All my mom and I wanted was to see each other happy. I’m not sure either of us got what we wanted.
As a kid, I remember my mom being sad, anxious, worried or tired. There was no question that she loved us kids to death. We were her world and she scrimped and saved and did without so we would have a better life than she had growing up in a family with five kids and an alcoholic father who kicked her out of the house when she decided to go to college because “women didn’t need a college eduction.”
She graduated, became a teacher and then went on to earn her master’s degree. But she wasn’t happy. I tried to make her happy with good grades, lot of blue ribbons and medals in swimming and working – babysitting, cleaning locker rooms and life-guarding. Still she seemed so stressed out, overworked and worried.
She missed most of my swim meets but when she did come she sat the in the stands, grading her students’ papers. She canned applesauce, cherries, pickles, tomatoes and made jellies and jams. She made our clothes when we were little, darned socks and ironed all of my father’s shirts. She shoveled snow, planted a garden every spring and mixed powered milk with regular milk to save money. She was not happy.
I believe that she thought her state of mind and emotions were her own and that they would not contaminate the lives of her three kids. It was like “these are my feelings – not yours’. Just because I’m unhappy, anxious and worried doesn’t mean you have to be, too. Go have your own feelings.”
Like her mother – my grandmother, she married an alcoholic. My father came and went as he pleased. He golfed, bought a lot of clothes and showed waaaay more affection for our dog than our mother. During a long walk on the beach after her cancer had metastasized, she told me that if she could have she would have divorced my father – “but it was the early 60s and women just didn’t do that and I couldn’t have afforded to raise you kids.” She ended up married to a man for 50 years that she did not want to be with.
She spent the last 10 weeks of her life in hospice. I flew up every other weekend to be with her – leaving on Mondays and not knowing whether I would see her again. On one of my last visits she asked me to lay beside her in bed. I did and I felt so much sorrow – not only for what I was about to lose but what she had already lost.
I believe my mother had dysthymia - a low-grade, long-lasting depression. She probably had major depressive episodes, too. I was too involved in drinking and drugging away my teenage years to notice. I was miserable, too.
My mother died 16 months after my father died. My dog died eight months after we buried our mom. Then the lights went out. I sunk into the deepest, darkest depression I had ever known. Thank God my mom wasn’t around to see it. I only wish she was here now to see how my recovery – years of therapy, medication, sobriety and lifestyle changes – have left me happy. The deep, genuine kind of happiness created by from-your-gut gratitude.
I miss her so very, very much. But I know I have done what she would have wanted. I got out of my marriage, got help and mothered my daughter knowing that my emotions are not my own. A daughter feels what her mother feels. And for me, the greatest gift I can give my daughter is my own happiness.
Today, I am very happy and very grateful.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
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Last reviewed: 8 May 2011