When your mother dies, people will be heartbroken. They’ll cry and grieve and mourn at her bedside and again at her funeral. There will be moments when they think of her and remember she’s dead and it will tear them up all over again. They’ll comfort themselves with the knowledge that she had a good life. My mother died on Monday and no one cares.
I hadn’t spoken to my mother in four and a half years. She was not a well woman. A variety of untreated mental illnesses and a man who enabled them manifested in a range of problematic behavior, from paranoia and intense hypochondria to manipulation and cruelty. She was overbearing to the point that any allowance for a relationship resulted in her constant calls, texts, and showing up at my apartment or work, which always derailed into the above behavior. I once declined a lunch invitation, because I had to work, only to receive the response “What happened to the daughter I loved?” More than once, she told of an illness or surgery and deliberately lead me to believe the situation was life-threatening, only to later admit that it was mild or elective. If I suggested she get help, it was always part of a larger plot against her.
These interactions were not limited to me. My brother would respond to this behavior with as much vitriol as he could muster, something that was not in short supply when it came to our mother. She had few friends, if any. She’d long since distanced herself from her extended family, when she married my dad. She’d “quit” her job years earlier, citing ambiguous health problems that didn’t really add up; though I suspect she was fired for chronic tardiness, among other things. Even my grandmother, a woman capable of more grace and forgiveness than anyone I’ve ever known, eventually reached her limit, when my mother self-published a book vilifying her and distributed copies to her whole family. Although I truly don’t think my mother was capable of understanding this betrayal and actually expected praise, my grandma couldn’t get past it and our Christmases became separate that year.
On my 26th birthday, my mother took me out for the day. We had a nice time at first, as we usually did. We went shopping, ate sushi, and she gave me the complete boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Afterward, she needed to make a “quick stop” at Best Buy, which turned into a two hour errand. I worked two jobs at the time and desperately wanted to get home to get some things done and spend time with my dog. I became increasingly frustrated, but tried to keep calm. I eventually offered to have my dad take me home, since he lived nearby. This sent my mother into a rage that resulted in a heated fight on the drive home. I remember telling her she needed mental help, as she began to deliberately drive recklessly, and her cruelly mocking me for self-harming in high school. After she dropped me off at my apartment, I heard a thump. She had hurled the leftover birthday cookie at my door and sped off. I was done. Happy birthday, Belle.
Though I never received an apology, less than a year later, I tried to reconnect for a few months, only to have similar results and once again cease contact. A year or two after that, she showed up at my work one day and, instead of turning her away, I had a nice conversation with her, about my job, Jake, my pets, the life I had planned. She told me of some ailments that the doctors “couldn’t explain” and described symptoms that seemed either fabricated or psychological, knowing her history, but I left it alone. I’d missed her. I’d missed having a mother, even one who wasn’t mentally stable and I couldn’t speak on her health with certainty. I was still hesitant to take the relationship much further, however, as the above events were just the latest of my efforts at a mother/daughter bond throughout my twenties.
Four months later, my mother showed up at my new job site, which was still under construction, bypassed all signs and laborers and entered “just to say hi,” though she lived an hour and a half away. I couldn’t get her to leave, even after insisting that I could get in real trouble for having my mother visit an ongoing construction site. She was baffled at why it was a problem and I had to rudely insist she go. This time she was using a walker, for symptoms that may or may not have been legitimate. I’ll never know. The system director arrived thirty minutes later and I still think I could have, at the very least, seriously damaged my reputation with the director and other members of upper management. It finally set in that it was all or none with her. After 10 years of similar behavior, I no longer had the energy for all, so I chose none. That’s the last time I spoke to her, December of 2016.
This was my adult relationship with my mother. It doesn’t even touch on the abuse of my teen years. I’d grown up with the “wait until your father gets home” threat and my mother had no idea how to discipline a teenager on her own. More often than not, she tried to be my best friend and we had some great times eating cookie dough and watching bad horror movies, talking about our favorite shows and books, gossiping over the cute boys at school. Then, she’d inevitably want me to do something I didn’t want to do and the argument would escalate to physical abuse. After a particularly brutal night, in which she dragged me across the house by my hair, I began discussing moving in with my dad, who was simply the lesser evil at the time, and she told me a story about how he had molested me, insisting I’d blocked it out. Not only did I no longer consider moving in with him, I didn’t talk to him for five years, from the ages of 13-18.
Not long after, my mother somehow managed to have me prescribed a 250mg daily dose of Wellbutrin, without in-person therapy. During our arguments, she’d frequently threaten to have me committed to a psych ward. The physical abuse worsened and each time, she felt horrible, once even insisting that I beat her back with the same dog leash. It was a volatile relationship, in which she had all the power… until she left me, during my senior year, to live with the boyfriend she’d met online, the man she eventually married and seemingly decided was her whole world. Only then did I put the pieces together and accept that my dad might not have been perfect, but he wasn’t a child molester and my mother was, at best, mentally ill and terrified of being alone.
She wasn’t always like this. Before the separation and eventual divorce, before the brain tumor, she showed signs of mental instability, but they were far less frequent, usually just rages far exceeding what the situation warranted or manic episodes where she’d focus on a single cleaning task for days, creating diagrams we couldn’t read yet, with strict instructions to follow them. In between, she made birthday pancakes and planned elaborate parties, took us on vacations, alone or with my grandmother, volunteered for every school activity, using her leave for field trips and our end of the year bashes. She stayed home with us when we were sick and took us to lunch when she had to take off to drive us to a dentist appointment. She painted green footprints in the bathtub on St. Patrick’s Day and put food dye in the milk. She drove us to every after school activity and helped us with gymnastics and softball, despite how absolutely awful I was at both. She let us keep every stray dog and doted on her poodle. She always loved us, I’d dare say more than my father did, and simply grew increasingly worse at it as her mental state degraded. Over the years, she just became an impossible person to have a relationship with, creating for herself a lonely and sad life since she remarried, with no bonds outside her husband; who encouraged and enabled her every delusion, solidifying her hatred for and distance from my grandmother and her family, my brother’s absolute disdain for her, and my own lack of contact.
Last Monday, my mother had a heart attack. She died on the table twice and was completely brain dead when they brought her back. On Saturday, the day before Mother’s day, they unplugged her and I was able to visit, completely alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Jake waited in the lobby. I expected her to be frail and peaceful, but she was morbidly obese, appeared to be bloated with broken blood vessels in her arms and hands, and her breathing was labored through the effort of working her collapsed lung. I gave her husband the latest ultrasound picture of the babies and asked that she be buried with it, somewhat grateful that she didn’t live to know that she wouldn’t be allowed to see them unless she received the help she denied she needed. I spent the next day ignoring “Happy Mother’s Day” texts, while waiting for that fated one from my brother. I’d always hoped that my mom would get treatment, therapy or medication or both, that we could eventually have something, that I’d once again see a shadow of the woman she used to be… and now it’s over. There’s no more time. As that succinct text message said “mom’s gone”… really and truly this time.
When I was little, my grandma used to take my brother and I out and give us whatever we wanted, usually sugar of some kind. She’d bring us home and I’d be hyped up on M&M’s or ice cream and my mom would be exasperated with her and tell me that one day, when I had children, she would do the same. She would have been my age at the time. When she was my age, my mom pictured a future where she was allowed and alive to see my children. She should have had that. She should have had a better life. She should have been surrounded by her kids and grandchildren and a hodge podge of friends. Instead, she had a lonely and pitiful existence with only the companionship of a miserable little man who exacerbated the many mental issues that ultimately ruined her.
The day after Mother’s Day, my mom died at sixty years old… and no one cares. Besides a lack of friends or coworkers, she had no siblings and wasn’t close with her own family. My father’s family was horrible to her, even before she deserved it, and I’ve spent my entire life hearing the nasty things they have to say about her. While I know my dad would love to offer his comfort and possibly even feels he can relate, from the death of my grandfather, I don’t recall anyone ever telling him they’d like to dance on his dad’s grave and I’m not really interested in discussing his choreography, no matter how justified his anger. Worried that I’d keep it to myself long enough to make it really awkward, though, I had Jake call him and deliver the news with instructions to tell everyone that I don’t want to talk… because beyond my husband and grandma, anyone who says they’re sorry is lying. They’re sorry for me, sorry for my grandma, sorry for my brother and his kids… but no one is sorry for my mother’s lost life, in any sense of the phrase. No one but my grandma and I will cry for her and even those are conflicted tears, because deep down, we’re both happy it’s over for her. She didn’t have a good life and it wasn’t going to get any better. She was losing her grip on reality faster and faster and her health was inarguably failing, as well. There won’t even be a funeral, as her husband insists that she didn’t want a service of any kind, which has always been completely out of character. He’ll be having her cremated to bury her alone, without anyone present, like a stray dog. The woman who made those birthday pancakes and binged on raw cookie dough was gone long ago, but now so is any hope that I’ll ever see her again… and no one cares.