I am an only child of an only child and my immediate family was very small. Outside of a few of my mother’s sisters and my father’s cousins, the three of us lived a pretty insular and exclusive life. My mother didn’t much like my father’s mother and really didn’t get on with her own family of six brothers and sisters. In fact, she did not have any long-term friendships that lasted.
My mother’s struggles with depression and bipolar illness caused her to be unable to enjoy life and make friendships. She tended to view everyone as an enemy and against her in some way, including me. Her marriage to my father wasn’t happy. He drank. A lot. My father was a functional alcoholic. He was employed but unavailable in any way, not around much and not communicative. But I knew he loved me and that I was the focus of his love, not my mother. She often told of how he didn’t even get her a Christmas present their first year of marriage, or any one after that. He did, however, manage to go to an office party and come home drunk then and every Christmas Eve. As I grew up, I realized that they both had their own broken childhoods and stories to tell that limited their abilities to love, although knowing didn’t sooth my broken heart.
As a child, my mother often told me that I had “ruined her life.” I took this in at an early age as unworthiness and carried that belief with me for many years and my choices came from that dark place. If my own mother rejected me as unworthy, then it must be true. How could anyone ever love me if my mother had rejected me? As a result, I looked for love with desperation from people who couldn’t give back. It was easier that way to bear the loss and be able to walk away relatively unscathed.
She also warned me: “don’t have a child, it will ruin everything.” For her it did, her choice to get pregnant really did ruin things for her. She gave up a treasured job in the hope that marriage and a child would be a trade up or at least an equal trade. But it didn’t work out for her. The marriage didn’t and well, I was just a child, I couldn’t fulfill her hopes and expectations and make her life worth living. I couldn’t be pleasing enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough to fill her big emotional void. But I thankfully did have 2 children, and I didn’t have to give up anything to have them. I chose to have them in my early thirties so that my education wasn’t disrupted. So in one sense, her warnings did help. And by the time I had my children thirty years later, social expectations had shifted – I could be pregnant, have children, be married and work.
Sometimes, healing comes to us in mysterious ways. For me, healing the hurt caused by my mother came in the form of the movie In the Name of Sex about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Watching, I remembered my mother telling me about being an executive secretary to a Vice President at Westinghouse and how much she loved that position. She married in 1952, late in life for those times, around the age of 33. When she got pregnant with me she had to give up her job. In those days, that was the law. Pregnant females could not work. Society then believed that a man should provide and women should stay home and raise families.
In a flash of insight I realized that getting pregnant in those times left my mother with choices that she later regretted. It wasn’t that I was inherently unworthy, I hadn’t ruined her life, the circumstances of birthing a child, changed everything for her and not for the better. She was forced to give up a job she loved to become a housewife and stay at home mom, roles that did not fulfill her. Especially when she realized the man she married was really married to the demon alcohol and would never give this demon up. He would never be emotionally stable or available. She had bargained away a job she loved for the illusion of safety in marriage and children. This realization rolled away a boulder that had kept me pinned in darkness for sixty-five years.
My mother and I had a difficult relationship until she died. It was only recently that I watched the movie about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and had the flash of insight about my mother’s life. Our troubled relationship resulted from her underlying unhappiness that no child could fix. Did it affect me deeply? Oh yes, I was set up for a lifetime of people pleasing and emotional failures. But the flash of insight allowed me to see her differently and have a different dialogue with her spirit. Now I can say “I forgive you” and mean it. Now I can say “I am enough, I am here, this is me, I have a right to be exactly as I am” and mean it. I let go of the fear of being rejected, abandoned and forlorn that made me feel safe and manifested in acts of people-pleasing or not sharing my truth.
How can we do that – have a new dialogue after death? Having a family altar is very healing. But outside your bedroom! Not where you sleep. I have mine on the mantle in my living room. For the longest time, I only wanted my son’s picture and ashes on the altar. I didn’t want to make room for my mother and father. But after the insight I was able to move their pictures to the mantle. These are the ancestors who affected me so deeply. And yes, my departed son is now an ancestor.
I can honor them and forgive them. I was angry with my son for taking heroin and upending life as I knew it for a long time. I forgave that and asked him to forgive my failures as his mother. I can now light candles and bring flowers. I no longer need to cut anyone off. Shaman’s believe when we heal ourselves we heal seven generations back and seven generations forward. Being able to say to myself that “I am enough” and really feel it and mean it is so healing. It changed my perspective on the way I interact with the world. Saying “I forgive you” is also empowering. In this quantum world of no time/no space I know my parents hear me and are healed. And I know Ben is watching and healing too. And so too are my daughter and grandson in this reality. I feel all of us whole and connected and in the flow of Love.
Much Love and Many Blessings,