I never told my mother that . . .
. . . that it hurt and scared me to see how much pain she was in. She suffered terribly for as long as I can remember. After I was born in 1937, she went into a bad depression – so bad that, once in my teens when we’d been having a fight, she said she could tell by the way I was looking at her from my crib that we would never be friends. “So I just want to say to you now, Mom, that it must have been pretty terrifying having me around. I know that it could be pretty terrifying having you around. Do you remember that time when I was eight and I came home from school to find you with a knife? You gave it to me and begged me to kill you. I didn’t, but the scary thing was I wanted to. So to protect myself from your pain and my own, I kept away from you emotionally and physically. Sometimes when I came home from school, there’d be a Bible person there wanting me to kneel and pray for you and I would go outside and play instead. You thought I was a cold, unfeeling child. I thought so too. No one could explain to either of us what was wrong. In the late fifties when I was at college in Ann Arbor, I majored in Psychology thinking maybe it would help me understand. Off and on, you were in Mercywood Hospital right outside of town. F d visit you as often as I could bear it. You’d wrap your arms around my knees and beg me not to let them give you shock treatments again. But that’s all they did there. And I was so frightened by the shock treatments and your fear that I withdrew from you even more.
I tried to tell you some of this one of the last times I saw you before you quit eating and died in 1995. You were lying down on the bed and I was in the chair opposite. I was aware of still being completely afraid of expressing any feelings with you, and how absurd that seemed now that I was an adult. After all, what could we possibly do to each other now? I had one of those moments of clarity where all of my struggles with intimacy were right there in that space. And I cried with you. And I felt relieved to be with you in that way. But when I looked up, you looked like you were asleep or in a stupor and hadn’t heard a word I’d said. Later, when I was wheeling you down the hall, you said, as if speaking to the air, ‘I forgive you, I forgive myself,’ followed by ‘I don’t have a daughter.’ I never knew if that was related to what I’d said to you but I was reminded once again of how I vulnerable I was to your moods.
When you were dying, though you weren’t conscious, Daddy told you that I was coming from New York to Michigan and to hang on till I got there. And you did. I got to be with you the last three hours of your life. I sang to you some of the songs you sang to me when I was a little girl, like, ‘from this valley they say you are leaving, I will miss your sweet voice and your smile.’ I thanked you for bringing me into the world. I remember, Mom, how you always said that being pregnant with me was one of the happiest times of your life. I’m glad we had that time together. People always said that I was a sturdy child. And I believe that it was in part because of how happy you were to carry me inside of you the first nine months of my life. I remember how you smiled when you told me how you were scrubbing the kitchen floor and drinking a coke when your water broke. Prompted to talk to you now, I hope that the part of you which I still carry around inside of me hears and that it helps to heal our relationship. Meanwhile, I just want you know that, after all these years, though my heart still breaks thinking about how scary life could be for you with me and for me with you after I came out of your body, I’m still sturdy…. and I still love coke.”