For a while I wondered how it would feel to have lived more than half my life without my mother. I wouldn’t have guessed, that I’d learn how to be angry at her.
I read somewhere that “losing a parent as a child is more than grief.” How much more? Surviving it took some trapeze work on my part. I made up a fairy tale of the tragedy in my head: she died as a sacrifice to me, so I would have a modest inheritance to follow my dreams with. When I sold our home, a good deal in excess of market value, my friends said she must have been looking down on me, my auntie said the buyer was crazy; and I drank two bottles of champagne, cried on the shoulder of a stranger, and still couldn’t find the happy I was meant to feel. Evidence in support of my mother’s altruistic suicide pact: a letter saying “my special girl is a writer, I know she will be”. She died to give me the means to achieve my dream and remained, in my eyes, the most selfless parent, even as she killed herself. As she took the last of her sleeping tablets, I imagined she was still thinking of me.
What parent, thinking of her only child, chooses to leave them? None. Or, none in their right mind. When my mum committed suicide, she stopped being my mother. She was so deeply sick that she couldn’t think of anyone except herself. Her basic survival instincts had given up on her, and without them, she couldn’t be the nurturing mother I needed.
One New York Saturday, in a bar I’d never seen before, and didn’t plan to end up in, I told a stranger my mind’s PR version of mum’s death. He listened. I finished by saying how brave she was, and how lucky I am to know my life’s purpose, and have the means to chase that dream. He blinked, “you’ve got to be angry at her, too,” he said.
“How could I possibly be angry?” I asked.
“She left you, when you were fourteen, with no one to look after you”.
“But she knew…” I said, and continued on with my story, in which she became the martyr I had needed then, and now, to go on living my life.
But, what could she have known? For the first time I’ve shifted my perspective to realise that she didn’t know what would happen to me, and she was too sick to care. Too sick to think of me now, fourteen years later, trying to iron out all the kinks in my personality that come from a fear of abandonment. For a long time I’ve told myself that she set me free. But she didn’t. She abandoned me, without any reason or explanation. There was no grand design in her actions, she was a depressed person checking out of the world.
I don’t hate her. She brought me here. She gave me the gift of life, and every day I show my gratefulness to her. I’m excited and optimistic: it’s a short and precious gift, this time, in this place, surrounded by people who love me. While I’m enjoying, sometimes I think how isolating it would’ve felt not to enjoy anything at all. As a child I remember the smallest things would make her happy: stillness, Better Homes and Gardens and going to the nursery. I also remember when she became small and nothing made her happy. I never thought I could be angry at that fragile being who gave up on the world.
But she also gave up on me. Me, in year 9 of high school. Me, trying to buy my first bra. Me, playing netball for three different teams. Me, not having kissed a boy. I’m allowed to be angry that she left even though I still needed parenting, knowing we didn't have any other family members fit for the job. Putting her on a pedestal has not allowed me to heal. It has kept the lonely fourteen year old trapped inside me, informing my actions, and my, at times, uncontrollable anger. Looking inward now, I try to respect the feelings that I beat down for a long time. Try to give myself permission to feel them. It’s so hard to let them out. “Why do you think it’s hard?” my therapist said, in that that voice that you can't stand when you’re choked up and you can't find the answer…
But I have it.
“It’s hard because without her I have no one. If she wasn’t a good mother, then… I didn’t have any ‘good’ parents at all. She was my fourteen years of semi-normal”.
It hurts to acknowledge that for her, in that moment, I wasn’t worth sticking around for. I will love her dearly, always, because unconditional love was made for mothers. But I am slowly letting myself feel the conflicting whirlwind of emotions that kept me rewriting our tragedy as a fairytale.
Despite everything that I’m unpacking, when I guessed that I’d already been through the worst, I still miss her, and cry for her, without warning. As I grow up I become more sensitive to all kinds of pain, yet also more buoyed by little things. When I’m particularly high on life, sometimes I allow myself to wish that she’d seen all the beautiful things that save me from myself every day. That she'd tried harder. I wonder, if she’d just held on, she’d be sitting here with me, looking back on the dark days, rather than have disappeared in them.