I feel disloyal, writing about Mum. Don’t speak ill of the dead, right? And anyway, what I say could be misconstrued. I don’t mean anything to be a judgment on her. She was wonderful in multiple ways. When she died, people who barely knew her, who had met her only once or twice, stopped me to say how she had touched them. She lived lightly, easily, after the struggles of her difficult past. Horrendously difficult, really, if I add up all she suffered. She overcame.

Was it the “Right Speech” facet of Buddhism that taught her not to speak ill of my biological father, though there was much she could have said about him? I didn’t know Dad wasn’t my father till I was 12. My last name was changed by court order to my Dad’s last name, as was Rachel’s, so that we wouldn’t be recognized as illegitimate in a country that forbade divorce till 1997. When I found out Dad wasn’t my dad it was a relief for various reasons, but my mother said little about my biological dad. She could have said plenty: Drug dealer, alcoholic, abuser. Her reticence made a difference. Right speech. Am I not speaking right now in recalling my biological father? I am talking facts about him, but there are other facts too. His mother loves him. Perhaps he is kind to her. I cannot take it further; I have not talked to him since 1988.

I  wrote more about Switzerland yesterday, about my mother after her mother died, but I can’t hit “publish.” She loved all of us in the best way she knew how. It was a complicated love, shaped by her ambiguous relationship to her parents. What surprises me is how parallel our lives have been, in a way — though mine was far easier than hers as a child. But later, her diagnosis, then mine five weeks later. Treatment at the same time; her mastectomy the day before mine. The hope that came afterwards, when 2000 rang in. We were living the fantasy that both she and I would be in remission for the rest of our lives. I got lucky. She didn’t. Maybe if it wasn’t for her dying I wouldn’t be here now, but there’s no point speculating. When her mother died when she was 24, when mine died when I was 38, we both went crazy in our own ways. Dad waited for Mum to find her way. Greg didn’t. That’s the difference. In fact, Greg was finding his own way long before I met Nada, before we knew that Mum’s cancer had metasticized.

What I saw when my father spoke, before I knew about Greg’s lover, was that my father and Greg had their parallels, ways of being in the world that Dad pointed out to me. What I see now is that my life and my mother’s also had parallels. Our lives ran down the same road for a while, but they have diverged. Both my mother and I went crazy at the deaths of our mothers. But Dad waited. Greg didn’t. Dad loved Mum till the day she died, and loves her memory still. Greg was carrying on a secret correspondence with a former student long before I met Nada. He filed for divorce and three weeks after I signed he told me he was getting married to his secret love.  It’s the way things go.

I don’t even want to publish this. I don’t know where it’s going. Stella wrote about repetition some days ago, and what am I doing now but repeating parts of what I knew before, but only dimly. Finding my way through to a new place, recognizing on the way the signposts. This I knew. That… oh that is new. That tree. That moment of connection.

To be continued… maybe.

7 responses to “Disloyal

  1. The truth shall set you free. But they seldom mention the price of freedom, do they?

    I’ve never much been into the blame game because I’ve always made the assumption that people are doing the best they can, which is not to say that we have to accept what they do as our own truth.

    If a parent doesn’t love and support a child, it says more about the parent then the child

    In the end, all we can be responsible for is what we do with what we are capable of doing.

  2. Thank you for letting us be part of your journey of discovery. Sometimes talking out loud about something (even if it is just through your fingertips on a keyboard) can make the murky clear.

  3. Disloyal? I can’t see it. You’ve honored her in a way very few daughters ever have, or ever could, have honored their mothers. By seeing her as she is, rather than simply as the lead character in the drama of your own growing up. Most of us (including me) can’t rise to that. I have a very vivid picture of your mother, and I really imagine her thinking of anything you’ve said as disloyal.

  4. I’m glad you did indeed publish this post. Am loving all your writing – and scrambling to keep up! And this “speaking about our mothers” makes me think — I hope my son will feel free to use whatever language works for him, as often as he wishes, if and when he were to need to “process” via the written word his relationship with his mother. I’ve certainly made a conscious effort to insure that he knows that no matter what, I would never be insulted. I would want only his wholeness.

  5. Do you ever find yourself resenting the parralles or fearing them? I feel certain tendencies within myself that are reflective of my biological mother and it scars the living shit out of me…even if those reflections are seemingly tiny.

    P.S. I am in no way comparing Denise with your mother.

  6. Hi Bethany,

    I’m lucky in that my mother was basically a good person with all the best intentions. She protected us to the best of her abilities. Once Dad touched (hit) one of us (it might have been me, since he did hit me once), and she told him if he ever laid a hand on one of us again, she’d leave him. He never did. We were spanked, but never by him.

    The thing I resented most about Mum for a while was that when she was dying, I asked her about a couple of experiences she’d had that paralleled my own. She wouldn’t talk with me about them. I felt as if she were depriving me of her wisdom, and refusing to share herself with me. But she was dying. She probably needed to focus on leaving the world, and not on my problems.

    When I went crazy after she died, I didn’t realize what I was doing, or why, or how close it was to what Mum had done when her own mother died. It was only with time and some additional knowledge about her that I saw what was happening with me. Now I don’t fear the parallels, or resent them, but I’m lucky. Mum was by and large a remarkable, beautiful woman who overcame a tremendous burden from her childhood. If I turn out like her, I will be proud to think she helped shape me in some way.

    And from your descriptions of your experience, your mother has not been a mother to you at all, in any way, shape or form. In some ways I think the analogy might be a little clearer if you were compared to my mother and your mother to my mother’s mother. The way my mother’s mother treated Mum was unforgiveable. And you are like my mother, with tremendous courage and strength as you work to define yourself separately from those who hurt you so profoundly.

    Hugs. tk

  7. Wow. I am honored by your comparison. Thank you.

    Hugs back. 😉

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