Loving & Losing a Difficult Person – a daughter’s story
My mother was a difficult person. Not only did the world revolve around her, but she could also be mean. But she had a reason. She had an older sister, who was a sweet and pretty child, much beloved. Her sister died of diphtheria when she was two years old, the year before my mother was born. Everyone mourned her sister. Once, when my mother was six, she rounded the corner to the kitchen at a family gathering to hear her grandmother say, “It’s too bad the good one died.” My mother told that story, often. It defined her.
A therapist once told my Dad that my mother had a “royal child complex.” I don’t know if that’s a real thing, but it sure sounded plausible to my brother and me. If she had to pick me up at high school in the middle of the day, she’d drive up and honk. And not honk but lay on the horn until everyone took notice. It didn’t matter that everyone was in class or that I was ready and waiting to go.
Mother could be verbally and emotionally vicious inside the family. She was allowed to say anything to anyone, but everyone had to walk on eggshells around her. And if anyone didn’t do what she said when she said it, the consequences were severe, and she never forgave, ever. Decades later, I’d hear about the vase that I broke. When we were kids, we couldn’t cross her. When she was older, and we kids were gone, she ruled my Dad. The irony was, she had no actual power, none. She couldn’t make food or even get out of a chair by herself. For example, if my Dad did so much as talk to someone on the phone without her, there was hell to pay. If he read in another room instead of staying in a chair by her side with the TV blaring, there was hell to pay. It wasn’t worth it.
And then, she died.
And when she died, she took with her:
- Any chance at a fitting resolution to our relationship
- Any chance of a future with a loving mother
- Any chance of a past with a loving mother
- Any idea that I had any ultimate control over anything
- Any reconciliation that could have happened, miraculously, at any time
When she died, a part of my grief was sadness. Losing a mother is a very primal thing. But a lot of my grief was anger. Sometimes, fury. For the way, she treated my father. For the relationship, she worked so hard at destroying between my brother and myself. For the layers of emotional junk, I had to work through to get to a place where I could even get married.
I was furious. When I realized how angry I was, oddly, the Bible verse that kept coming to mind was 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
And I believe that. For my mom and me, I believe that now, she sees Jesus face to face. She knows fully, even as she is fully understood. I hope she sees clearly who she was and how she could have acted differently. I also believe she knows what it’s like to be forgiven and loved by God and to fully, completely accept that.
But I am not there, with the full forgiveness for her, yet. When she died, I did know that the only way to get past it was, to be honest with myself and God and my mother about my anger. All I could do was be honest that I was angry, and give it to God, to ask God to help me burn it off. To eventually unhook the claws that still tore me inside. I figured Mom, now seeing clearly, would understand, would desperately want me to work through it.
I remembered how, at 80, she would tell that same story again, “And then I rounded the corner and heard my grandmother say, “Too bad the good, pretty one died.” Who was Mom punishing with that? Did she plan on getting to heaven and punish her grandmother with “see how you crippled me?” Was I going to follow her example? Spend the rest of my life angry and emotionally scarred, so when I got to heaven, I could punish her by saying, “See what you did?” But…her grandmother was long gone, long forgiven, long in glory. And if I did the same thing, I’d be punishing no one but myself, and those around me.
So, with my anger, I tried to be honest. I also tried to let the anger be there, but not dwell in it. Give it to God. And slowly, it’s been dispersing. It’s still there, but it’s dispersing.
And slowly, I try to remember the good. It’s hard because recollecting that narrative I still sometimes feel like I’m doing my mom’s bidding again. And yet, Mother was a strong person. She taught me not to back down in the face of adversity. She could be very, very funny and when she laughed, it was contagious. She was a gifted speaker, entertainer, and host. She had genuine faith. She loved to travel and made sure we saw the world. She gave us high aspirations with the tools for follow-through.
My mother was difficult. She was special. She loves me. I love her. God help me. God help us all.