On Sunday, my mother died. I have spent a while staring at that sentence. My mother is dead. It is hard to say and even harder to process. I want to say that I am devastated, gutted, and shaken, but those are the things that people say when they are devastated to lose a loved one, gutted that they will never see that person again, and their world is shaken that person is no longer in it. That is not how I feel. I am devastated by the tsunami of emotions that have encompassed me, gutted by the pain that I have kept contained behind the breakers, and shaken because the amount of emotion is too overwhelming to handle. In short, it’s complicated.
Complicated is the overly simplistic word that I have at my disposable to describe my relationship with my mother. The last time I saw or spoke to her was December 9, 2018. Our relationship was strained since 2010, with very minimal contact. I still have a hard time saying she was abusive to her children, but it is true. My struggle comes from the fact that she didn’t hit or moleste us, and so often in our society, that is what we define as abuse. She did other things though. She was mentally ill and would have “rages.” In these rages, she would beat herself black and blue, lock herself in the washroom with knives saying that she would kill herself, smash anything that could break including all the ceramic figurines that our grandfather had made us, grab a garbage bag and throw away our clothes and toys by the armful, and yell and scream and rant for hours. That is a different form of abuse. It’s harder to spot, but abuse all the same.
A friend from my group therapy recently offered to talk because he lost his step-father years ago and knew that the death of your abuser, especially when they are a parent, is different from the loss of a non-abusive parent. There are many unexpected emotions that come up that can be hard to explain and even harder for loved ones to understand. In short, it’s complicated.
Now, reading this far, you may be thinking, “wow, you must be relieved that your abuser is dead.” And in that respect, you are right… to a point. Relief is one of the emotions I feel, but at the same time, my mommy is also dead. She was the only one I had and now she is gone. She was still my mommy and I love her. She consistently hurt me, so I couldn’t have her as part of my life, but that didn’t change the fact that I loved her. I loved her and now she is dead. See, it’s complicated.
My mother was not a horrible monster who mistreated her children all the time. She was sometimes, but that is not all of who she was. No one is all good or all evil. People are complex and so are the relationships that intertwine them.
After a lifetime of feeling like I was drowning, I had finally done the work to process my childhood traumas and had built a life raft. Actually, no, I had built a ship and I had learned how to sail the stormy seas of life, enjoying the calm waters when they came and navigating the rough seas with ease. When I was informed of my mother’s death, it was like lightning hit my ship and I watched it burn and sink while I scrambled to keep afloat among the debris.
All the emotions hit me at once like a tidal wave. My body went numb and I wanted to rip my insides out through my chest because it was all just too much. Since then, wave after wave comes crashing over my head while I try to stay above the tide of each new emotion.
Grief because I lost my mom.
Sadness because she died alone in a nursing home she hated.
Anger because she threw away all the pictures.
Anger because she spent all the money my Grandmother had left for her funeral so her kids wouldn’t be burdened with the cost.
Anger because of course she burdened her kids with the cost of her death because she never did anything that was in the best interest of her children.
Anger at her selfishness.
Relief that she is no longer in pain.
Relief that she can no longer hurt us.
Guilt because I wanted to be with my mommy in her final moments.
Guilt because I didn’t want her to die alone.
Sadness because I wanted a mommy.
Sadness because despite how mean and angry she used to get when we were little, at least she had a fire in her belly that disappeared years ago.
Joy that she is no longer suffering.
Anger that even after death, she was able to find a way to stab each of her children one last time.
Anger that even though she is gone she has still found a way to make our lives more difficult.
Anger that she was never a parent and never came through when we needed her.
Anger that she saddled her children with thousands of dollars worth of bills.
Anger that I was finally doing okay and she just smashed that to bits, like she always did.
Happy that her death brought my sisters and I closer together.
Sadness because she needed help that wasn’t there in time to make a difference in her life.
Sadness that I will never have the mommy I deserved.
Anger that she just gave up on life, now and years ago.
Relief that it’s all over.
Rage at a world that doesn’t take care of its people.
Rage at seeing my mother’s dead body laying in a cardboard box because that’s what happens to the poor.
Frustration at the slippery slope of poverty and how it takes a lifetime to crawl out of it and in a flash, you end up right back where you started.
Anger at a system that shames people for not having children, but then abandons them when they are here.
Rage at the world.
Rage at my mom.
Rage at the heavens and earth and everything under the sun.
Rage at the injustice of it all.
Grief for the hope that has ended.
Grief for the mom I will never have.
Grief for the little girl who lost her mommy.
Grief for the teenager who knew better but was powerless to make change.
Grief for the adult who had to cut her mother out of her life because she decided to put an end to the cycle of abuse.
Grief for the woman who just wanted to be able to call her mom and share some good news, but couldn’t - because her mom wouldn’t listen - because her mom would start calling obsessively and leave nasty messages on her phone - because her mom would report her missing to the police and she would wake up to at knock on the door at 7am on Easter morning and have to explain to the police officer that she was fine, that she was never missing, that her mother is mentally ill, and get the response, “you should call you mom,” then sigh because people just didn’t understand.
Elation at never having to hear another person say, “but she’s your mother,” as a response ever again.
Relief at never having to explain why “it’s complicated” when someone asks about your mom ever again.
Joy at just being able to say “she’s dead” and get a sympathetic response.
Sadness at people never really understanding the full story.
Grief at letting go of all that old pain that protected and shaped me my entire life.
Fear of what is left of me without all that grief and pain.
Fear for what lies ahead.
Excitement for what lies ahead.
Relief for the fear that is being lifted from my shoulders.
Exhaustion from the weight of it all for all those years.
Gratitude for the support systems I have built over the years.
And at the end of each day, I just feel numb. Numb from fighting to stay above the water. Numb from the torrent of emotions washing over me. Numb because a person can only handle so much at once. I can’t sleep for fear of drowning. I am buoyed by the support from my loved ones, but the storm still rages and it will be a long time before the seas are calm again. I am comforted by the knowledge that “this too shall pass.”
Often I had been known to say, “it would just be easier if she were dead.” That’s true. It will be. Just not yet. I have all the tools to survive this storm, but I still have to rebuild the ship before I can sail again. This is a storm that has been on the horizon for a long time and just because it has finally hit, it doesn’t make it any less devastating to experience. I know I will eventually sail again, but right now, I am lost at sea, trying to keep my head above water and barely succeeding. My mom is dead and it’s complicated.
Thank you for reading and witnessing me.