Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mother thoughts.

That's a very young me on the right, holding three-month-old Corinne, and my
mother Margie. "Windy Hill" is what my mother named the acreage in the midst
of wheat fields in Nebraska where she and my stepdad lived. 
 Ten years ago today my mother died. Two days later I found out.

Not the sort of mother/daughter relationship a friend of mine had where she lay in the hospital bed with her mother, cradling her in her arms as she died. But is that the typical bond between the daughter and the mom who nurtured her? I don't know. The relationship between my mother and me was anything but typical.

Her cancer had come back. She mentioned this to nobody, not even the Replacement Children in her more recent life in Nebraska, the three women of the approximate age of my sister and I. My sister and brother hadn't spoken to our mother in years, and though my dealings with her had grown more and more strained, I was still trying to keep in contact from states away. But I'd been replaced by less complicated relationships with those she hadn't birthed.

Her lawyer called me because a next-of-kin was needed to sign the cremation certificate. Without that need, would I have heard at all? I suppose I would have figured it out once the boxes of my mother's "treasures" started arriving, filled with items from her life, all with notes attached. The notes must be nostalgiac explanations of the when and where of the items, you might think--wrongly. No, the notes explained my failings as related to each item, and were dated and initialed, apparently so I would be aware of the many years she'd been planning this After-Death-Surprise for me.

I was destroyed by the box after box of Post-It noted pieces of her life. How could the mother who gave birth to me and who was supposed to love me without condition and protect me be the one who attacked, who torpedoed my personal worth? How could the woman seen in happy photos with my baby be this cruel person?

Therapy followed, since my wise husband could see me falling down a deep, dark hole. It saved my life and my sanity. For years I had tried to make sense of this woman who could be so bright and happy sometimes and so mean and hurtful others. I won't ever know what all was at play in her head or heart, what undiagnosed illness she may have had. I can see from here that she was always at a distance from me emotionally, and her happiness or unhappiness really had nothing to do with me. I wanted her happiness to be because of me, but I think she was much more at the mercy of whatever demons lived in her head.

I've kept some of the things she sent--in fact, some are still tucked away in the same boxes they arrived in. These items and their notes hold a fascination for me, since I still wonder at the workings of her mind. What did it feel like to live inside her head? What ruled her, what drove her decisions? Was there an underlying sadness like I thought I saw at some times in her life, or was that just me trying to make sense of what couldn't?

Humor doesn't come easily around this subject, even though humor has always been my friend. One small smile that's come of it is that my mother even died on a date I can never forget. "Jean loved house numbers with 1s in them," she had told me about my stepfather. Her address had recently been redone by the county and now included 1s. Why my brain chose that bit of information to remember, I don't know. But when she died on 1/11/01, I muttered to the bit of her that lives in my head, "Hah! I bet you planned that."

So on this date I remember her with a mixture of fondness and sadness, much like my life with her played out. I'm finally learning that our relationship makes as much sense to me as weather, and was simply what it was: somedays thunderstorms, somedays sunshine. And I think I've learned from both.


Susy said...

Wow, Julie. This is a really powerful piece of writing! Thank you for sharing such a painful memory. It made me think about how I want (or don't want) to be remembered by my children...and about the power of words, even on a post-it note.

julia said...

Thanks, Susy, i appreciate that. :-)
Bet those Post-It note people had no idea the power they could have!

Marilyn said...

You are a wonderful example of God's grace- Despite your painful relationship with your own Mom you did not follow in her footsteps when it came to being a mother, You are and always have been an amazing loving, nurturing mom.

julia said...

Thanks, Marilyn--all sweet words of affirmation welcome!