Today is my mother’s 100th birthday. She is no longer living, but still, today is her birthday. I think of the last time she and I had cake. It was on my 50th birthday, just a bit over one month before she died. It was chocolate. I bought it for myself. I was alone in Indiana with her. One friend remembered what day it was — and sent me a bouquet of irises. No one in my family remembered. No one called and there were no cards or gifts. Mom was deteriorating and couldn’t really converse. But she loved the cake.
I can all too easily slip into a “poor me” mentality when I think of that time. I learned that behavior from Mom. There was a sad and angry little girl inside my mother. Her wrath, when loosed on the world, was in turns both uncaring and viciously spiteful. Not everyone saw this side of her. Few people spent as much time with her as I did.
I still am hesitant to put down the really mean things I saw come from her. Poison pen letters. Hurtful, truly nasty words intended to cut an innocent to pieces. Aloof back-turning when someone standing on a highrise ledge outside a window inconvenienced her or would have impinged on an imaginary landscape. I cannot write a survivor’s tale about what I call the family Munchausen without speaking about these aspects of her as she parented me.
There is a reluctance to sully her reputation, though most of the people she knew as peers or friends are gone from this world. I no longer have a hard time saying true things about her, although I lived the first 40 years of my life unable to say such truths. But now there is a part of me that knows that living a life that was so filled with sadness and anger must have been a horrible experience for her, and that part of me hurts for her.
Before my therapist retired last year, she told me that she thought I needed to get really angry at my mother. My therapist, Ann, helped me with rebuilding, with integration of many shattered parts of myself, and helped me while I was learning to nurture myself. She never saw me vent the anger. But it came out. I remember three times when rage filled me. The first was when I confronted Mom about the Munchausen by Proxy behaviors though I had not come to call them that. She was very angry that I could “do such a thing.” The second time I was depressed and angry and I remember choking and screaming through tears to my husband that my mother intended to outlive everyone she knew or had given birth to so that she would have the last word. Then there was the time I was beyond words, simply raging, and I picked up a very sturdy kitchen chair and repeatedly pounded it against the floor until a leg broke in two and went flying across the room.
Now I just feel sad that her inability to cope with aspects of her life ruined much of her life and that of quite a few other people’s lives. I’m sad that she never experienced happiness for more than a fleeting moment of time. I saw other aspects of her, and those are what I will choose to remember the rest of the day. Baking with her, picking wild strawberries, and her helping me rescue a little tree that had sprouted but never could have grown to maturity at the shaded base of another tree in the woods across from our house.
Our relationship improved the last 10 years of her life, though it hit rock bottom just before that time. I wanted to heal, so I did, and this helped her. I am glad I was able to make peace within myself and with her. Because of that I can now say with sincerity, “I miss you Mom. I love you and miss you. Happy 100th.”