My mother/myself.

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We are in a strange place of endings. My mother may be dying. She is not dead yet, not totally on her last legs, but the doctors cannot stop her heart from racing. Now they imagine she might have a clot in her lungs or some such difficult-to-discern reason for why her heart rate will not slow down.

‘It’s my age’, my mother says, finally acknowledging that she is old.

I wonder that we all go on as though we are looking for a cure. To my mind, it would be good to find a way of settling my mother’s heart a while longer so that she can go back to her beloved room in her retirement village and spend the rest of her days, as she herself tells us, in the joy of looking out onto her little bit of garden surrounded by her books, her memorabilia, her piano.

But this may not happen.

If my mother cannot get back to resume the life she once lived she might prefer to die. I know she does not want to go into a nursing home.

It’s not just the finality of the nursing home, it is the disruption. Hospital for my mother is okay because hopitals are busy and noisy places full of life and attention.

Before she goes I start to write my mother’s obituary. I start it now while she is still with us because we are in that in between place where life and death touch one another ever so closely, and it is as if we can see in both directions, if only for a moment.

Once my mother is gone, all we will have left of her are our memories. For now she is alive. For now I can still hear her voice, her crowded Dutch accent filled with dislocated verbs, and disordered sentences.

Am I a fraud? To rush onto the scene now, now in these last few months when it has become more clear that our mother is soon to say goodbye forever.

‘Sometimes we can’t separate relief from sorrow, resentment and love,’ David Denby writes, reflecting on the death of his parent.

This may be my struggle, our struggle, all my sisters and brothers, as we try to grapple with our mixed feelings, now as our mother is about to leave us for good.

Some part of me wants her to go, now at last, while another part wants her to stay, for many years yet.

When I was a little girl I remember so clearly a constant fear: what would I do if my mother died? How could I ever cope without her? When I entered adolescence and early adulthood the feelings shifted. I began to feel that my mother needed me instead.

I wanted then to make up to her for all the privations she had suffered married to my father, married to a man who for all the good that might have been there hidden within, bullied my mother and caused her immense pain, the pain of sexually abusing his oldest daughter among other things.

I have often wondered how it is that my mother has coped with the fact of my sister’s abuse, my father blinded by his past, and his pain.

I have often wondered how my mother has lived with this knowledge.

She carries the burden with her. I see it in her eyes. I hear it in her voice, the way she does not chastise any one of us for abandoning her as we have all chosen to do, in one way or another, over the years.

Our rage with our mother has gone unsurpassed, though I must not speak for all. I must only speak for myself. Only I can know my mind, and what others have told me, but we do not often confide in one another about these things, sometimes, but not often.

These things are too raw, too painful, too much a scooping out of your sense of yourself, from memories of a lost childhood to bear talking about out loud, at least not with one another because somehow when I am with my sisters and brothers, I carry a strange sense of guilt for all the things I too have ever done wrong in relation to them and for my anger towards them for the things they have done wrong in relation to me.

The day my older brother kicked me in the pubic bone, the day my older sister tried to nick ice cream out of my bowl once too often, the day my younger sister threw my school hat over a fence in a neighbouring street on our way to school, the day I told my little brother that I thought he was too dependent on me.

I was twenty-two years old in a new job, my brother only sixteen. He had come to stay with me for a few days in Canberra. I felt ashamed of having a little brother then with me at work and of not knowing what to do with him.

I left him in the hospital grounds. I told him he must fend for himself. I told him he was a burden on me and he cried. I cried afterward for this rejection of my baby brother who had stirred up feelings in me that I had not wanted to know about at the time.

My mother’s lips are still red, but not so purplish in tone now that she can have oxygen whenever her breathlessness appears.

I visited her this morning.
‘My head feels hollow’ she said. And with the echoing of her hearing aid it was not easy to have a conversation.

The woman in the bed opposite asked my name. She admired the fact that my mother and I have the same name and scolded me for shortening it. And I think then of my four daughters all with my name in second place, a link that goes back through the generations to the other Elisabeth’s that have preceded us.

The passage of time. There was a tine when my memories seemed as fresh as yesterday, but these days they fade. They fade every time I write about them, as if in the process of retelling them on the page they lose some of the energy they once held for me when I mulled over them from time to time.

The geraniums in the front yard pf my childhood home have faded along with the blue hydrangeas in the back. The garden has diminished in size. It was once enormous, the size of a paddock. Now it seems the size of a car park.

My mother does not share her memories any more, but she tells me that when her youngest son walked in to the hospital to see her yesterday she found herself crying.

The sight of him, and he looks so young yet, she said, as if she had expected him to look older.

She does not see my youngest brother much these days. Like most of her other sons, this brother has been angry with her. They are all angry, all my siblings but some manage to bypass the anger into a respectable closeness, others will tolerate her, others still might even feel a deep fondness.

I remember my mother as a movie star beauty with dark hair, olive skin and bright eyes. I remember my mother with lips reddened with lip stick and the faint flush of pale compact on her otherwise pink cheeks.

I remember the feel of my mother’s body, tight under her corsets, the rounded shape of her hips and belly where all the babies once lived.

I remember my mother for the softness of her skin and the melting moments in her eyes. But those same eyes could glaze over and this same mother could become distant and aloof.

She rarely spoke a cross word to me, but when anger took over and this I remember particularly from my adolescence onwards, my mother became ice cold, the steely glow of her otherwise shut off eyes, a sliver through my heart.

I have not been a faithful daughter. From the time I entered into analysis in my early thirties I began what I consider to be a delayed adolescence and I came to hate my mother.

I blamed her for everything. Where once I had blamed my father for all our difficulties, I now held my mother responsible and not so much in a simple it’s-all-her-fault kind of way but more in the way of feeling she had denied too much and I resented all those denials.

Yet I now know my mother was a creature of her times.

My mother was a woman of a her generation who married and stayed marred, who obeyed even when her instincts told her not to, who maintained her marriage at all costs, not simply out of a loyalty to the commandment of marriage, but more so because she had no choice, no money, no career, no other way of looking after nine children without the infrastructure of husband and breadwinner to support, however negligent that breadwinner might prove himself to be.

I cannot stop writing here. It holds me to the page. The clicker clacker of the keyboard protects me from this unraveling feeling that creeps up on me all the time now.

My mother is dying. She will leave soon. For all that she does not want to go, she will leave us and the little girl inside me who wept so hard for my mother when her second husband died several years ago, will weep again for her and this time for me, too, to be left, to be next in line and to be faced with the struggle that my ongoing life in this world entails.

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83 Comments on My mother/myself.

  1. Laoch of Chicago
    April 30, 2011 at 6:03 am (6 years ago)

    Potentially losing a parent is a ground shaking event. Be gentle with yourself and good wishes to you and your family.

    Reply
  2. The Elephant's Child
    April 30, 2011 at 6:29 am (6 years ago)

    'My mother was a woman of a her generation who married and stayed marred'
    I don't know whether the shift from married to marred was intentional or not, but how true.
    I hope you can be kind to yourself at this difficult time.
    Best wishes

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth
    April 30, 2011 at 6:49 am (6 years ago)

    Powerful words of a powerful family by a powerful woman. Go easy on yourself as you sift and write, sift and write and remember. I can imagine that there must be a sense of urgency to do it all BEFORE — your writing, what you convey is remarkable, words to ponder over –I wish you a bit of ease, though, a bit of ease.

    Reply
  4. persiflage
    April 30, 2011 at 7:18 am (6 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth, all I can say is that I hope she soon rests in peace, and that you, and all your family, can bear the pain of her life, her trials, tribulations, mistakes, sins and omissions, with forgiveness as well as the love you undoubtedly feel. I say this in the knowledge of the difficulty in so doing, the conflicts created by the past, the present and the future, and the awareness that some things may well be impossible to bear and to overcome. Nonetheless you have a generosity of spirit and a self-knowledge that give you understanding and strength. Through my own sorrow and conflict I share some of yours.

    Reply
  5. Frances
    April 30, 2011 at 9:45 am (6 years ago)

    It is many parents wish to give their children opportunities and advantages that they didn't have, so that they can have a happier and more fulfilling life than the parents did.

    Unfortunately, from their achieved elevated status, the children can then criticise the parents for exhibiting their lack of those advantages, without acknowledging the parental love and effort that got themselves there. It's quite a common scenario.
    It has been my perception that when an adult child criticises their mother it is an indication that their own life is unhappy.

    "I weep like a child for my past", said D.H.Lawrence in his beautiful poem "Piano". The simple maternal love, before the #$%%child became &^%#complicated, is often the truth.

    Reply
  6. Frances
    April 30, 2011 at 11:04 am (6 years ago)

    Of course, few if any would support your mother staying in an incestuous situation, irrespective of the financial difficulties of leaving.
    There was of course all kinds of minimal support available to her, but it would have meant not keeping up the "respectable" facade that she seemed committed to doing.
    Values. She must have weighed it up and thought sacrificing your older sister to her husband was worth it.
    And if her first marriage was horrendous – as it sounds it was for her children – she would never have married again. Which, I read, she did.
    She's not coming across as a person deserving of her childrens' love, honour and care, Elisabeth.

    Reply
  7. Ocean Girl
    April 30, 2011 at 11:11 am (6 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth, the power of your words is so overwhelming, it envelops me, I share your dilemma, anger, pain, sorrow.

    I pray for your patience and acceptance.

    Reply
  8. Manzanita
    April 30, 2011 at 11:13 am (6 years ago)

    Tread softly and remember (and you are already aware of it) that you are next in line. With time passage, whatever you are feeling for your Mother now, your 4 children will feel toward you.
    Love and peace

    Reply
  9. christopher
    April 30, 2011 at 11:30 am (6 years ago)

    You have written an honest account. If such things have power then this must. I feel your mother as I have felt my own, that you have received enough of the truth that she lives rounded out in you, a little, enough really. It will have to do for now. When she passes as she certainly will the necessary last bit will arise and you will have the complete story within you as it pertains to you. I wonder if your sibs will have done this too. In what you write this is not clear but I feel your sense is not quite, that some of them have not.

    I was an only child though we took in my cousin when I was in sixth and she in fourth grade. My mother was not your mother in other ways as well. I sense, however, the similar way your mother sits in your life to my mother in mine. I wonder then. Through my mother I am Dutch and English, the Dutch ancestor one Hartog Philipus Noordwal, her father, who immigrated to America with his English wife, through Canada and then to the Midwest though not until he participated in the Alaska Gold Rush. In the Midwest he and she were in Burlesque before they finally settled and finished their marriage, divorcing with my mother being the middle of three children on Catalina Island off the Southern California coast.

    I wonder if this Dutch thread is the tie I sense between us.

    Reply
  10. jabblog
    April 30, 2011 at 11:41 am (6 years ago)

    Relief and sorrow mixed in one cup and seasoned with guilt and remembrance – all natural and unavoidable.

    Reply
  11. Bish Denham
    April 30, 2011 at 12:19 pm (6 years ago)

    Hard post for me to read as my own life and mother were so different. In time I suspect you'll find some sense of peace. For now, enjoy every tiny moment you have with her, do everything you can. Tell her it's okay to leave if she wants to. Often times, the dying hang on because we the living are not ready to let them go. In letting them know we'll be okay, they are at peace. Tell her you love her, forgive her, forgive yourself. It will help to lighten your heart and ease hers as well.

    Take care.

    Reply
  12. steven
    April 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm (6 years ago)

    elisabeth – as with all your unpacking of the past, which hurtles into the present moment with such emotive currency, this hovers in the space between love and despair. an interesting typo hints at an opening . . ."my mother was a woman of her generation who married and stayed marred." there's a doorway there elisbaeth. open it. steven

    Reply
  13. rosaria
    April 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm (6 years ago)

    You're in the middle of the drama still, and can't think behind it, can't even stop writing about it. This is so revelatory about your state. Do save this somewhere else, for it will remind you of these days, these dark days and how they felt in the middle of it all. How it felt to be losing someone you loved so.

    (p.s. we should all be this open with our feelings.)

    Reply
  14. Jerry
    April 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm (6 years ago)

    It is good to write of these things. No answers…but calm discussions within yourself. Be kind, to yourself and your mother.

    Reply
  15. ellen abbott
    April 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm (6 years ago)

    my mother passed away about 6 years ago. she wanted to go and I wanted her to go. I didn't like my mother very much. when young I, like all kids, adored her but I never felt really loved in return. she didn't like to be touched, didn't like small children. I suppose she loved us as much as she could in her self centered world. I had not felt love for my mother for many many years when she died and yet I cried when she went. It took me a while to realize that I wasn't crying for my lost mother but because when she died there went even the least hope that she would become, one day, the mother I so desperately wanted.

    Reply
  16. Mim
    April 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm (6 years ago)

    Unraveling and raveling. I prefer that to seeking "closure," that simplistic notion. A fever-chart: your emotions. Yet also you write a narrative, moving and coherent.

    Reply
  17. Kirk
    April 30, 2011 at 8:29 pm (6 years ago)

    Powerful post. I also like the David Denby observation.

    About your sister's sexual abuse, have you written about that before? You're mad at your mother for looking the other way. I don't want to infringe on you or your sister's privacy, but was this clear-cut incest, i.e. no other interpretation possible, or was it something more vague, such as touching, that could be viewed as innocous, depending on who's doing the viewing? In other words, did your mother give your father the benefit of HER doubt? Did your mother know about it at the time, or not find out until years later? Dis you and your sister not find out that your mother knew about it until years later? Sorry to be so nosy, but you have incest mixed in with the more minor wounds of relationships, though I will admit, pain IS relative.

    Reply
  18. tinajo
    April 30, 2011 at 8:48 pm (6 years ago)

    I think it´s really good that you write this; seeing thoughts written down makes at least me think clearer after a while. Plus it feels good to express yourself and your thoughts, everyone wants to be listened to.

    You´re very honest and I admire and appreciate that – a gift to be treasured. 🙂

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:09 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the good wishes, Laoch. It is an unsettling time.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:15 am (6 years ago)

    Typos are amazing, Elephant's Child. They can, as you suggest, reveal deeper layers of meaning, an unconscious 'slip of the pen' as it were, more like a 'a slip of the finger on the key board', and that my eye missed it in my rough edit and proof reading supports your idea that the typo holds meaning, though I did not intend that it be written in this way.

    I had intended the sentence to read, 'stay married'.

    Yet as you say here, my mother was marred by her first marriage as much as it gave her all her children, for which she tells us continually she is unstintingly grateful.

    Thanks Elephant's Child.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:21 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the offering of ease, Elizabeth. In many ways I am an impatient type of person, but equally I can wait for long periods of time, wait, these days, almost effortlessly, though I tend to fill in the waiting with other things.

    I am not good at just plain waiting, though why I write this here, I'm now not so sure, something of what you write in your comment leaves me with thoughts about waiting, perhaps the idea that I should go slow and your hope for ease.

    Maybe the angst gets transferred in the writing into the reader's response and I wind up feeling less burdened, or some such thing.

    I am often surprised at how people read what I have written, surprised that it affects them so. Surprised that it affects them at all.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:24 am (6 years ago)

    Persiflage, I know only a little of the hard times you have been though in recent times with the death of your husband and your painful experiences with other members of your extended family, mostly via marriage as I recall, so your words here come even more soothingly.

    It's one of the reasons we write I think. We write to share.

    Thanks, Persiflage.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:26 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks Anni from Belgium, I value your resonance.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:33 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Frances. It's one of the reasons why this time is so fraught for me.

    There are so many conflicted emotions running around inside of all of us. Here I refer to me and to my siblings in relation to our mother's eventual death. It's as if one or other of us at one time can carry all the love and good will, while others, sometimes only one other carries all the negative feelings, and these different feeling states move around within and between us.

    It's what I hoped to convey in this post – love and hate intermingled.

    When we are little we are more likely to experience, or at least to remember only the love. Certainly that's the case for me – I adored my mother – but come adolescence and things begin – necessarily I think – to shift.

    In some ways adoration is a dangerous emotion. It needs to be tempered by something more balancing, as long as there is more love than hate, I think we get by well enough.

    I hope this makes sense.

    Thanks, Frances.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:45 am (6 years ago)

    In response to the second half of your comment, Frances I find myself feeling the need to defend my mother.

    Strange that I should feel this way, but I understand my mother's blindness at some level. I do not condone it. I cannot understand that she allowed the abuse to go on, that she allowed it to happen in the first place, but then again, where was she in those days? Desperate trying to survive, unable to countenance such a possibility and as she will tell you herself, she had thought it had stopped after she told my father to stop, but it did not, even as she asked my sister had it stopped? And my sister said that it had stoppped when it hadn't because my sister was only a girl then and she had wanted to protect the rest of us, especially our mother.

    She probably needed to leave our father to enable it to stop but she could not and so these events continued.

    I'm not sure I could say I forgive my mother or my father but I think I understand them better, after all these years and I do not want to judge them, either of them, nor at the moment do I feel inclined to judge my siblings either.

    We were all in the mess together, doing the best we could. That we made a hash of it in some places should not cancel out the other things, the successes we have variously made of or lives, even as some of us have suffered irrevocably, including and perhaps especially my father. And he too was a product of his times and boyhood.

    History tends to repeat itself, particularly when it goes unexamined.

    Thanks Frances.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:46 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks Fazlisa for your kind words and good wishes here. They mean a lot to me.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 12:54 am (6 years ago)

    I'm all too well aware of the way our children turn to us and turn against us in our turn, Manzanita.

    I often think about this. Like most parents, as Frances said in a comment earlier.

    I'd like to think we, my husband and I, have given our children a better deal than our respective parents gave us, but I know it is never as simple as that.

    We too fail as parents at times.

    Now what's that terrific poem?

    Ah yes, the one by Philip Larkin:

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    Thanks, Manzanita.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:08 am (6 years ago)

    The Dutch thread is fascinating, Christopher, and you may be right, it's another of those deep seated ties that bind us – you and I – together.

    I have often pondered on the meaning of this Dutchness. It is so much a part of me. I feel it viscerally and yet if I were to try to describe it, I'm not sure of the words.

    In my experience, the Dutch – and now I can only speak on the basis of my knowledge of my Dutch relatives – they are a loquacious lot. The men tend to be arrogant, the women more on the subservient side, very efficient when it comes to child rearing but not so overtly emotional as might be helpful.

    Maybe the culture of that country, built up out of a need to reclaim the land from the sea, has led to a hardy temperament, even in the fsce of great difficulties, though that could be said of many cultures.

    I don't know. I only know I feel my Dutchness, even as I was not born in Holland. It was there in my mother tongue and there in the traditions my family maintained throughout my childhood. It was there in the difference I felt from the other kids at school, there in my amazingly difficult to spell and pronounce second name and still there in my sense of my plce in the world.

    I'm delighted to share some of that Dutch connection with you, Christopher.

    Thank you for your generous and thoughtful comment here.

    Reply
  29. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:10 am (6 years ago)

    All these mixed emotions – 'Relief and sorrow mixed in one cup and seasoned with guilt and remembrance – are unavoidable as you put it so eloquently, Janice. Thank you.

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:16 am (6 years ago)

    I know there are people like you, Bish, whose experience of their mothers is so much better balanced than mine.

    I suspect there are good reasons for this, most probably to do with the nature of the mothering you received along with your ability to use it.

    I suppose my focus here is on the discordant and mixed experiences.

    On the surface of it, and certainly in the minds of those outside of my immediate family – the staff at my mother's retirement village for instance – all consider that my mother is surrounded by loving and grateful children.

    They see the surface, not what lies beneath, and isn't that often the case.

    Thanks, Bish.

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:19 am (6 years ago)

    You notice that that typo, too, Steven: 'marred' instead of 'married'.

    I've thought since it was first pointed out to go and correct it, but I've decided since to leave it there.

    It becomes one of those uncanny mistakes that, as you say, can open a door onto something new. I may yet take your advice and go there.

    Thanks, Steven.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:26 am (6 years ago)

    That's a good word for it, Lucy, that word 'raw'.

    It's one of the strengths and weaknesses of the blog experience, that sense of rawness that we rub up against in each other's blogs from time to time.

    I suspect it takes a particular personality to blog away about all this raw experience and a particular readership as well. Not every one appreciates it.

    Some find it too raw. Put your clothes on they might want to say. cover up that nakedness. It's too much, but I still suspect that a certain amount of dressing up goes on in the writing process even in this first draft.

    I thank you, Lucychili, and all my other blog readers for your forbearance in tolerating this raw state.

    Reply
  33. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:29 am (6 years ago)

    While we are in the middle of our dramas, Rosaria, it is often hard to think about the experience, and yet at other times, I think it's like being caught in the eye of a storm.

    All around you seems calm in that intense centre, while beyond the cyclone wreaks havoc. That's where I am at the moment, Roasaria, in that centre.

    A strange place indeed and one I hope always to remember.

    Thanks, Rosaria.

    Reply
  34. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:31 am (6 years ago)

    Kindness is also a good word here, Jerry for times like these. We need lots of kindness towards ourselves and others, and especially towards the one hop is leaving and the ones being left, in this case my mother and her children.

    Thanks, Jerry.

    Reply
  35. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:37 am (6 years ago)

    I relish your response here, Ellen. You most clearly recognise the sadness of the deep sense of loss, that some of us feel, the disappointment that our mothers are not the mothers we would have wanted.

    Of course it is an impossibility, because our mothers are the ones who produced us, and with another mother we would not be who we are.

    Perhaps that's part of the wish, too: to have a different mother and to be ourselves different.

    It's complex because some of our strengths derive from that disappointment.

    As they say we must 'be careful of what we wish for'.

    Still these mixed and painful feelings are so powerful, Ellen, and you describe them beautifully. Thank you.

    Reply
  36. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:40 am (6 years ago)

    I like the image of a fever chart here, Mim without any closure.

    I can imagine the lines on the graph dip down and then rise only to subside again. Hopefully never reaching the point where the line on the electrocardiograph becomes that dead straight line.

    Thanks for your eloquent words here, Mim.

    Reply
  37. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:52 am (6 years ago)

    That's the strange thing about incest, Kirk, it mixes in with minor wounds and colours them in such a way that minor wounds are magnified while the incest gets diminished.

    I have written about this experience elsehere Kirk, though perhaps not directly in my blog.

    When you grow up in an incestuous family you learn that you must not speak about it ever to anyone. You learn this from earliest days. so every time I write about these things I have this uncomfortable feeling that I should put my hand over my mouth and shut up at best or at the very least I should whisper. I should not talk about this to anyone. Terrible things will happen if I do. Just ask.

    I can send you the link via email, if you'd like: 6thinline@gmail.com.

    I first knew about my father's behaviour towards my older sister, and indirectly towards me and my other sisters, when I was about eight or nine years old, maybe younger, but I did not understand it, not until I reached my adolescence, though I felt it deeply and knew there was something very wrong going on.

    Given that I've touched on the tip of the iceberg, Kirk, I may dare to include more within the blogosphere. It's from already published writing but published writing in written text based form never seems quite so public as in the blogosphere. Strange thing that.

    Thanks Kirk.

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 1:56 am (6 years ago)

    Thank you for your good wishes, Tina. I'm glad you appreciate what you call my honesty. It often feels very dangerous and yet I think too these things are worth sharing, especially if they cause other people to think more deeply about their own experience.

    Thank you, Tina.

    Reply
  39. Marie
    May 1, 2011 at 6:08 am (6 years ago)

    Again you have described the complexity of family dynamics with a voice that is both taut and true. I admire your ability to do that, despite the pain and confusion it stirs up. I'm too much of a coward to try – I keep those areas of my life carefully locked in a special cellar in my mind for which I've deliberately misplaced the key. 🙁 Though what you write has stirred some recollections I haven't thought about in years.

    'My mother was a woman of a her generation who married and stayed married' is something that I think summed up my own mother's position. As much as we adult children are angry with her for staying with my father (and breeding so prolifically!), what realistic choice did she have in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s? I try and keep that in mind when I think of her and see her as a victim as well and not just a collaborator.

    I hope your mother finds some kind of peace soon. It sounds like she's living in a kind of limbo at the moment – never a good place to be.

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this with such raw but eloquent honesty.

    Reply
  40. Dave King
    May 1, 2011 at 8:18 am (6 years ago)

    My mother collapsed and die of a haemorrhage after a pleasant day out, so I was spared all that you are going through, and have nothing to which I can relate it. I can only wish you both all blessings.

    Reply
  41. just jane
    May 1, 2011 at 9:56 am (6 years ago)

    Your Mother's life, a difficult life. Her death, a difficult one as well. Having to struggle to breath, a nightmare.
    I am torn up, here. A life where your greatest joy is looking out a window at a garden is a small life.
    I am sorry for your losses, all of them. Peace to you and your family.

    I just finished reading Angela's Ashes again. Have you read it, lately? I find it refreshing, his attitude toward his parents. A difficult childhood is the only one worth writing about, perhaps.

    Reply
  42. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 10:35 am (6 years ago)

    I suppose you might try to keep your recollections locked up in that cellar in your mind, for a while, Marie, but then it can creep up on you when you least expect.

    The past can be like that. It appears with a rush at the sight or smell or sound of something, if only you're attentive to it.

    I try to make the most of my past because it was in places so awful at the time, it has to be worth something in the long run, if only as part of the rich tapestry of who I am now.

    Thanks, Marie.

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  43. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 10:37 am (6 years ago)

    It may look as though sudden death is a good way for those left behind, Dave, but I'm not so sure.

    In many ways I prefer to have time to prepare, both for my mother's eventual death and for my own.

    Thanks, Dave.

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2011 at 10:40 am (6 years ago)

    I too found Angela's Ashes a wonderful story, Jane and I could read it again happily if I had more time.

    That life was so much more straitened than my own, but I resonated with the poverty of it all and with Frank McCourt's ability to turn the misery of his past into such beautiful art.

    Thanks, Jane.

    Reply
  45. Jim Murdoch
    May 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm (6 years ago)

    We expect emotions to be simple and get upset when they’re not. We wonder why we can love and hate someone at the same time. My feelings towards both my parents are ambivalent but then my feelings towards myself are ambivalent if I’m being honest. Certainly as I’ve aged I’ve found it harder to be as judgemental as I once might have been. Actions can’t be viewed out of context, without knowing all the facts. My mother came from I imagine much the same school-of-marriage as did yours, where you stood by your partner no matter what. I certainly never doubted that no matter what I did my parents would be there for me. Duty is a big thing with my family. My brother, my sister and I all did things that made our parents feel ashamed and yet, as they say, blood is thicker than water. At the moment anything to do with kids is made out to be the worst thing imaginable. Not that long ago the worst thing you could be was a communist. Would we judge your mother less harshly had your father murdered someone in cold blood and she’d stood by him?

    When my father died within a few days my mother had virtually erased any evidence of his existence from the house. I managed to salvage a trilby which now sits atop a bookcase in my office. But until the day he died whenever they went out she’d take his arm or more often hold his hand and people would comment on this loving old couple. If only they knew.

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  46. Isabel Doyle
    May 1, 2011 at 2:13 pm (6 years ago)

    I read blogs by you and others and I am left reeling. Not because you write things you ‘shouldn’t’ but that you have the courage to see these thoughts on the page. Perhaps I am a coward, it is not that I don’t feel things; perhaps I feel too much. I shy away, shaking. When things are very difficult for me I can’t write, or maybe because I am not writing, things are very difficult.

    The death of a parent is almost as unfathomable in its threat to the world as the death of a child. I think we are confronted with not-knowing-quite-what-we-are-supposed-to-feel, and because we feel a strange familiar/unfamiliar mix we add to it by doubting ourselves for feeling as we do.

    In the abstract, Stoic philosophy says ‘we all die, there is no other path’ and I think I am quite accepting of it for myself, but for my parents some how it is different. I have written a lot about confronting the idea of dying myself, am I afraid, am I calm; I don’t know that I have the courage to post these explorations.

    I hope your mother reaches a peaceful end and that it is peaceful for you too.

    Isabel

    Reply
  47. Ms. Moon
    May 1, 2011 at 2:57 pm (6 years ago)

    What can I say except that with your words you have captured so much of what I know to be true in my own family.

    Reply
  48. Kirk
    May 1, 2011 at 8:03 pm (6 years ago)

    I'll pass on the email, Elisabeth, but thank you very much for offering it. I just assumed you had written about it before, maybe before I became a regular reader, and I just missed it. I now feel a little creepy even asking about it. If you do end up writing about the rest of that iceberg on this blog, than I'll just read it along with everybody else. I like what you wrote about the minor wounds becoming magnified while the major one is diminished. Perhaps because the major wounds are the ones that you first and foremost spend time seeking closure.

    Reply
  49. Anthony Duce
    May 2, 2011 at 12:05 am (6 years ago)

    I wasn’t going to comment. I really don’t have anything to add to the conversation here, other than to say how much I’ve gotten caught up, in the story, the issues, and resulting feeling you present here. The writing here is amazing. Thank you for sharing so much of your world.

    Reply
  50. Jane Lancaster
    May 2, 2011 at 12:21 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for this Elisabeth

    I relate to so much. Since losing my sister I am so troubled by the subject of my mother in a way it's woken me up to the empty space that she left that has never been filled by my mother.. and I am left with just that an empty space and the awareness now of a lot of anger about that..but I continue to go into denial because denial around my mother is all I know how to do. So much here.. and then there is death.. too much to talk about so I'll leave it there but again thanks much food for thought..

    Jane xx

    Reply
  51. Murr Brewster
    May 2, 2011 at 5:32 am (6 years ago)

    Everything seems to boil down to love and fear, it seems. Every death foretells our own. In my life I have lost many people and the transitions have been easy for me when my relationship was uncomplicated; both my parents, for example, I miss purely, and think of them when something good is happening in my life, and not when something bad happens. But my sister, whom I loved and felt I had let down, still rattles my dreams at night.

    And almost all grief goes back to the childhood we lost because we grew up or because we never had it, never had the rock-solid security of being loved absolutely. For those who slipped that anchor, their lives always yearn back.

    Whatever truth you can communicate to your mother that is also kind will be one you will not regret.

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  52. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 7:51 am (6 years ago)

    I suspect we would judge my mother less harshly had my father murdered someone in cold blood and she stood by him, Jim.

    As much as incest is the big no-no, and has been forever, these days, it might be vaguely okay to talk about it, but anything to do with pedophilia and hurting children, as you suggest, seems to be a gigantic no-no in the media and in the western world's public consciousness.

    Like you, these days I prefer not to judge parents and others too harshly , at least not the adult I've become, but the child and adolescent I remember has a less tolerant perspective.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  53. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 7:58 am (6 years ago)

    Writing has become my way of coping, Isabel. When I am most distressed, I write into it. When something puzzles me and I cannot make sense of it I write into it. When something pleases me and I'm over the moon about it I also try to write into it, but I find the first two forms of writing come more easily to me. Strange thing that.

    I agree with you about the totally unsettling aspects of the death of a parent, no matter what age thy or we are. Our roots run deep and when they die we are left feeling a bit rootless I suspect and the mourning takes time, however reconciled we may be to the notion of our own deaths. The only thing worse to my mind, is the death of a child.

    Thanks, Isabel.

    Reply
  54. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 8:00 am (6 years ago)

    The mixed feelings that emerge in any family are perhaps most turbulent in families of origin like ours, Ms Moon. From what you have written here and elsewhere, I see we share this painful connection and I thank you for acknowledging it.

    Reply
  55. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 8:02 am (6 years ago)

    I'll put up a more elucidating post next time, Kirk, hopefully one that will spell things out in that strange way that memoir does best.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  56. Zuzana
    May 2, 2011 at 10:57 am (6 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth,
    I am back from my absence in the world of writing, after having dealt with my own private demons in real life – we all have those.;)
    I never get disappointed when I visit you. You have a way of conveying in words situations that many will recognize and can relate to.
    All the unresolved issues between siblings, and between parents and children. Perhaps ultimately a recognition and a sense of forgiveness or realization that our parents are also only humans and very flawed humans as well.
    And finally the elusive border line between life and death and how closely these are intertwined at all times. Nothing lasts forever, nor do we.
    I am truly sorry to hear about your mothers ailing health. I hope your writing and the eloquence of your words might bring you a certain release and a sense of peace…
    xoxo

    Reply
  57. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 1:10 pm (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the comment, Anthony. I know what it's like when you can't think what to say in response to a post, and yet you want to acknowledge the post. For me a simple acknowledgment that you've read it is enough.

    Thanks, Anthony.

    Reply
  58. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 1:13 pm (6 years ago)

    I can't imagine what it's like to lose a sibling, Jane L. Ghastly I suspect.

    I said earlier that next to losing a parent, losing a child might be worse, but I should include losing a beloved sibling in there, too.

    Your story sounds complicated, Jane, and death often stirs up even more complicated feelings in life.

    Thanks Jane L.

    Reply
  59. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm (6 years ago)

    You put it so beautifully, Murr: 'almost all grief goes back to the childhood we lost because we grew up or because we never had it, never had the rock-solid security of being loved absolutely. For those who slipped that anchor, their lives always yearn back.'

    In some ways I suspect that includes all of us to varying degrees, Murr.
    Thank you for your beautiful words.

    Reply
  60. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2011 at 1:18 pm (6 years ago)

    It's good to see you back, Zuzana. I hope you have dealt with those demons well enough that you too might find some peace, such as you offer here, in relation to my mother.

    She is still with us but each day she grows weaker.

    Thank you, Zuzana.

    Reply
  61. susan t. landry
    May 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm (6 years ago)

    a complex, beautifully written posting, elisabeth. the central struggle in my life has been about my relationship with my mother, so i am aware of the many layers that you have peeled away in this contemplation.
    when my mother was dying, i paid close attention to my role because i knew that despite the pain that was inflicted on me (that i had no control over), i finally had a chance to write a part of the story. and how i wrote that part of the story was something i would have to live with for the rest of my life.

    i wish you strength and serenity,
    susan

    Reply
  62. Robert the Skeptic
    May 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm (6 years ago)

    There is little of comfort that I can add, other than to say I have been there before. Sometimes there is a modicum of comfort in simply accepting what is the inevitable.

    Reply
  63. Rachel Fenton
    May 3, 2011 at 1:30 am (6 years ago)

    So much is invested in the word "mother". Such a difficult role to live up to.
    Be kind to yourself, Elisabeth.

    Reply
  64. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2011 at 3:22 am (6 years ago)

    It is a strange time for me and my writing Susan, given that i in the throes of finishing my thesis on life writing and the desire for revenge, while my mother lies dying. Melanie Klein talked about the fact that all children who outlive their parents share in a certain level of emotional revenge in that they stay behind after their parent's die. And often times witness the deterioration in their once strong parents before that death. To me it's cold comfort, but then again revenge is never a comfort, at least not for long. There's always the fear of further reprisals. Think Osama bin Laden.

    Reply
  65. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2011 at 3:24 am (6 years ago)

    I agree about the comfort that comes out of accepting the inevitable, Robert. I'm certainly not fighting the inevitability of her death sooner rather than later and I think my mother is also coming closer to accepting it, too.

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reply
  66. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2011 at 3:26 am (6 years ago)

    We invest a great deal in the word, the role and position of 'mother', Rachel. And as soon as we become mothers ourselves the load is intensified one hundredfold.

    Thanks, Rachel

    Reply
  67. Snowbrush
    May 3, 2011 at 7:35 am (6 years ago)

    I haven't experienced it myself, but I know that one thing that makes a seemingly unbearable death seem bearable is when the dying is protracted, or when the loved one is suffering greatly.

    I remember being surprised at how differently I reacted to my parent's deaths. For example, I grieved terribly for my mother but never for my father. Yet, when i was done grieving for my mother, I was truly done, whereas only my father still visits me in dreams.

    I have every confidence that you will grow from this experience, Elizabeth. Perhaps, that sounds patronizing, but what I mean by it is that the very thought that any good might ever come from a heart-wrenching experience sometimes gets lost when one is in the midst of it.

    Reply
  68. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2011 at 10:35 am (6 years ago)

    My father died nearly thirty years ago, Snow and, like you perhaps, I scarcely grieved at the time for all sorts of complicated reasons.

    For equally complicated reasons I had not anticipated that I'd be deeply distressed at my mother's death, but all that's changed. I view her death differently now. In some ways I dread it, but I'm sure I'll get through it and hopefully as you suggest, I'll learn from it.

    Reply
  69. erin
    May 3, 2011 at 1:42 pm (6 years ago)

    just love, elizabeth. just love and listening.(( ))

    xo
    erin

    Reply
  70. Nancy
    May 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm (6 years ago)

    Your writing leaves me breathless. I see my SIL going through the same feelings toward her 98 year old mother since entering analysis. I find that so sad. But then my mother didn't live long enough for me to build any resentment.

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  71. Elisabeth
    May 4, 2011 at 9:55 pm (6 years ago)

    Thanks for your kindness here, Erin. Listening is a very loving gesture.

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  72. Elisabeth
    May 4, 2011 at 9:58 pm (6 years ago)

    When your mother dies at a relatively young age, as you say, Nancy, you have less time to build up the resentments we speak about her, other than perhaps the resentment that she died too soon, as of that can be her fault – sometimes mother's can be responsible for taking themselves away to soon, but sometimes other factors contribute.

    as a mother yourself, you'd know something of the complexity in being a mother, as well as in being mothered.

    Thanks, Nancy, and my apologies for the delayed response to your generous comment.

    Reply
  73. Ruth
    May 7, 2011 at 11:10 am (6 years ago)

    Oh how you move me with your mind and heart, and with your words. That you are in these days of discovery is powerful, and you share it so beautifully. I am just so grateful for you and your writing. Thank you.

    Happy Mother's Day.

    Reply
  74. Shirley
    September 13, 2011 at 7:09 pm (6 years ago)

    I found this post because it was selected in this grouping of memoir blogs:http://www.adulteducationcourse.org/memoirs

    I understand why it was selected–very honest and poignant. I have an 84-year-old mother in a retirement home and understand the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship in the last stages of life.

    Reply
  75. Elisabeth
    September 13, 2011 at 10:54 pm (6 years ago)

    Thanks for scrolling back into the past life of my blog, Shirley. I'm flattered that you should make the effort and pleased that you found it a worthwhile read.

    Reply
  76. Lynette
    October 19, 2011 at 9:13 pm (6 years ago)

    I'm so grateful that you've exposed the contradictory feelings one can have towards one's dying mother: understanding what she did or didn't do and why, yet being the adult child who has borne the baggage and burden of her mother's choices and her father's assault of a sister.

    I'm writing a memoir that begins with my mother's last illness, then her death, and found clarity in the way you juxtaposed your conflicts in such a balanced way. Brilliant, brave essay. Thank you.

    Reply
  77. Elisabeth
    October 19, 2011 at 9:23 pm (6 years ago)

    It's good to meet you here Lynettte, and thanks for your kind words. I agree with you it is important to reflect on our mixed feelings at times, rather than just go in one direction or the other.

    I suspect that most of our important relationships, if not all of them are ambivalent to some degree.

    Reply
  78. Lynette Benton
    October 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm (6 years ago)

    Bigtime ambivalent, probably because no one (or few people) is all bad . . .

    I wish you had a Twitter button here, since I'm manically tweeting your blog posts. Great writing. Inspiring and moving.

    Reply
  79. Elisabeth
    October 21, 2011 at 9:57 am (6 years ago)

    I toy with the idea of twitter, Lynette, but I fear it might swallow up what little spare time I have, but maybe it would only enhance my time in the blogosphere. You could say I'm ambivalent here, too.

    Thanks for the visit, Lynette.

    Reply
  80. Shirley
    October 28, 2011 at 12:24 am (6 years ago)

    I picked up one of Lynette's tweets and I too am very moved by your honest, beautiful prose. Love your description of yourself also — and identify with it.

    Reply
  81. Elisabeth
    October 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm (6 years ago)

    Shirley, it's always a treat when someone resonates with what I write. Thanks for letting me know.

    Reply

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