When I was molested at 8 years old by my older brother, my mother fought tooth and nail to get him out of the house. She advocated for me with passion. She stood by me as my brother initially denied the claims and made me out to be a liar. Publicly, my mother was everything I could have asked for. She followed up in all the ways you would want your mother to and she didn’t let up until she got me help. However, the ordeal took a toll on our private relationship and my mother could no longer offer me the comfort or care that I needed. I understand now that she was burnt out. Having my own children and having had to live a life in the aftermath of trauma, I understand it better than ever. She couldn’t offer me those hugs and kisses, she couldn’t wipe away those tears. She was doing everything she could to keep it together. I get it, but, at eight years old I needed those hugs and words of comfort and my heart was broken without them. Our relationship suffered greatly. The divide became wider and wider as I grew older and more resentful of her. Feeling rejected, she pushed away, and our relationship became more and more superficial over time.
My mother wouldn’t go wedding dress shopping with me. She said she didn’t feel up to it. She later told me she felt that it was silly and that it wasn’t necessary for a good marriage. When I had my first child, it was my father who showed up to see his grandbaby. My mother stayed home, almost a thousand miles away at the time. I cried on the phone, begging her to come to me. I told her that I needed her in a way that I had never needed anyone. She told me that her absence would make me stronger and she didn’t budge an inch. When I was having the next child less than two years later, she said she wouldn’t come to help out because I was “a hard person to help.” I cried for hours and, again, my father came down.
Over the years, it was a constant battle trying to connect with my mother. Whenever things seemed to be turning around, the old hurts would come back freshly bleeding. In December of 2017, less than 5 months after I gave birth to my third son, my mother was hit by a car at a busy intersection while crossing the street. I raced to the hospital and stayed by her side even after my dad had left. I went to the hospital every day that she was there. When my mom got out, I took her to physical therapy for the majority of her appointments. I did all of this because she was my mother and I wanted to. My mother won a settlement from the insurance company and offered all of us a very small fraction of it. I, a mother of three and a graduate student, happily took the money. I paid a price for it later when she had spent everything and blamed her financial issues on “taking care” of us all.
As my mother was spending the last of her money, we started to notice a few odd things. She started disappearing during this time. The night before my 32nd birthday (March 2019), I was out driving through the streets looking for her. She wasn’t answering the phone and no one had heard from her all day. I got up early on my birthday and went to the police station to file a missing person’s report. The police said because I didn’t live with her, my father would have to do it. When the police went to my dad for him to complete the report, they were able to locate my mother. She had voluntarily checked herself into the hospital but would not tell us why or for what. She was so mad at me, that she didn’t even want to wish me a happy birthday that year.
A few months later, my mother found out that her estranged father had died. He was a piece of shit, but he was her piece of shit. When he died, all of the strength my mother had left in holding herself together evaporated. Suddenly, she was staying up for days at a time, talking non-stop, and adamant that her biological parents were not her parents but that they had been her kidnappers and she was at the center of a huge political conspiracy. One day, as I was talking to her, I realized she was talking at me and that we were not having a conversation. She was convinced that what she was saying was real and she couldn’t hear anything else. I tried to convince her to get help but she refused and told me that she had more clarity than ever before. My father was complacent at best and in denial at worst. I made an executive decision to take my mother into the local area mental health facility and try to get her treatment. I saw my mother drowning in her delusions. I wanted desperately to save her. I thought of my own mental health and what I would want my children to do if I ever presented in a similar fashion. For me, it was a no-brainer. For my mother, it was a betrayal of the highest form.
I took my mother to court and petitioned for her to receive treatment. While in court, my mother revealed my psychiatric stay and accused me of having Bipolar Disorder. She told anyone who would listen that I was out to get her. The judge agreed that she needed help and ordered that she receive outpatient treatment. My mother told me that day that I was not her daughter and that I had shit on her life. My father said nothing.
After two months of treatment, my mother packed her things, left the state of South Carolina, and returned to my hometown to escape the court order. My mother changed her number and was adamant that I wasn’t supposed to have it. She told everyone that I was keeping her grandchildren away from her. I published two books and my mother insisted that they were “tell-all” novels about her. When her resources ran dry, she was sent back down here by my sister. We still were not speaking, although it wasn’t for my lack of trying. Every time we talked, she would become irate and defensive.
After four months away, my mother returned to South Carolina. She refused to speak to me and although she would visit with her grandchildren if I brought them to the house to see my dad, she would not speak to me. There were days when I wondered what losing her would feel like since I had mourned her for so long. It wouldn’t be long before I found out.
In February of 2021, I published an article exposing my childhood sexual abuse at the hands of my brother. When I begged my mother to once again stand beside me and bare witness to my experience, she declined. Her biggest takeaway from the situation was that social media causes drama. I was FURIOUS. I made a promise to myself that day to never speak to her or my father again. One month later, I received a call at 2 am from my father saying that my mom had been rushed to the Emergency Room. They were certain she had COVID. My mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer that had spread to her lungs and liver.
The day after she had been admitted to the hospital, my younger brother showed up in town. The hospital would only allow one person at a time and my father asked me to go so he could see my brother. I was terrified that she would reject me or have security escort me away but I went. When I entered the room, I went right to the bed and hugged her as tight as I could. We both started apologizing.
I wish I could say that we mended fences and the wounds were healed and everything was made right but I cannot say that and tell the truth. What I can tell you is that my mom often slipped back into the delusions when she was on the pain medicine and whenever the delusions had a hold of her, she was angry with me and saw me as a traitor. What I can also say is that when she realized this, she often skipped the pain medicine and endured unyielding pain in order to offer me moments of clarity and sincerity. My heart breaks to know that there were days she suffered to spare me, but at the same time, I understand that is what mothers do. There were days when she would open her arms to hug me and I felt so awkward and unaccustomed to her embrace. I wish I had been able to melt into her the way my boys melt into me.
One Friday evening, my dad called me to come by and sit with my mom so he could catch up on some much-needed sleep. She and I sat for hours talking, laughing, and crying. It was one of the best nights of my life. She was my oldest friend, after all. Before she fell asleep, we sat with our foreheads touching. She laid back and dozed off. Throughout the night, she was groaning and I assumed she was hurting. When she woke up the next day, she was no longer speaking. We called the hospice nurse and when the nurse got there, she confirmed my mom was actively dying. She called in the pain medication and explained that all we could do was make sure she was comfortable. As I headed out the door, I looked at my mother, and said “I love you.” She mustered up all the strength she had and whispered “I love you too.” Those were the last words she ever spoke. Eight days later, she was gone.
I think we both hoped that that final Hail Mary I love you would make up for every time she ever hung up on me without saying it or every time she denied me those three words. Hell, I think we both needed it to. Although I’m honored and humbled that she used her last strength to offer me her last words, I have to say that it doesn’t fill the void. I was constantly losing her, constantly fighting to feel welcomed and wanted by her. That last I love you means so much to me but I am still haunted by all the times it wasn’t said.
My mom is gone. Sometimes I feel a rage wash over me and I think about her dying in that bed. How could she leave me? How dare she leave me! There are so many things I will never understand and so much more that I will never get to say to her. My sons missed so much time with her because of her mental and physical illnesses and that time cannot be reclaimed.
As I write this, I realize that a lot of my life has been spent trying to make up for what I felt I cost my mother. She lost a son because of me. Yes, I know that my brother made his decision and that it was never my fault but even as an 8-year-old, I understand that in fighting for me she was fighting against him. She loved him so much and she had to let him go. I was determined my entire life to show her that I was worth her battle scars and heartbreak. In the end, I think I petitioned the court because I wanted her to know that I was willing to go the distance to save her as she had done for me. I wasn’t able to articulate that and the message was never received.
Last year on July 18, 2021, my mother died. I had lost her many times before but a lifetime of mourning did not prepare me for such heartache…