A letter to my mother, the week of her passing
You and I never got along. We were not so much oil and water as we were fire and gasoline.
I couldn't talk to you. I stayed away from you, not only to protect my own heart, but to protect yours. You could be hurtful. I know that I could be, too. It was best we didn't talk.
I didn't understand you. I never did. And I was quite sure that you didn't love me. I knew that you thought that you loved me, but I have never felt like you actually did. You might have felt the same about me. I wanted to love you...but I didn't know how.
I have spent my life trying to outrun the definition of "bad kid" that I have always been so sure was the family narrative. I am not bad. I am not bad. I am not bad.
I am not bad.
What is this mess?
I made my peace with letting you go years ago. I thought that when you passed it would be easier for me, for the "bad kid."
As it happens, that's not how that works.
This week, I took up chain smoking and staring into space.
I've become very good at smiling and nodding politely when people tell me how much you loved me, knowing in my heart that it wasn't true.
Except...maybe it was true.
I don't feel guilt about our relationship. This distance was the only possible way. But regret...there is regret. Wishing things could have been different. Wishing that you could have been more honest about your secrets. Wishing that I would have had more patience for what you struggled with. Wishing that it hadn't gone so far that there was just never going to be any closure or resolution.
Just distance. And hurt.
I am trying to navigate this. I am unwinding my head and my heart, I am holding all of this in my hands and trying to put it back together into something that resembles...something.
I don't know what this is.
My niece told me today that you loved my art and my writing and that you believed in me and thought that I had a good heart and I am just.....undone.
Here's the thing, mom: I think you had a good heart, too. I know you loved your kids and I know you loved people. I know you just wanted to take care of them. And your oldest daughter is opinionated and strong willed and doesn't take any shit and gets angry and apparently...you saw that I also have a good heart. Even if our good hearts couldn't line up.
I am angry at you. There are things in our past that you never wanted to talk about. Your oldest daughter shouts the truth from rooftops. We couldn't get past that, could we? But...
But, but, but...
It is so clear how loved you were. And how much you meant to others. And that says something.
I know who you were to me. But I also know who you were to others. And one truth doesn't negate the other. They reside simultaneously.
And so, this week, I am trying to know you through the eyes of other people. See you through their truth. And it's really beautiful. It doesn't negate my truth or experience. There are things that I will wrestle with forever. But my experience doesn't negate their truth and that truth is that you were loved and that you did love. And you did your best. I see that. I want you to know, I do see that.
I want you to know that when you and Anna were struggling, that I always told her that I wanted her to have a healthy relationship with you. I know you were scared that I would try to turn her against you, but I didn't want that. I never wanted that. I slipped up a few times. I got angry and said things that I immediately regretted, but I caught it and I always, always, always told Anna that I wanted you guys to be ok. That my relationship with you did not have to be hers, and I never wanted it to be. I didn't want this for her. I wanted you both to be ok. And it was. She knows who you are, she sees your humanity, your ups and downs and she loves you with all of her heart. And....
And it has...
It has just struck me...
That Anna was your youngest and so precious to you and...
...you entrusted her to me. Even though you were scared. Even though we couldn't communicate without crying and screaming at each other. You trusted me with your youngest daughter. You trusted me to do the right thing. So...
I guess you didn't think I was so bad. And you know...Anna is this beautiful, strong, courageous, hilarious girl, growing into this amazing woman and that was nurtured in your home. So you can't be that bad.
I'm sorry that we couldn't figure this out while you were alive. I will always be sorry for that. But I promise you, I can let this anger go. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But I can. I will. And I thank you for the gifts that you gave me, even when I couldn't see them.
Bye, mom. Rest in peace.