I’m pretty quiet about my birth mother in life and on FB, unless the subject comes up.
When I see someone post something mushy and in the way of tribute for motherhood, I will usually leave a message saying, “I’m so glad you had a wonderful mother.” I’m tired of just passing them by, and it’s the honest truth. I want every kid to have a nurturing parent who guides them in ways that give them the freedom to live out their passions.
The thing is, my mother was someone who was never diagnosed as mentally ill because she never had a problem with her Borderline Personality Disorder. With her 8 marriages (married 2 guys twice), messy life decisions, and inability to manage most of her financial dealings, my siblings and I all ended up suffering from PTSD from dealing with her and her machinations. It’s clear that she was narcissistic and didn’t perceive our hurts or fears as anything significant. It was always about her and her dramas. This meant we basically went without nurture during our neediest times in life. It’s really hard to celebrate what you wished for but never got with any kind of consistency.
She was a charming woman with winsome traits when she wanted something from you, or even if she just wanted to be liked. She took pretty good care of her appearance, and honestly tried to be some kind of good cheerleader in her later years, when BPD tends to be less intense for post-menopausal women. I was a bit surprised by how lessened her behavior traits were until I read an article that said that the lowering of hormones did that.
It didn’t banish or cure her mental illness though, it just made it trickier to know when you were dealing with her or her illness. Before, you always knew to just deal with the illness because the person behaving outside the traits didn’t last very long. With the new situation, where there was an equal time exhibition, you just tended to get hurt more often by not knowing when the shift happened.
So when my mother died in 2013, it was with a nearly audible sigh of relief that her children mourned her passing. She died in a peaceful way in spite of her more cruel diseases. But for the very first time, we didn’t have to brace for her erratic behaviors, her weird letters, beseeching phone calls, or her manipulative conversations to do what she wanted done in the way she wanted it done. There would no longer be her odd comments that made you doubt something you were sure of before she spoke.
There would also be no more insightful comments on different family members who caught her attention, or jokes about things that needed to be seen in humorous ways, for she was intelligent and had a lively sense of humor. There would also be no more thoughtful comments during her times of sanity that would bring me to a delayed epiphany. There would be no more times for me to find another waterfall picture for her computer wallpaper, or comfortable hours where she relived her childhood for me, and introduced me to the people she saw as significant in her life. Family folks would become more than names in a family tree carefully charted, but more like people with flesh and blood and dreams and fears – and yes, even heartbreaks.
I lost many good things the day my mother died, and that still has some painful thorns on occasion. But more than that, I lost a slippery slope of conflict and despair, and that’s where the relief comes in.
We honored her with a Memorial Service in her church – the very first they’d ever had. Most folks choose to use a Funeral Home. Ma had her final arrangements made at the funeral home ahead of time, with a life insurance policy that paid for almost everything. There was another life insurance policy to cover what the first didn’t. So, she was thoughtful about not leaving us one more mess of hers to clean up – the good person who lived with a mental illness having reined the most at the end. We were able to carry her urn into the church, so we didn’t have those huge fees of moving a body. That’s how we were able to give her the kind of service I am sure she’d have been thrilled to see and be a part of.
The ladies of the church served us a lovely buffet, and we made sure they got something back for their trouble. The memory was such a time of healing for all of us who had endured our collateral damage from her mental illness. We needed that more than I can say. We could all gather, her children, her siblings, dear close friends and others, to celebrate the things we admired about her in complete safety for once. If we did that in her hearing while she lived, it usually would end up being used as a springboard for her next bad behaviors – so we were all very careful about what we said in her hearing.
So that’s why, when Mother’s Day comes along, I will pray for all of the mother’s I know of in my life, first. But then I shift to pray for all of the kids – young and old – who have mother’s with mental illness who aren’t getting help for it or managing it in healthy ways. I get it, and it’s not deserved. Mental illness is neither the fault nor responsibility of the children. Even if they do something plainly wrong, the reactions will frequently be from the illness and rarely from a careful response of correction.
But – we can come out of it with amazingly impressive life skills, if we get help to fix what we missed through recovery programs like Codependents Anonymous (something I resorted to as a way of managing her erratic behavior), or other therapeutic options for good self-health and healing. Once I got a good handle on what was healthy and how to live it in my life better, it helped me to know how to celebrate the best of my mother, without being unguarded against her lesser version of life. I knew how to deal with the worst of her behaviors, though it still wasn’t a desirable thing to endure. It was messy, and my timing could be off, but it was more manageable.
She’s healed where she is now, and that’s a very good thing for me to focus on. I don’t want to reflect her bad stuff to my children or anyone else. So, it helps to remember that we laid that bad stuff to rest on that lovely May day of her Memorial.
Happy Heavenly Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you. We’re all doing well, and we miss the good moments with you. We miss the hugs (but not the rummage sale gifts – jus sayin). So glad you’re getting the hugs you missed from your long lost beloveds, now.