My mother was a living dichotomy. She always lived in black and white, with no shades of grey or soft edges. As I explore more about our relationship and her death in therapy, I see the effects of that dichotomy on my present life. I loved my mother dearly and am very glad to have been able to help her. That’s always been clear to me. Lately, though, I’m also feeling a bit of anger towards her in terms of my role as parent for her. Bit of a reversal.
Arguments with my mother never seemed to have true starts and stops. Rather, they began very suddenly, hit a peak at some point, and died down. I never knew when the same problem with start again, though. She chastised me for crying, called me hard-hearted for being stoic, and mocked any sign of fear. The day after such an argument, though, she was very verbally repentant. In fact, I never knew how to respond to her feelings. If she apologised and I accepted, it meant that I thought she was wrong and would always hold that against her. If I said nothing, it meant that her apology was not accepted and that I hated her. She would threaten suicide, talk horribly about herself and cause herself serious physical harm, all because– if she was to be believed– I made her feel bad for having treated me badly. The therapist told me my mother and I had an unhealthy dependence on each other; she started to take responsibility for her actions, but I did not allow her to. I was always so confused.
Move forward a bit over a decade, and my mother takes her life in response to the thought that I would move away and leave her on her own. The task falls on me, now, to break the pattern and get rid of the hold my mother has on my life. This is really quite difficult, as it involves admitting the problems with my mother’s perspective and accepting that perhaps she was wrong about me. This also means accepting that my perspective of her has been a bit skewed. Not wrong, per say, as I always admitted she did some awful things. I have not, however, looked at those things in terms of myself. The therapist says I need to stop looking at what happened in terms of how it affected my mother and how I could have helped her. Instead, she wants me to look at how incidents affected *me* then and how they affect me still. Frightening prospect.
Driving home today, I was thinking about the emotions that surrounded my mother’s death. In the midst of it all, that dichotomy still existed. I was gutted by the loss, but a part of me recognised the feeling of liberation. This is something I’ve felt guilty about for the past nine years. Today, however, I learnt that it is simply a fact. I’d give anything to have my mother back. She is dead, however. She isn’t coming back. Full stop. According to the therapist, recognising the possibility of freedom from the pattern my mother and I built is a step in regaining control and accepting the place– both positive and negative– my mother has in my life today.
Sarah McLachlan says it best in her song ‘Plenty‘:
I used to think my life was often empty
A lonely space to fill
You hurt me more than I ever would have imagined
You made my world stand still
And in that stillness, there was a freedom
I’d never felt before