Monday, 21 May 2007

My Mother

Today is the 32nd anniversary of my grandmother's death. I wouldn't have remembered it but my mother reminded me of it yesterday. She thinks her brother is hanging on till this day passes before he will pass over. He weighs all of 120lbs now, can't walk or do much else other than watch TV. That's no life.

This is also the 32nd anniversary of my grandmother becoming a saint overnight. On May 20, 1975, my grandmother was a difficult woman who made life difficult for those around her, particularly my mother. Then she died and guilt set in. I think about my mother a lot at that stage in her life because I'm almost there now myself. What will my life be like when she is gone? Will I still stop everything I'm doing every Sunday at 4:30 in anticipation of her weekly phone call. Will I still edit conversations so as not to bring up disturbing subjects? Will my mother turn into a saint overnight?

I think not because I see my mother through a very clear glass. She is and has been a troubled woman with some mental health issues. To be fair, though, some of them were not of her making. The year her mother died was a very fraught one for my mother. She'd had a hysterectomy complicated by endometrial tissue gluing her ovaries to her bladder. Then her mother died. Then before she'd even had time to finish her grieving, my father left her in a ruthless and cowardly manner. He moved out while we were at my grandpa's, waiting to tell us the night we'd finally arrived home exhausted from the summer and the journey.

My mother didn't react well to this news, but he must have known she wouldn't. He had moved into a gated apartment complex in anticipation of her reaction. First, she tried to take an overdose of valium but ended up sleeping for several hours. Then when she finally awoke, she got in her car and repeatedly rammed my dad's boat. She ruined the transmission of the car but the boat was fine. Then she took a bus to a neighboring town where she tried to buy a gun and a knife and called me to say she was coming back to kill my dad and me (why me?). She came back gunless and knifeless. She locked herself in her bathroom the next day while only my 3-year-old nephew and I were at home and broke a mirror, presumably to cut her wrists. My nephew and I banged and kicked at the door in vain. I called my sister, who came home and talked her out of the bathroom. The next day my mother was admitted to a secure mental health unit and I moved out of the house, never to return. I was afraid of her and what she might do. I moved in with my dad, cramping his style a bit with his new lady friend (she's been his wife for over 30 years now).

The next few years were difficult ones for my mother. She had been put on a Thorazine-type drug in the hospital and labeled paranoid schizophrenic. This drug turned her into a complete zombie, and she became dependent on it until a psychotherapist in California got her off it. She sold the house in Florida at a loss, moved 4,000 miles to be near her psycho sister, got involved with a man who stole from her, and finally ended up 45 miles away from the town she was born in and hated. But she had a job and slowly began to build a life. I was and am her only child who ever visits her. Back then I was a minor and had to visit her at Christmas whether I wanted to or not (and my dad and stepmother went skiing every Christmas anyway).

My mother has no memory of most of those events and has denied them the the one time I tried to bring up the subject. So there's never been any closure. No family counselling. Nothing. Just time. I feel no anger toward her anymore, nor fear. I feel very sorry for this woman who couldn't control her emotions and paid a very heavy price as a result. How would her life have been different if her mother hadn't died when she did, or if my dad hadn't left when he did (he says he felt he had to or he would have died of a heart attack), or if I hadn't moved out. Or if she'd just held together, even a little bit.


Snuffleupagus said...

What a sad story. Hmm... holding together. Actually I think that's what teachers sometimes don't manage to do. They get beaten down by the job - because it is so emotionally demanding, physically draining, and mentally frustrating. Many give up without realising they have. Others simply die a slow death. That's why they often look so haggard. But thank you for your kind words about me. Your children's teachers are tired. In a way, like your mother, circumstances have made them the way that they are.


lady macleod said...


Thank you for sharing what is a powerful and painful story. the very fact that you can write it down and look at the situation with some distance is good. I think each of us, your grandmother, your mother, your dad, all have to take responsibility for our choices and how we react to the difficulties that life presents to us. You did not make the choices for her life, she did. I find it incredibly compassionate on your part that you have forgiven her, and of course better for you as well.

Again, I think it was very brave and smart of you to write it down.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Thank you both for those kind words. It wasn't a happy time in my life, but it did go a long way in shaping who I am today.

chumly said...

Mental illness is hard to live with. You seem to have come a long way and your story is inspiring.