The Edited Version of This Week's Anger


They say grief is a roller coaster.

I'm going down.

I'm so angry. I'm sad. I'm miserable. I'm furious. I want to break everything. I want to crawl into bed and never get out.

I feel nauseous.

My head hurts.

Every post I write is a different emotion and here's where we are today:
I'm really, really angry at my parents.
I'm really angry at God.

I've tried sorting through every one else's experiences. I've tried to honor their feelings. I've choked my own feelings down until they made me physically sick. I have smiled and laughed and cried with everyone else and their wonderful memories of my parents and I have tried to see them through a different lens and I have tried SO HARD to pretend that my parents didn't hurt me more than I have ever been hurt by anyone and...

I'm exhausted.

Most people have better memories of my parents than I do. Which can mean a couple of things. Either my memory is completely wrong, everyone else is lying, or I just wasn't someone my parents could love.

I still don't think everyone else is lying. And I have witnesses and a box full of history that backs up my memories.

So my parents just didn't love me. It sounds whiny and bratty when you say it out loud, but when it's true, it absolutely wrecks your life.

And when you look at a bunch of pictures and hear so many stories about how much they loved everyone else and the great things they did for them...it's hard not to just completely lose it.  Even when people who you know and love and respect promise you that you are NOT a garbage person and that you ARE worthy of love...

It's hard not to be angry and sad and confused and to try and pretend that you're not angry and sad and confused until you make yourself physically sick....and just repeat. Over and over and over again.





I am not perfect and I have made more mistakes in my life than I can count. That is true. I have done a lot of good in my life. That is true. My mom was mean to me and my mom lied to me and my mom lied about me and my mom did a lot of damage to my soul. That is true.  My father disappeared and reappeared just enough to make me love and miss him and just enough to do a lot of damage to my soul.  That is true.  My parents were also good to a lot of people and most people have a lot of praise for them and their memories. That is true.



So now, I'm stuck. How can I have a relationship with people who have all of these great memories, when everything hurts?  How can I honor their memories but be true to my own? How do I exist with them in the middle of these opposites? How can I let go of my own awful bits and focus on being good but not only focus on the good in others? Why do the bad parts hurt so much? Why are they so BIG?

I don't know that there's a space for that. For this mess.  I don't know that there's a place for me not to remain isolated from my family. And that makes me sad. And scared. And angry. And sick.

I've been sick for weeks.


And this bothers me: Do they get to be in heaven now? Because they said the right words and poured water over their heads and broke the bread and drank from the cup and went to church, they just get to be in heaven now? Forever and ever, amen?  With nothing to be sorry about? And all of their sins forgiven and forgotten and a rotting pile of garbage, sick and sobbing daughter left here on earth to try and figure out what this all is, exactly?




I found myself screaming at the sky, "ARE YOU EVEN FUCKING SORRY?????"

I found myself thinking that God sure has a funny way of building character in humans and that all of these trials and tribulations and the constant pain for everyone, all of the time, is really just starting to piss me off.

God and I are fighting right now.

I found myself arguing with myself. Maybe there is nothing to be sorry about.  Maybe you really are garbage. Maybe your memories are false and your parents are in heaven where everything is forgiven and forgotten and they don't worry about you because this is all in your head, and you are nothing, nothing, nothing...

My husband pulls me back from that.  He reminds he that he is my witness. But he leaves and I spiral again...

I'm angry about the spiraling.  I feel like I should have a better handle on this, but I just don't.  I posted this yesterday and it was all anger and only anger. And I deleted it, and this is the edited version, because I am trying to be fair to my family and to be fair to their memories. This space, where I tell my stories, is now tied to other people. And I can be fair to me about this or I can be fair to them about this, but I cannot be fair to everyone. My truth is the opposite of theirs. And writing is my therapy. So I'm stuck. I don't really know what to do. But I'll figure it out.  We always figure it out, right?


Mother's Day


Mother's Day is hard. It always has been.

I didn't want to go to church today. Mothers everywhere. Mother's Day in your face.
But I went.

We're in the process of cleaning my mom's house and packing her things.

It's hard for my sister and my niece. Less so for me, to pack up the things of this woman that I didn't know, but who somehow was my mother.

I said goodbye years ago.

I did, right?


I asked my sister if I could organize the photographs and letters, put them into order, and give them back to her. 

My mom and I fought. She was better than me. I was all wrong. My mom had everything under control. I needed to get my shit together and find Jesus...or something. We fought. And we fought. Until we didn't. Nothing but space between my mother and I.

I didn't like her. I didn't think she was honest.

But I took these photos and letters and documents home and I read and organized for hours and I did not meet the saintly mother that everyone spoke so highly of...

But...

I met the mother who was human. Who struggled. Who suffered loss. Who was scared. Who was tired. Who struggled but cloaked her struggle in unhealthy coping mechanisms and so much kindness towards others that she didn't leave much for herself. 

She lied to me about who she was. She lied to herself about who I was. 

My mom was broken and flawed and human and she didn't know how to be broken and flawed and human so she tried to be perfect.

It doesn't work, mom. I tried that. I know.

I never really met my mom until she died. And now, it's like she's everywhere.

Lilies of the valley remind me of my mom. It's a positive association, from when I was much younger. I've tried for years to grow them, but they never came. 

Until this last month, right after my mom died.




Church today, and dread. I go early because I like to sit in a certain spot (with a quick escape route because anxiety anxiety anxiety). I also go early because the music keeps me still. 

I like the stillness.

My mom liked church music. There was only one song that my family really wanted played at my mom's celebration of life - "Oceans." They said it was her favorite. I'd never heard it before, but it's really beautiful. They played it at her celebration of life and the pastor spoke in depth about my mom and the meaning of that song.

I've never heard that song at my own church.

Until today. Mother's Day.

I cried and cried and cried through the whole thing.

Life is weird, right?

My mom is everywhere.




I know.... I KNOW... that my relationship with my mom was the only way it could have been. I still don't have any regrets about that. We weren't going to change each other. But it makes this whole thing...this appreciation for the side of her that we found in boxes in deep corners of closets, so much...so...

...it's...

...it's hard. And beautiful. And eye-opening. And healing. And strange. And constant. And weird.

It's really weird.

I did not like my perfect mother. But I have so much respect and empathy and love for my broken, flawed human, struggling and trying so hard mom. That's the mom I wish I could have met before.

That's the mom I'm meeting now.




A friend from church posted this today and I thought it was beautiful and it fits even if it doesn't quite fit:

“They offered to take me sightseeing. We had time for only one major attraction: they suggested either Sonoma Valley or Muir Woods. I remembered the postcards and photographs of the redwood forests, where branches grew higher than houses, and cars could drive through trees. I chose the woods.
I knew nothing about redwoods, except what my mother had told me about their size – which, as it happened, was pretty accurate in Muir Woods, except for the part about the cars. I’d never seen trees so big.

As we shuffled through the ferns and sorrel, we reached a small, odd group of redwoods growing in a circle around a charred stump. The burned down trunk stood maybe six feet high, but the trees surrounding it were young and healthy. Park rangers call these clusters “the family circle”. The less botanically inclined usually call them – and I swear this is true – the mother tree and her daughters.
Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture, and Muir Woods is no exception. Redwoods have evolved to turn disaster into opportunity. In these coastal forests, death produces life.

This is what I mean: In the redwood exosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire – when, in other words, she dies – the trauma stimulates the burls’ growth hormones. The seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.

I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives, are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.”

Motherless Daughters
The Legacy of Loss
Hope Edelman




Life is weird ...people tell you how to feel and you tell yourself how you're going to feel but the truth is, we just don't know how life is going to hit us.  

This is hard...

...and life is weird and full of struggle and loss and confusion and pain and light and joy and suffering and loss and...

... And we keep going because there's beauty and wonder and love and amazement and...

We keep going.

We just keep going.





Hello, Anger.




...I knew it would come.

Have you ever noticed that no one dies who was less than perfect?

Everyone who dies is elevated to sainthood.

There is no room for complicated grief.  Just perfect memories of perfect people.

At her Celebration of Life, people kept telling me how much my mom loved me.

"She loved you so much."

I smiled. I nodded. I hugged them back. I told them how sorry I was for their loss.

And I was. I am.  She sounds amazing and I'm so sorry that you will have this hole in your life where she was. These stories are incredible.

I wish I could have met her.

And I wanted to scream.



I wanted to beat my fists into the floor and scream and break things and disparage her memory and...

I smiled.  I nodded. I hugged people back.

I can recognize and appreciate who my mother was to all of these people.  I can appreciate the deep affection and love that they had for her, and all of the good that she brought into their lives.

I am not mad at people who saw the good in my mother and who loved her for it.

But...

I found myself writing my own obituary this week. I implored my husband, "if I die first, don't let them make me perfect.  Tell them I was flawed and broken and struggling and succeeding and failing and trying and human. Don't let them put me on a pedestal."

And I cleaned my house for hours and days because everyone dies suddenly and my house has to be clean...just in case...

And I walked around the house dazed and I asked my husband," was I fair to my parents?  If my mom was so perfect and my relationship with her was just this...mess...was I fair? Am I awful? Am I crazy? Did I make all of this up? Was I fair?"

And he assured me that I was fair. That he was my witness.  That I was not crazy and that yes, I was fair.

This mess...

My mom said "our secrets make us sick" and I laughed.

My mom had a secret.  And I believe, and I will always believe,  and I know that she sacrificed her relationship with me in order to keep her secret.

When she died, people who knew her well but had never met me looked at me with disgust.  People assumed that I was an alcoholic, a drug addict, in trouble with the law, any number of things I must be that would lead me not to speak to this woman who was a saint among saints.

I must be a bad child.  There must be something wrong with me. I am terrible.

And through the years, I isolated myself from everyone because...everyone thought I should speak to my mother.  Everyone thought I should be nicer to her.  She was such a good woman and it hurt her so much that I wouldn't speak to her and why was I so awful and...

No one believes me anyway and she always said that I was a liar.

I just closed myself off. And now she is gone.  And there is no room for complicated grief. There is no room to wish that your mother would have actually loved you the way that everyone says that she did. When people tell me how much she loved me, there is no place to do or say anything but agree. There is no place to refute the perfection of the deceased.  There is no room to say that this hurts me too, but in a different way.

She is gone, a saint in Heaven. And I am her child in continuing isolation.

And no one dies who was less than perfect.








Sorting



The day after my mom died, the outpouring of love for her was incredible.  People said how amazing she was, how she took care of everyone, how she was like a second mother to them, that she had the most generous heart and on and on and on...

I was furious. Who were these people? Were they blind? Were they stupid? Kind? Generous? A second mother??? Did they even know my mom? Had they actually met?

That was Day 1.

I'm not there anymore.

I'm still navigating these waters and I find something new every day.

Today I was thinking about cruelty.

How my mother thought that I was cruel and I thought that she was cruel and how people who knew my mother and loved her so much could not understand how or why I could be so cruel to her and how people who know and love me so much could not understand how my mother could be so cruel to me and people who love me do not think that I am cruel and people who love my mother do not think that she is cruel and how on earth did we get here and it is

so. 
much. 
to. 
unravel.





I am not cruel. My mother was not cruel.  But we are broken. We are all broken. And I guess with my mom and I, that brokenness came across as cruelty.  Because to be sure, no matter what anyone else might see in either one of us, my mother and I could be very cruel to each other.  No matter how beautiful we each might be, our brokenness could make us hurtful.

Not intentionally malicious.  But still...cruel.

So there's that. I'm still working on that. I have nothing profound or wise to say, except how strange it is to try and see my mom and I's relationship through the eyes of others, and to simultaneously take her side and mine. And to try and find a place where there are no sides to take.

I'm not there yet.




But I am at brokenness. And vulnerability.

And here's where things are weird...

My mom and I, for at least a little while, were the same guy. I'm trying to wrap my head around that - that my mom and I, who generally could not be in the same room with each other without everything turning into terrible, were incredibly alike.

Broken and in pain, and trying to fix it by ignoring it and trying to save the world instead.  My mother was kind and generous and thoughtful and loving and took care of everyone around her. I cannot deny that. She would have taken care of me if I would have let her (I did not, and that was the right choice, as difficult a choice as it was for everyone involved. She was not wrong for wanting to take care of me. I was not wrong for not letting her). My mother wanted people to be happy, and if she could help them be happy, she would.  I didn't know this version of my mother, but I can see it and hear it from everyone who talks about her.  Literally, everyone.

Those people are not liars. They are speaking about someone that they loved and that they knew well. They speak the truth.

And I think that there are many people who might say the same about me - that I am kind and thoughtful and generous and loving and I take care of people ...

BUT...I now take care of myself first, before trying to take care of everyone around me. And I had to learn that the hard way, by completely falling apart.

(aren't all of life's most valuable lessons learned the hard way? And doesn't it piss you off?)

I think that desire to fix the world comes from not wanting to confront our own brokenness and pain. Because seriously...who wants to mess with any of that when instead, you can shove it aside and just have people love you and think that you are good?  And what would happen if people thought that you were flawed? Would they stop loving you?

It is best not to even find out.

I think that's where my mom was. And I think that, because I was there... for a really long time. "Nothing is wrong with me as long as I am good enough for everyone else."  I think my mom was everything to everyone for her entire life, and in being that, she completely ignored the parts of herself that needed the most attention. That hurt. And brokenness.

And I wish my mom could have opened herself up to that and just fallen apart, because as painful as that is, it is also such an incredible place of healing.

To say, "I cannot do this. I cannot help you. Or save you. I'm in pain. I cannot be perfect. I am flawed because I am human. I need help. I need to rest for a while."

And I wish that I would have had the courage and the wisdom to have recognized that struggle in my mom, and let her know that as angry as I was, if she would have asked for a lifeline, I would have provided it. I wish I wouldn't have been so arrogant as to think that I knew the whole of who she was, and that there wasn't anything left to know.


The things we realize when it's too late...
...let them be the things we carry going forward...
so we don't have to do this again.





So I am sorting through all of this. Finding out who my mom was and who she was not.  Fighting with her in my head. Trying not to fight with her in my head.  Trying to balance between my truth and the truth of others. Trying to be kind. Trying to be true. Trying to be fair. Trying to stay afloat on these weird, rough, and unfamiliar waters.

And knowing - you cannot be an effective lighthouse if you don't actually maintain the lighthouse.  A lighthouse that burns out cannot light the way for anyone.

And realizing - a lighthouse shines a light for all - even the people that you are angry with, the people you don't know, the people that you judge even when you're trying not to judge them.  The light does not switch on and off.

You have to keep the light on.
And you have to maintain the building.

I wish you Grace and Peace, today and always.
I am so grateful for you.








Guilt



It's a process, this letting go.

We don't exist alone. Our stories are so intertwined with the stories of others. How do we tell our own story and the stories of our pain while still being compassionate and respectful to the stories of others?

Did I say that I don't feel guilt?

My hands are shaking.

I was wrong. I was wrong about so much.

Here is the guilt...

Boundaries are appropriate and necessary...but I wish I would have set them...better?

"These are my boundaries and they are necessary for my survival and health, but if you decide that you want to battle this beast, I will battle it with you. Do not be ashamed. I will not judge you."

This is my regret.

This is what I wish I would have said.

This is the person I wish I would have been.

I call myself a lighthouse and I failed to shine a light for the person who needed it more than anyone.

This is a very painful lesson to learn. And I'm quite sure that I'm not done learning it...
I will do better.
I am so sorry.