Change.

"Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film." Anonymous

This Blog is meant to demonstrate that sometimes you need to be able to allow yourself to 'give up'; sometimes you have to make a choice and walk away with your own permission. It's a long one. It's all about how my relationship with my Mother came to an end.

My mother and I had two huge ‘blow ups’ before Richard and I moved away to Illinois. They were both basically over the same thing; her lack of respect for my role as a parent. My son and I had an argument during his rebellious high school years. He decided to run away from home. I had no idea for several days where he had gone. I was worried but I knew he was safe because he was attending school. What I didn’t know was that he had been staying with my mother. How could she not call me to let me know he was with her?

I went to her house to resolve the issue with my son but also to confront my mother about her lack of consideration for my feelings and concerns. I was incredibly angry with her and started yelling the moment she opened the door. “Didn’t you think I might be worried about my son?” “Why don’t you have any respect for me as a parent?” She replied that she didn’t call because she thought my son had been right to leave. She thought I had been on the wrong side of the argument we had.

I went over the edge I became so angry. I screamed at her that she had no right to have kept his whereabouts a secret! The argument we had was none of her business! He was MY son not hers! As my mother she should have said “right or wrong, she’s your mother and you need to figure it out with her. I can’t take sides.” She, at the very least, should have called me to let me know he was safe.

She had never given me any credit for my parenting. She told my son that she thought I was wrong and he could stay with her as long as he wanted. I know she is his grandmother but I thought her first loyalty should be to support her own daughter. It felt like she was in competition with me for my own son’s affection. It felt like she was actually ‘pleased’ and thought my son had chosen her over me! It never entered her mind that I might be worried about him.

Reread the incident above and identify what I did that was the absolute wrong way to approach the situation.

My son came home and we resolved our disagreement but I didn’t speak to my mother for over a year. After a year the problem seemed to just ‘go away’. That’s how our family handled everything -‘if you wait long enough it will go away - no need to discuss or resolve anything’.

The second blow up was not really a blow up but just a continuation of the same issue. When my daughter and I had our ‘falling out’ she also went to my mother’s house. Several days passed before I learned where she was; once again my mother had not called me to let me know she was safe! I did not confront my mother this time. I had resolved my issue with my daughter. If my mother didn’t get the message the last time there was no sense rehashing it. I just stopped talking to her again. During this ‘no talking’ period Richard and I moved to Illinois. We moved without telling my mother. When we came back to the area to visit the problem had ‘gone away’ again. We just began to talk to each other again.

 It’s my opinion that my mother has spent her life trying to escape. I think she has tried to escape painful memories, having any deep feelings and having to take responsibility for her own actions. They each require her to feel pain. I think she felt so much pain as a child (we really have no idea what she may have experienced at the children’s home) that she shut down the part of her that feels. Her life became all about the dark. Alcohol helped her do that. Alcohol damaged most of her relationships beyond repair and it also damaged her own body beyond repair.

After we moved away my mother’s health began to fail. She had an episode in a grocery store parking lot where she couldn’t breathe and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. My brother called to tell me what happened. The doctors told her that her kidneys were failing. The fluid her kidneys were supposed to process through her body backed up into her lungs causing her to have difficulty breathing. They recommended a couple of fairly minor surgical procedures to assist her kidneys. The results were helpful but certainly not a cure. Her kidneys and her circulation would continue to erode over time.

She had several bouts with her lungs filling up. Every time my brother called I felt helpless; because I couldn’t be there to help take care of her and also because we never really had the mother-daughter relationship that I so craved. I also felt, being the oldest, that it was my responsibility to take care of her.

So now her health was failing and time was running out for us to resolve anything and have a real relationship. I didn’t want her to be alone when she died. I didn’t want her to have to struggle financially any more. I wanted her to feel the joy of family like I had been experiencing it. Both my daughters had followed us and lived nearby. My youngest had presented us with two of our grandsons and we saw them all the time. Her sister was engaged to be married. I knew my mother had never felt simple pure joy. I wanted to fix everything.

After another of my brother’s telephone calls I thought about asking my mother to live with us. I struggled with it all day long. I kept rehashing the pros and cons of having her move in. Back and forth. Back and forth. On one hand, we had big problems getting along. On the other hand, I had learned a new way to communicate; I could ‘handle’ any conflicts. But our family was so happy; how could I bring this disruption into the mix? I was more emotionally stable than she was; I can do it. How can I ask Richard to open his happy home to what he knew would be a huge and difficult adjustment. I can’t let her die alone without having experienced pure joy once in her life.

I was still struggling with it when I arrived home from work. Richard was home. He kissed me ‘hello’ and said “I think your mother should come live with us.”

I fell in love with him all over again.

I called both my sister and my brother to discuss it before I called my mother. I wanted to make sure they thought it would be a good idea. They both said the same thing to me. “Are you sure you want to do this to yourself?” I reassured them both that I was in a different place now. I could handle it. I called my mother. I said I wanted to ask her something and I wanted her to give it a lot of thought. I told her that we wanted her to live with us; that we wanted her to use her Social Security check for whatever she wanted, not for rent, utilities and food; that we wanted her to be with her family. I told her I would understand if she didn’t want to move half way across the country away from all her friends and she should think long and hard about this big a change.

She was delighted! Her first words were “I think I’m going to cry.” She agreed and cited two rules that she required us to abide. We must agree to play her favorite game with her (Scrabble) and to tell her if she was being an ‘asshole’ (her words). I had one rule. If we had a conflict we would talk it through. We both agreed to the rules. We set a date and my brother helped her start packing. When she arrived at the airport I gave her a hug and said “Welcome Home”. There were fresh flowers waiting for her in her new bedroom with a ‘welcome home’ card. 

I had her all set up with new doctors so her medical care wouldn’t skip a beat. I was consulting so I could arrange my schedule to drive her to all of her appointments. I arranged for her to receive financial assistance for her numerous medications. There was a county senior citizen bus that could transport her anywhere she wanted to go within the county for two dollars. Many of the towns in the area had thriving Senior Centers that hosted weekly ‘Scrabble Clubs’.

What a 'good daughter' I was. Right?

Dinner was prepared every day when I got home from work! This was almost like having a wife! The three of us would sit out on the patio and have dinner and a glass of wine. She got to know our grandsons when they visited each weekend. This would work out just fine!

One weekend evening (not thirty days later) while we were all out in the back yard I noticed that she had gone into the house. When she didn’t return in a few minutes I went to see where she was. I found her sitting in the kitchen by herself with a scowl on her face. I asked her what was wrong. She said she couldn’t handle it when the ‘boys’ were there. She said in an angry voice that they were totally undisciplined. I replied that it had been a long time since she was around small children. I thought it might take awhile for her to get used to it. I explained that a big part of the reason for her being there was to build a relationship with her family. Her response was how could she have a relationship with them when she didn’t even like them!? She said she didn’t want to talk about this anymore and she retreated to her bedroom.

I followed her and reminded her of our agreement to work through conflicts. I told her of my wish for her to experience joy; that it was my reason for asking her to live with us in the first place. I told her I didn’t want us to find ourselves not speaking to each other again. If we worked through small conflicts we wouldn’t be faced with large ones like before.

She didn’t like the fact that I wouldn’t let this drop. She became very angry telling me she never did know why I had stopped talking to her either time, that those boys didn’t want to have a relationship with her anyway, that my house didn’t reflect anything about her and she didn’t appreciate my psychoanalyzing her!

She pushed all the right buttons. I got angry and reacted. I told her she was the adult. It was her responsibility to build a relationship with her great-grandsons, not theirs. They were six and two years old! If she didn’t know why I stopped talking to her after my screaming why before I stopped then we had a bigger problem; her comprehension abilities. I reminded her that we had displayed many of her things throughout my house so she would feel at home and that maybe she needed a professional to psychoanalyze her and help us with our relationship because it was clear we couldn’t do it by ourselves.

I made an appointment with a family therapist the following week. We drove in silence. It was clear not only to me but immediately to the therapist that she did not want anything to do with this appointment. She stormed out of the session in a huff. The therapist asked her if she minded waiting while she spoke with me.

In essence the therapist wished me luck. She couldn’t help someone who was so adamant about not wanting or needing help. She recognized that my mother was consumed with anger and didn’t think she would attempt to change at her age. She told me to accept that all I could do is my best. She didn’t think my mother would come to a point where she would seek help yet she told her to call anytime she wanted a safe place to talk.

That was certainly the end of having a wife! We never recovered. She ate her own dinners separately from us. We had very little conversation. She watched TV alone in her room each evening. She had several other angry eruptions until she finally brought me to the end of my rope. She got angry when I asked her if something was bothering her because she had been exceptionally irritated. She became defensive, things escalated and she threw a glass filled with water at my head! I was done.

I was taken aback when she actually apologized to me two days later. It was the first time in my life I had ever heard her apologize, to anyone. I told her that I appreciated the fact that she showed remorse for her actions. I knew how difficult it was for her to apologize. But even with that effort I could not forgive her behavior. I had spent my life forgiving her behavior. I was past the point of no return and could not forgive her anymore. I knew her apology would not change her behavior or make any scars disappear.

Again I went to a therapist to help me deal with not only the fact that I was living in a house with a woman that I couldn’t bring myself to speak to unless I had to but also with the fact that I had to give up and ask her to leave my home. I didn’t want to feel anger anymore. I didn’t want to feel failure anymore. I needed help dealing with the fact that my mother did not love me the way I wanted her to. What the Therapist said to me helped me give myself permission to walk away. Based on my description of my Mother he said he was pretty sure she was a Narcissist. "Imagine a little boy who desperately wants to play baseball with his Dad. Imagine the Dad has no legs. No matter how much the Dad may want to play baseball with his son he cannot; he has no legs. Your Mother has no legs. She does not have the capacity to truly love anyone but herself no matter how much you want her to." This realization allowed me to give up. And give up without feeling guilty. I had empathy for my Mother's plight but I also knew the health and well-being of my family and myself had to be protected. I asked my Mother to move out. I offered all the help I could but she had to move out.

The Lesson: You cannot change someone else. It does not matter how much you desire it. You can only change yourself.