By Bernadette A. Moyer
The mother is the one person who is supposed to love you no matter what. But what happens to us, our mother’s daughter when we lose the love, support and companionship of our mother? My mother didn’t speak to me for the last 23 years of her life. Our ending would come full circle with trauma just like our beginning. I was told that my mother almost bled to death when I was born and that they sent me home with my father and kept my mother in the hospital.
At the age of seven, I lived with my grandparents at their hotel so that my mother could finish school and receive her nursing degree as a registered nurse. During that year when I was in the second grade I got the mumps. When she finally came to the hotel she wouldn’t risk seeing me since the mumps were contagious. She didn’t want to get sick and miss school. I remember looking out the second floor hotel window as requested. My mother was in her uniform with her white starched nursing cap, white dress, white hose and white shoes. She was learning to take care of sick people and here I was her sick daughter and all she could offer me was a curbside wave. A seven year old won’t understand this kind of a decision; they just want the love and care of their mother.
There was a time when I told my mother I was sorry for any trouble I may have caused her. Her response to me was, “You were easy you never asked for anything.” Then I had this light bulb moment, I watched my mother work double-shifts to raise her five daughters, I watched my sisters constantly going after her for what they wanted. I was so afraid to ask for anything because it might be the one that sent her over the edge. So early on, I learned to take care of myself.
When I was just 300 miles into the 1,000 mile road trip I was on, I received a phone message from my cousin. She said, “Please call me back right away, it’s not good just call as soon as you get this message.” I retrieved this message at a gas station when my husband was inside paying for our gas. I immediately called her back. I could tell by her voice it had to be my grandmother or my mother. My grandmother recently turned 101 years old, so I thought it was probably her. But it wasn’t … it was my mother, she died. It was unexpected but she was gone. By the time my husband returned to the car, I was crying. How could she? How could she go home to meet her maker, to see God our Father without any reconciliation with me, her second born daughter?
She never once tried to make peace with me, not one time in 23 years and now she was gone. Less than an hour later I received a written message from my dad’s widow, “I think you should know that your mother passed away early this morning.” My dad’s widow would inform me just after my cousin. Not one of my four sisters ever called me, but it would be my cousin and later the women who replaced our mother, my father’s second wife who thought “you should know” that my mother was dead.
When I was twenty-eight years old I had to tell my mother that her husband was doing the unthinkable, he was abusing a child. My mother and I never had a fight, there were never words between us about what I learned and ultimately communicated to her. That last Christmas after telling her I would receive my last gift that she would ever give to me. It was a large bottle of Frangelico liquor and a $50 bill. It was the coldest and most impersonal gift she ever gave to me. I was certain the liquor was a re-gift and the $50 a last minute gesture.
As the years passed it would silently become clear to me that our relationship was over. Holidays came, birthdays, family affairs, special events and I was excluded. I would learn at different periods of time throughout the years that she came to town and when she did, she never once called me or tried to see me.
“Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.” The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.
For many years I had anger toward my mother until I came to acceptance. Early on I did the grief work. I had to process the loss so that I could get over it. I went to one therapist who said, “You need to live your life as though your mother is dead.” I tried this I told a few friends that she died. She had in a sense, and yet she was very much alive even though for me, it was a death. It was the death of my mother and our mother-daughter relationship.
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I have learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” Gilda Radner
Through the years I filled the void that she left with “other mothers” older women who became my friends, my mentors and supporters. I had many girlfriends who shared their mothers and their friendship. These relationships helped me to fill the hole left by my own mother. “Ultimately, the abandoned daughter is never completely abandoned unless she, too, leaves herself behind.” Cause and Effort from Motherless Daughters, The Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman.
Through my girlfriends I witnessed other mother-daughter relationships. Friends who are close to their mothers, have the normal holidays together, shopping and lunch dates and many who are now caring for their aging mothers as they assist them with their health needs. And I have girlfriends who have strained but intact relationships with their mothers. Some who have lost their mother due to untimely deaths. It is never easy. It has been said that the mother-daughter relationship is the most complex and complicated of all relationships, can offer the greatest of rewards and the most difficult of challenges.
The following “Dear Mom” letter would have been included in a book I wrote and never published. Reading it now I still sense the rawness and wrongness and yet I am finally and completely at peace.
It has been a few weeks now since you have passed on … there is so much I want to say… Was it your intention to leave me out of your obituary? Why would you deny that I was your second born daughter? Did you think I wanted this? Did you think I wanted to hurt you by calling your husband an abuser? What gain would I have had in doing that? Did you think my life was easier without you in it? Did you think my children’s life was better without having their grandmother? Well, it wasn’t!
I have a card you wrote to me in 1984 where you write, “You are a daughter to be proud of.” If you were proud of me back then you would be even prouder today since I have so many more accomplishments. What was I supposed to do when a child came to tell me your husband was abusing them? Did you think I wanted to believe that? I NEVER wanted to hurt you Mom!
As a kid I watched how hard you worked in your field of nursing and I knew how respected you were for your intelligence and drive. Throughout the years I tried to reach out to you first by sending my children’s milestone achievements and then years later a card. All that cards said was, “don’t you think you should try at least once before you die to make it right between us?” Inside I included all my contact information. And then after your husband died I tried again for the last time but never once did you respond to me.
I forgave you years ago Mom, I let it go so I could be free and light and happy. But you couldn’t forgive me? What did I do that was so unforgivable that you would deny me as your daughter?
Today February 4, 2016 my mother would have celebrated her 80th birthday and today I am no longer living with an open wound. I have healed and I am truly happy. The people I surround myself with are supportive and loving and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I also feel her peace from heaven above, like me, she now knows the truth too.
For almost 5 year this writing sat in a “draft” file and now I finally decided to publish it.
My mother wasn’t some uneducated toothless unloved wonder, she was highly educated and obtained her master’s degree in her 50’s after having five daughters. She returned to college being a divorced single mother. She came from a large close knit Italian family with three brothers and three sisters. Many people loved and respected her work accomplishments as she had a big personality and a ton of drive and determination to succeed. Her downfall was that she was the classic enabler. First my father who was once a raging alcoholic and a man that she married twice and divorced twice. Then there was her second husband who became known to me as a child abuser.
Next month February 2021 my mother would have celebrated her 85th birthday. She died ten years ago. She has been gone from my life for more than half my life. I forgave her years ago. I did it for myself and for my own health and wellness. I am still that same “daughter to be proud of” that she spoke of decades ago. Things happen in life. Some things we learn from and some things we repeat, some make us bitter and some make us better. It is always our choice.
Peace and love to my mother and all of the motherless daughters out there, you are not alone.
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