By Caitlin Kelly
Tomorrow in North America, the annual paeans to great mothers begins again.
It doesn’t resonate the same way for others, like me.
I wrote about this once in detail, here, and it spurred one of my most valued friendships, since that person and I finally saw the effect of having really difficult mothers on our lives and life choices.
It does change you.
It’s also deeply taboo to not like your mother — and it’s extremely painful to have your mother not like you, especially if you’re their only child.
So, at the request of an editor, I wrote this essay about how my mother and I became estranged, and still were when she died this February, in a nursing home very far away from me.
I hadn’t seen her or spoken to her in a decade.
I did love my mother, even as I was fed up with how she chose to squander every gift life can offer: physical beauty, Mensa level intelligence, curiosity, open-mindedness, inherited wealth, deep and abiding friendships.
Between her bipolar illness and alcoholism, her behavior was often erratic and selfish. It deeply hurt and really scared me, as my visits to her were usually alone, with no one to turn to for moral support or help. I had no siblings to commiserate with — or strategize.
I couldn’t turn to one of her friends. She was someone who eschewed close relationships unless with very old friends, most of whom lived in other countries. She didn’t know her neighbors, so neither did I. When she attended church, she never went to coffee hour and, when I forced her to on one of my annual visits (selfishly desperate for someone else to know her), she was furious with me.
When she left my father, and she was 30, she had plenty of suitors, and one was very kind to me — oddly, decades later, that man’s daughter, living in England, contacted me (or vice versa) and we renewed a friendship we’d had at 12 in Toronto.
So I miss the best of her, as it was lovely.
But I don’t miss the worst.
Here’s some of the essay:
I hadn’t seen her in years nor tried to re-connect. I knew better, even though others repeatedly urged me to, including my father, 50 years divorced from her but lately back in touch.
“You’ll regret it!”
“What if she dies?”
“You never know…”
But they didn’t know the full story.
Every year I sent her a Christmas card filled with the past year’s news, but never received a reply, not even in 2018, the year of my early-stage breast cancer, surgery and radiation. When she had had a mastectomy decades before, I’d flown from New York to Vancouver to get her back home and re-settled.
A few years ago, she told my best friend, a local who went to visit, to tell me to stay away.
How does one end up so estranged?
More easily than you’d think.
I hope you’ll read the rest — and if you, or someone you know, is also estranged from a parent, this may comfort them.
It’s an oddly secret society.