originally published June, 2017
My mother’s funeral. The thing I remember most was my near-constant desire to lunge at the microphone WWF style and shout something very un-eulogy like.
All of the people there, these “close, special friends,” most of whom I did not know at all inside this massive church, telling me how my mother was THEEEE MOST wonderful woman in the world. And then they’d gush about how she’d light up whenever she spoke about me.
How proud she was!
Loved me so much!
Light of her world!
I wanted to punch them in the face. Right there at the funeral, in my too-tight funeral pantyhose and fancy funeral pumps.
It was the first time in the year or so of taking care of her that I had this feeling of rage and panic at once, like a lava flow erupting from a volcano I had no idea was in me. There I was, smiling, listening, hugging; but on the inside, I was shaking, trying not to scream, and hoping against hope I could keep my shit together.
Are we talking about the same person here?
This woman who loved me in such bizarre, confusing ways?
The one who would say, “I think there’s something wrong with your head,” whenever she wanted to shut me down?
Are you talking about her, the most amazing woman and mother who was so proud, and loved me so much?
By the way, did she mention I left home at 17?
Their revelation was certainly news to me. Other than to say, all those years I worked ceaselessly to gain my mom’s love and admiration must have finally paid off. Only I was the last to know, and only after she was dead.
I don’t really think I should be held accountable for the decisions I made at the time, but I still think about it. I did what I could to honor her. Then and now, I’m glad I did. Her funeral was the first time I spoke publicly in a large auditorium. And tempting as it was looking out at those faces, I didn’t slip. Still, it was all recorded. And afterward, some of the people were upset because I failed to mention them.
Suffice it to say her funeral was bizarre. I’d like to elaborate but there are people to consider.
And even now, as I write this to you I think, Wow, Kiddo, you did all of this alone on your own with little to no help, support, backup? You have amazing strength and resilience.
Because it’s not just about the funeral, there was that entire period where I gave up my life to become her sole caregiver in a time when I should have been carefree.
I was making decisions that broke my heart and wrenched my gut. And in one big everlasting guilt trip, I blew up my entire life.
Every day I showed up for her.
She became my universe.
I did it because I had to, I did it because I had no choice.
And a tiny big part in me was hoping this would all make her love me back.
No wonder my life imploded afterward. No wonder I spent the next years in therapy… sometimes for two hours at a time, twice a week.
OH but thank goodness for therapy. Holy crap, I do not even want to imagine the alternative.
There I learned that we ABSOLUTELY get to tell the truth about what it was like for us. Even if it’s hard. No, you are not committing a crime. Telling the horrible uglies will set you free.
It’s OK if it wasn’t good.
It’s OK to stop pretending.
Anything less is completely unfair to our own little hearts.
The truth is, motherhood is a mixed bag. Not everyone had (or has!) a relationship with their mom where it was wonderful and beautiful and fabulous in an ongoing, most-of-the-time way. While it’s kinda ridiculous to expect our parents to be perfect, what I am talking about here is when their own wounding is such that for most of the time, you get the inappropriate, hurtful, harming mothering I and so many of the people I help have experienced.
The kind of mothering which failed to protect me. Where I was left alone with strangers who were equally bizarre in their displays of affection. The kind of mothering where spankings and slappings happened out of the blue in a flame of tears, as things were blamed on me, Look what you made me do!
Later that mothering pushed me into situations which discounted my experience, I don’t care if you’re happy, he has a good job and I like his parents, you’ll do it. Or, failed to reflect my light, There’s only room for one of us sparkling and it’s me. Or failed to celebrate my accomplishment, You’re making me feel bad about myself!
I learned to do what she wanted, again and again, in order to keep her happy and not rock the boat, hoping she would love me.
I have helped hundreds of people over the years who’ve recounted their own stories while I’ve listened.
I am not the only one.
For some of us, when we think of mother, we feel shell-shocked and betrayed. We wanted to be seen, we longed to feel nurtured. We wanted our goodness reflected back to us. We wished to feel safe in our own homes.
There were times when I needed her to help me, to be there for me, but all she could say was, You’re making me miserable, Robin! Or this time when the school bully followed me home and I ran into the house, asking her to help me and instead, she pushed me out the door saying, I am sick of this shit! Don’t come back till it’s done. I got beat up and then spit upon. And when it was done, I had to knock on my own door to be let back in. I was 12.
It’s OK if it wasn’t good.
This does not mean you’re unlovable.
We get to tell our stories, this is how the light gets in.
Sometimes I sit with parents who want to talk about their own experiences of being mothered and then they get to that bungled up place and say, If I allow my own truth to come out, I will also have to look at where I made mistakes too.
Yes, AND. Right now, we care about you. Right here, we can take lots of deep breaths. I get that it’s a difficult place to be. But you must keep going. For now, you have full permission to look at your own story.
My policy is this: You get to have your own experience. You get to explore it, you’re allowed to speak it, and it’s okay to have your feelings about your own mother and what happened. We can talk about your relationship with your own children (or step-children) later. Right now, this is about you. This is for you. All for you. And you get to tell your stories, no matter what. One doesn’t cancel out the other.
Interesting observation: Did you know that so many more daughters (and sons) made the decision to NOT have children because they just cannot bear the thought of this history repeating?
We have to start somewhere. The journey has already begun.
I know this is a painful place but it wants the light, it wants the healing.
None of us should allow our fear to dictate our healing journey. If we keep doing that, we continue to suffer. We stay stagnant in vital areas which want to flourish. And we’re doomed to repeat the very patterns we try so hard to avoid.
For the longest time, I was afraid to speak about any of this because it felt like the biggest act of betrayal. I remember too the first time I tried to talk about my experiences with my healer, I kept saying the same phrase over and over: I feel like I’m kicking her when she’s down. It all just felt so hard, so disrespectful.
But I was tenacious, I hung in there. I understood that these wounded bits contained gifts and I’d never receive them if I kept resisting. And then one day I began to see how important it was to acknowledge ALL OF IT. This journey isn’t black and white, where you’re either are all loving, all wonderful, good-good-good or you’re all terrible, all horrible, shit-shit-shit. It’s everything at once.
In order to live in the center of our own hearts, it’s essential we allow ourselves to tell the stories.
And when we do that, the once shattered pieces of our spirit begin to return, and more light gets in too. And it all makes us stronger. Resilient. Powerful. Capable. Yes, all qualities hard-won in crappy circumstances, to be sure.
It’s OK if it wasn’t good.
Acknowledgment invites light.
And you become powerful beyond measure.
Wherever your mother is, she has her stories too.
And even if your experiences seem to conflict, even if there is disagreement on the points, it doesn’t make you bad or wrong.
Your truth is your truth. The only person who needs to get it is right here reading this post. Don’t waste precious time lobbying for your position. You don’t need anyone to side with you in order for you to know what happened. You don’t need anyone else to understand in order to be understood.
Phew, still so glad I didn’t scream like a wild thing into the microphone that day. Writing about it now, 20+ years later, it cracks me up a little too. I kinda love that part of me who could do that. She’s pretty awesome.
And you know what? I have my mother to thank for it.
Even though she failed me, even though she could be cruel, it doesn’t mean I am unlovable or unworthy of love.
And it doesn’t even mean she did not love me.
It just means my mother was on a journey too. Parts of her spirit were shattered too.
Just like me.
And I thank her so deeply for giving me life and I bow to what she must have gone through in bringing me here, facing the challenges she did, raising me on her own as she did. She was afraid and anxious and very alone. I cannot imagine the feelings she must have been grappling with at the time, but I can have compassion. I have worked very hard to see where she got it right and how she really did her best to love me in her own way.
Just like me.
I have made my mistakes too. I have said things I regret. I have caused harm. And I would like to be forgiven. I’m so grateful for this cycle of compassion, understanding, and forgiveness, the way it has deepened my heart where the volcano once lived.