Rage, fear, guilt, remorse…Happy Mother’s Day!

By Caitlin Kelly

Mother and Child
Mother and Child (Photo credit: gem66)

Sorry, but this isn’t the place for flowers and candies and sentiment today.

Millions of people aren’t hugging Mom or making her dinner or staring sadly at her photo, mourning someone who is long dead.

For many people, the word mother is more a descriptive noun than a nurturing verb.

I wrote about this last year, prompting two followers here to reveal some of their more challenging maternal histories as well; both, not surprisingly, have become friends off-line as a result.

No one wants to admit publicly they did not get along with their mother, unless it’s a tell-all-fuck-you memoir like Sean Wilsey’s — whose stepmom threatened to sue him if he went ahead and published. (He did.)

My mother lives in a nursing home now, in a Canadian city a seven-hour flight from me. We haven’t spoken since May 2010 and I am not sure if or when we will, or when or if I’ll see her again. She has some dementia, how much is unclear.

Our relationship is much complicated by a woman who purports to be a dear friend of hers, who visits her daily and has been both determined and efficient at shutting me out and making sure my mother thinks the very worst of me. Lawyers and others have told me this is not uncommon between people of vastly differing wealth and in a family where estrangement between child(ren) and parent exists and and can be further exploited.

Describing this dispassionately here does not mitigate the incredibly deep hurt I feel, the impotent rage I bear toward this woman and her family or the shrugged-shoulder response of my mother’s few remaining friends and relatives, some as burned out as I by decades of my mother’s assorted issues.

I really miss the best of my mother — her laugh, her intelligence, her wit, her charm, her beauty, her range of interests. In earlier, healthier years she was an actress, model, TV host, journalist, broadcaster and lay chaplain helping hospice patients, pretty amazing to me since she had already survived multiple cancers herself.

She traveled the world alone for years on end. She settled, for a while, in unlikely places, like the Mexican desert or Roswell, NM, Bath, England and Lima, Peru. I saw the world when she’d send me a plane ticket to meet her.

We had some serious adventures together:

— sleeping with our arms and feet entwined on a freezing cold overnight train through the Andes of Peru

— snorkeling for blue starfish in Fiji

— playing endless games of Scrabble in Costa Rica

— driving through the mountains and valleys of Mexico in a camper van, Judy Collins’ eight-track of Wildflowers playing

Wildflowers (Judy Collins album)
Wildflowers (Judy Collins album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— the fantastic birthday parties with cakes with sparklers she threw for me, one with little girls who came all the way to Montreal from Toronto for my 12th.

— laughing our asses off at almost anything

— comparing notes on the latest issue of Vanity Fair

I hate not having a mother any more, even if she is alive.

So, enjoy the day for me, and for her.

47 thoughts on “Rage, fear, guilt, remorse…Happy Mother’s Day!

  1. themodernidiot

    Dude-you’re killin’ me here. I didn’t have time to buy tissues!

    Joking aside, well done, my friend. Well done.

    Jose-buy this woman a fancy dinner 🙂

  2. I grew up feeling sorry for my mother. Now, I realize she’s just selfish to the absolute core. I spent a lot of Mother’s Days getting things thrown at me. Let’s go out for cupcakes and be glad for turning out the way we did in spite of what we didn’t have. 🙂

    1. It’s tough. My mother’s mother was no picnic so I know her own childhood was very rough. I haven’t had objects thrown at me, but things have been thrown and some nasty words have been spoken.

      I agree with your sentiment about surviving. 🙂

  3. Julia

    Mother’s Day, what a horribly conceived consumer holiday. (It actually began after WW1 to honour mother’s who had lost their sons to a horrifying death, a raising of consciousness of sorts) It’s not about the Hallmark Card. This is a very moving post. I’m glad you remember some good times, truly. I’m especially moved by the road trip in Mexico with the Judy Collins soundtrack.

  4. Nemesis

    [NoteToMs.Malled: I know… it’s a VeryDark picture… no hagiography there. For sure. I often wonder what maternal torments novelist Christina Crawford and screenwriters Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry and Frank Yablans endured to pen that. On second thought, let’s not go there. Yet another GreatPiece, Ms. Malled. Thank you.]

  5. If we’re honest, I think most of us have had dark or disappointing episodes with our mothers – but are there anything as wonderful as the memories of the good times? We have those, and they can’t be taken from us by anyone.

  6. Blood being thicker than water often falls down at the fact that some members of a family don’t like other members. Some people were not cut out to be parents but the accident happens nonetheless. Sometimes they try, sometimes they don’t. I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you but it’s terrible that others should step in to exploit the situation to gratify themselves in some way.
    I hope Jose has bought you a nice meal and you’ve treated yourself to the cupcake suggested by someone else.Maybe you can salvage some enjoyment from the day and remember with some joy the better times.
    xx Hugs xx

  7. I can honestly say that I am probably standing amoung the few that have pleasant memories. In my family, it was Father’s Day. So, I say, wait till then to let the true feelings come out about a day that pays homage to a person that should have opted to not have children.

  8. I’ll be honest. I like Mother’s Day for me, as an adult mother who likes her children and is lucky enough to have children who like me. No leisurely brunch or breakfast in bed, I still have to do all that I always have to do on a Sunday, Husband works. But still.
    OTOH, thinking about my own mother, and I am, because this is the first mother’s day since she passed, I feel relief.

  9. southwestdesertlover

    An exquisite gem of a post that brought comfort and solace. I didn’t think anyone else could have a mother like I had. I too, am a survivor of extremely violent parents and very cruel, hateful mother. I never had kids because I didn’t want history to repeat itself. Even with several years of hard work in therapy, I still sometimes need to remember to “put the bat down” and to be kind to myself. The last time I spoke with/saw my mom was March of 2011. She had a “friend” who did similar things as your mom’s “friend” including having her locks changed. I work on acceptance of how my mother is and how we will never, ever be close; and I pray for the willingness to be able to pray for my mom. Thank you so very much for your bravely courageous posting and for giving me a priceless gift – letting me know that I am not Lone Ranger.

    1. Well, thankfully (and I am sorry yours were so tough!) I never, ever faced physical violence from either parent, and my mother could be very verbally unkind but we also, clearly, had some great times as well.

      It is a dangerous and scary thing to say anything negative out loud about how we were mothered, or not. But I have met many people whose childhoods were definitely NOT the stuff of Hallmark cards. Only by being honest can we also see what effect it has had on us.

      I never had kids for a variety of reasons and feeling burned out by my own mother’s needs was one of them.

  10. Caitlin, I appreciate your confronting this issue of Mother’s Day not being a Hallmark event. My mother lives in a Canadian city, too. Only one of my sisters has much to do with her. I have been estranged from her for two years but most of my life really. It has only been in the past few years I have actually been able to talk about the life I had with her and my father. But I resolved when I had my own child that I would do things differently and somehow, some way I survived and have a full and good life. Some children are resilient, some are not. It is pitiful really to see a person so locked in to their damaged souls that they spend their whole life in hate; that is all I feel now for her – pity. I agree with Redterrain up there – for whatever feelings you have left for her, go see her, tell her what you loved about your time together and that way you have done the last, final, best thing for her and for yourself.

  11. I’m having all kinds of similar issues in my family and it seems that someone always preys on weak minds. I opt to forgive, to do the opposite of what my mother and hers did to each other. But, then, I can’t even see my own grandmother because of a wedge between us build out of ignorance and stupidity. Our mothers are raked through the mud for being human. I’m feeling it daily right now so I’m trying to understand it all.

    1. Being human is one thing. Being unwilling to deal with the consequences of your actions another. Families seem to be able to cause a lot of pain when the ideal is the opposite.

  12. Thanks for sharing this. I have a complicated relationship with my mother, so I can relate. We have a relationship but it’s not what I wish it was. The hardest part is trying to find a mother’s day card for her. I need one that says, thanks for making me tough, feisty and self-sufficient but they don’t make that one I like how you focused on the positive memories…which sound pretty outstanding actually! It’s too bad that it is the way it is. Sorry 😦

  13. A beautiful, moving piece. I felt like I was watching you playing scrabble and huddling on the train, and then the other woman at your mother’s bedside. Thanks for writing this.

  14. Year: 1981 or ’82 Place: Jetliner bound for the US – sitting on the tarmac at Gatwick Me: Sitting in the last row at the window. Smoking section. A woman tosses down a purse and says “Damn I don’t want to sit next to a smoker.”

    That was the start of an incredible relationship I had with your Mother. While we never saw each other in the flesh again, we corresponded for decades. She lived in Bath then, and I don’t remember where she was going. We talked the entire flight and I had to have the shrimp as she refused to eat shell fish prepared by airline caterers.

    During that long flight she told me about you, what an incredible writer you were and how proud she was of you.

    Over the years she would mail me things you wrote or mention you. And when she had surgery I called her and you (I think it was you) answered the phone (she didn’t feel like talking VBG).

    A few years ago (not many) we spoke on the phone for the last time. We had even started emailing but she didn’t seem very fascinated with that). Then silence. And later, out of the blue, she mailed me an article you had written, about her brain tumor, the surgery etc. I saved it, re-read it each time I found it, wondered how she was, where she was, where you were.

    A few months ago I found those pages again, and thought to look you up. I was over joyed to find so much written by you online! I found the post you wrote last May and was happy she was alive, sad that things were not happy for her or for the two of you and sky about posting to your blog.

    She gave me a lot of support during some difficult times with my Mom and odd situations I found myself in: she once wrote that if I told her a UFO and landed on my roof she would believe me – that it would be So Trish for that to happen. On occasion she would call and we would immediately sing a favorite song from “Evita” together on the phone, that was always a cheer up for me.

    This is not meant to be “Oh Yea well I knew your Mother and..” comment, I just wanted to (finally) tell you that I had known her. That she was my special pen-pal for many years and more: she always spoke so highly of you and of your accomplishments.

    1. Small world!

      Given how much Cynthia traveled, this does not surprise me — nor the long epistolary relationship. I’m glad she was was such a good friend to you. I know she could be a very good friend that way.

      Thanks for sharing this. It’s nice to hear she was so proud of me.

  15. Caitlin, I’m sorry to hear of this rift between you and your mother, especially since you share such wonderful memories of her. I can’t imagine having this other person between you and her, but I do believe things can change even when they seem impossible or we don’t know how to change them. I lost my mother when I was 22 and shortly thereafter my father stopped talking to me and my siblings… for 6 years. Long story, but eventually he came around and we reconnected. I used to think it would never happen but it did. I hope the same for you one day.

  16. Thanks for expressing this. My mom has Alzheimer’s. She’s not the woman she once was. That person is long gone, a victim of the disease. I have never been able to tell my dad this because I don’t feel he’d understand. He still believes she is the same person underneath the dementia. On Mother’s Day, he was unable to resist the temptation to sit and reminisce about the past. I have to admit, I didn’t stay long once that started.

    1. I’m sorry to hear this. It is very painful to lose someone you knew, even when they are in the same room with you. You Dad is probably in denial because it’s too painful to think otherwise. I’ve done plenty of that.

      1. You’re right, of course. He is in denial. They will have been together for 60 years this June. I can say this about my dad, he meant it when he said “in sickness and in health”. I don’t know if I would have the strength.

  17. You’re right about most people not wanting to reveal the rift there is between them and their mothers. I guess if I were given a choice, I’d like people to think that my relationship with my mother was as beautiful as a diamond.

    At least there are memories. Those moments were wonderful while they lasted.

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