Today is my mother’s 80th birthday. I will not be celebrating with her. I will not send her flowers or a card. I will not call her. Nor will I offer glad tidings on social media.
It is not that I do not want to do any of these things. Only a few years ago I fully expected to be chief planner and payer for the celebration. Eighty turns around the sun is worth celebrating after all. But as anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows, my mother cut me out of her life. And she did so in an extremely cruel and harsh way. First, she blocked me from her Facebook account. Then she blocked my emails. This was followed by sending the RCMP to my house because I phoned her and then she blocked my phone numbers. Finally, she sold her apartment and moved without telling me. I know the city she lives in, but not her address. All this without explanation. So, even if I wanted to wish her a happy birthday, she has made it impossible for me to do so.
Since she made her choice 29 months ago to sever ties with me (yes, I count the months) I have experienced every emotion possible. First, it was shock and hurt. But eventually I settled into the cycle of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Currently I hover between depression and acceptance, but anger does still rear its ugly head occasionally.
Perhaps more than anything though, I live with a constant stream of questions racing through my thoughts. I am in a near non-stop battle of trying to hopelessly answer my own questions of why? or trying to drown out the noise they clatter my mind with. I am not very successful at either.
When you experience the kind of abandonment that I have over the past two years or so, it is impossible not to be deeply impacted. My husband who has also been cut off and is also incredibly hurt by the situation, expressed intense anger the other day. He is a step or two behind me in the grief process. His anger with my mom and our daughters in that moment was that, as he put it, “they have permanently damaged my wife.” I was not angry when he said this, because he was right. They have permanently damaged me. In ways that I did not think possible.
My whole life I have felt like people have been holding a hand to my forehead telling me to slow down, settle down, back off, or give up. I have always been “too” something. First too quiet, too shy, and too weak, then too loud, too opinionated, too outspoken, too sensitive, too honest, “too much like my father” (from my mother), “too much like the Hollands” (from my dad), too ambitious, too contrary, too confrontational, too tough…
It took me 50 years to overcome those labels. To recognize that those judgments were from people who did not know me, did not understand me, or were threatened by me. I spent my entire adulthood working to prove people wrong. To prove that I am smart, capable, creative, and very much in control. I pursued my goals and dreams and have achieved them. I raised three strong, independent, intelligent daughters. I have a solid marriage to a man I adore who I know adores me… we have weathered every kind of storm and are only stronger for it. And I have a handful of friends who have been by my side for 40 years.
I was proud of all those accomplishments. I was proud that I overcame the chorus of naysayers in my life and thrived. And then in the blink of an eye, the people I love and cared for the most, shattered it all.
Every day now I ask, if my mother does not love me, how can anyone? If my children cannot stand to be around me, and hate me so much they can’t be bothered to attend a single therapy session with me, then how can anyone like me? My mother has often said to me in the past, “you just don’t know how you come across.” I considered myself to be incredibly self-aware. I am also my own worst critic – always. But suddenly those words carry more weight. Perhaps she is correct. I am a blind, foolish idiot who has no idea what I am like. A public embarrassment who deserves the treatment I am getting. No good deed deserves recognition, and every mistake/flaw deserves punishment.
So, instead of feeling proud of what I have overcome and accomplished, now I am wracked with anxiety and uncertainty. I struggle to leave the house. I have had far too many public panic attacks. I cry easily. Getting close to anyone or revealing my vulnerabilities feels overwhelmingly risky. Nothing feels safe or secure anymore. No one can be trusted. I have shifted from being fierce and confident, to cowardly and insecure.
Although I did not recognize this until after she cut me out of her life, my mother spent a lifetime lying to me, asking me to change, and putting her feelings and needs before mine. And as such, I was groomed from a young age to put her feelings before my own. She made it clear, if subtly so, that if I said or did something that did not please her, she would abandon me. She said as much to me when I was 15, telling me she “had to choose” her husband over me because I would grow and leave her. Ironic that he ended up leaving her and I was there to pick up the shattered pieces of her.
She put my oldest brother up for adoption when he was born but lied to me about his existence for 20 years, causing me to question my father’s honesty. She married my father’s best friend… he was the best man at their wedding. But my mom always framed my father as the bad guy in their divorce, leaving out the details of her betrayal. Her ex-husband emotionally abused me for a decade. Her response to his treatment of me was to ask me why I “just couldn’t get along?” She forced me to hug him. She forced me to pose for inappropriate photos for him. When he cheated on her with a woman my age and left her, she lied to me about continuing to see him. After he had a child with the woman he had an affair with, my mother moved in with him and helped him raise the child. This while I paid to put my kids in daycare. She guilted and coerced me into inviting him to my wedding… this was after the affair, after the baby. She forced me to have a relationship with his child… she is younger than my daughter. And to this day my mother has a relationship with her, but she has cut me out of her life!
But all this and more I forgave my mother. I included her in my life. I treated her well. I gave her a loving extended family to spend holidays and occasions with. She took vacations with us. We bought her a dog. We renovated her apartment. I took her to appointments. I never threw the past in her face. I never held any of the hurts against her. Nor did I reveal to my children any of the things she did to me.
I had never thought about all those things and listed them together until my mother began to frame me as having treated her badly. Her vague accusations against me, and the discovery that she had been badmouthing me to my daughters, husband, aunt, as well as her friends for years, all while being nice to my face, made me stop and think, WTF? My perspective at 56 years old is very different than it was at 16, 26, 36 or 46 years. And sadly, my new perspective does not leave my mother in a good light.
My mother has repeatedly said to me, “I’m just not like you, Racquel” which to me always sounded like, “I wish you were more like me.” When, in recent years I expressed to her that if I was more like her, that her husband would have had his hands all over me. Her response was, “I see that now.” That was it. That is all she said. How I ended up the bad guy in our story is something I will never understand. And why my daughters think my experiences at her hands have no relevance in what is unfolding and are unworthy of consideration is mindboggling to me. Perhaps you can understand why my questions abound.
And before anyone passes judgement on me and says “well, you must have done something to deserve this.” My answer is, perhaps I did. But I have no idea what it is. I have begged for an explanation. I have offered to attend therapy. I have offered to pay for the sessions. I have suggested a mediator. And I have been stonewalled at every turn. Not once have I claimed perfection or innocence. I have openly told my mother and daughters that I will face any kind of music to open a path to reconciliation. The offers have been ignored. So too have my desperate pleas for an explanation. The harder I tried, the more extremes they took to cut me off. Their silence is particularly cruel because the one way my ex-stepfather used to abuse me was to give me the silent treatment. So, silence is very triggering for me. And open communication is extremely important. But that does not matter to any of them either.
So, on this, my mother’s 80th birthday, I am sure she is having a wonderful celebration. My daughters will dote on her. She will spend her day with the family I gave her. She is content and will live out her golden years blissfully ignorant and clearly uncaring of the permanent damage she has caused me. I on the other hand will live with the damage and the pain for the rest of my remaining years. My mother’s legacies are abandonment, dysfunction, denial, lies, and heartbreak. She has two other children and two ex-husbands to attest to that. But my kids think she’s a sweet old lady and I am the wicked witch of the West.
My brother warned me 40 years ago that I viewed our mother with rose-coloured glasses. I ignored him. Look where it got me. Now my daughters have donned those glasses, and they are casting their same damaging spell on a third and fourth generation of my family. I forgave and accepted but ended up judged and rejected. I wish I had shattered those glasses 40 years ago!
I have been writing books about Hinduism and Buddhism over the last couple of months. Both religions believe strongly in karma and reincarnation. My mother is Christian, so she believes in heaven and hell. I am not sure what I believe, but as far as I can tell, if there is one, my mother is screwed in the afterlife. Happy 80th birthday Wendy.