal. The text messagings warned me that ‘she plans on making my life unbearable until she has all of her money.’ which she planned on doing by ‘reaching out to every person I know to ask me to give her back the money’. After a brief phone call with my father with the financial arrangement taken settled, it took several hours for me to digest the information, as I mulled over the garbled text messages while at work answering emails, drinking coffee and functioning with other able-minded adults. It was not until hours later that the realization of what had happened hit me, leaving me struggling to keep down my iced coffee while sitting at my desk that afternoon.
This person is not my mother. My mother wouldn’t have call me several times in the middle of the night on my 26th birthday to let me know she was sorry she couldn’t drop dead as my birthday present. My mother wouldn’t have screamed at me over the phone calling me a liar, nor accused me of filling out paperwork for her saying that she was pregnant at a doctor’s appointment, doing with through a conspiracy with a fictitious nurse just for a good laugh. My mother wouldn’t have told me that my father and I had no business in knowing any of her health care wishes- despite us being there every step of the way.
I am grieving for the woman who rocked me to sleep while watching The Little Mermaid for the millionth time growing up and sat up with me for three nights straight when I had a double ear ache. I am grieving for the woman who drank fountain cherry soda and blasted Meatloaf while chauffeuring me to every practice/rehearsal/school function. I am grieving for the woman that rolled curlers in my hair for class picture day and taught herself how to play Super Nintendo so I had someone to play video games with as an only child.
In no way am I claiming that my mother wasn’t without flaws before all of this, but she had the capacity to receive and give love.
The most frightening thing about the situation is that this new mindset my mother now holds has the capacity of pure hatred, with the capability of wanting to make her own daughter’s life ‘unbearable’as an act of revenge. Without her realizing it, she has already accomplished this over the years by turning herself cold as ice, actively removing herself from any source of life that does not involved getting her medication and cigarettes. For my own self-preservation and health, I will be living a life without my mother as an active participant because of her choices. Birthdays, holidays, accomplishments will continue to be celebrated, but even if unspoken, there will be a lingering sense of sadness intertwined with ‘what-ifs’ thoughts. Sometimes, the grief of not having my mother in my life is is paralyzing, during the moments when my heart yearns for her to say ‘I’m sorry babydoll‘ like she used to while comforting me, or when wanting to be able to pick up the phone to share good news. But if my mother realized the impact of her actions, those threatening text messages would not have been sent. The acquisitions would have never been spat. And she would not be plotting ways to make her only daughter’s life ‘unbearable’.
For the time being, there will be some mornings where my eyes are still puffy from crying myself to sleep the night prior. And there will be moments where it takes all my focus to steady my hands on the keyboard while maintaining my composure at work when someone walks by wearing the same perfume as my mother. Because there was no burial and there is no ‘sorry your mother has lost her mind and is lashing out to emotional abuse you’ cards, there are no casseroles being dropped off at my door nor unspoken understanding that I may be more reserved than usual. Behind closed doors, I muddle through my daily routine while working my way the various stages of grief of my mother.
For my entire life, Mother’s Day has always fallen the week of my birthday. My mother always shared that the year I was born, my father gave her the wooden rocking chair she loved for her first Mother’s Day. And less than 24 hours, I came into the world several weeks early. This year on Mother’s Day, I have no idea what I will be doing, but without a doubt it will involve sorting through mixed emotions. A few days later on my birthday, I will not be left wondering if my mother will offer to make me a cake this year or get me a present. Nor will there be a birthday dinner made in my honor in which I spend a few hours in baited breathe to see if there will be an outburst. With the blocked phone and email settings, this birthday will not be spent listening to the threatening voice mails similar to last year. And even though making this decision a and living with it has been the hardest thing in my life, at least I know that I am giving myself the present of some sort of peace of mind, and protection from being subjected to scars I have done nothing to earn.