After writing my last post about the complicated layers of Mother’s Day, I felt compelled to write another that talked about forgiveness. I even intended to post that article this weekend as a gift in honor of my deceased mother this Mother’s Day. But I couldn’t do it. Something bothered me after writing it and sending it off for feedback to my writing coach, Linda Joy Myers.It’s just not as simple as that, I thought to myself. While I do feel forgiveness towards my mother, and a deeper understanding of what she went through, something was missing.
Ironically, on Wednesday morning, I learned that Linda Joy had also written an article titled Forgiveness—A Mother’s Day Gift that was published on The Huffington Post. I had known she was writing about Mother’s Day and mental illness, but was surprised that forgiveness was on both our minds. Upon reading her article, one sentence resonated with me deeply:
“Sometimes we have to “divorce” our mothers in order to have some measure of sanity and to protect ourselves and our children from more abuse.”
~ Linda Joy Myers
In that sentence I realized what I had missed. I realized that not only is it important to forgive my mother, but I have to forgive myself, too.
I was sixteen when I chose to “divorce” her. As soon as my mother and father separated, I cut her off. I distanced myself and kept my son away from her after he was born. I avoided calling her, visiting her, and rarely responded to her letters.
Now, I understand that it was necessary. It truly was the only way I could maintain my sanity and move forward with my life. Sometimes I regret that my son was never able to know his grandmother—but I also know that the grandmother I wish he could have known didn’t really exist.
Looking back—I believe my distance was the only way I could cope with the chaos of my mother’s mental illness and the subsequent emotional abuse that resulted from her disease.
Not for a minute do I regret protecting my son from that.
That choice haunted me, though, after my mother took her own life. For nearly eight years I berated myself for the self-imposed distance I had created, telling myself, “If only I had been there for her, she wouldn’t have taken her life.”
I struggled to accept that her choice wasn’t my fault. And slowly, I have come to forgive her for abandoning me as a young child, for wanting to leave me to be in Heaven with God, and for the verbal abuse and neglect that was a byproduct of her illness.
I understand now that forgiving her in death is only part of the process. I see that I still need to work on forgiving myself for “divorcing” her.
Reading Linda Joy’s sentence makes that concept easier, though. It helps me to see that I really had no choice. The relationship I had with my mother was toxic, and the only way I was going to save myself and the promising life of my son, was to maintain my distance.
In her article, Linda Joy also writes about taking her children to see her mother, their grandmother, even though her mother never claimed her as a daughter or would admit she had grandchildren. At one point, while her mother is herding them down the back elevator after their visit, Linda Joy’s youngest son says,“This is because she doesn’t want anyone to know that we’re hers.” Like a slap, Linda Joy writes, he was naming the truth. But it was his next comment that changed everything. “Why do you bring us here when she doesn’t want us?”
I could see my son reflected in his thoughts, and it made me realize that my choice to “divorce” my mother was the right one. In doing so, I believe I saved my son the unnecessary heartache of trying to understand the complicated dynamics of what I experienced with my mother. I also believe I saved him from my debilitating depression that always flared up whenever I had to visit her. He needed me to be strong, present, and for the most part—happy. The only way I could stay in that state of mind was to stay away from my mother.
Little by little, I’m making progress in terms of forgiving myself for that choice. Just as I can see that my mother did the best she could with what she had at the time—so did I. That was all I could really do, and I believe I’m healthier for it.
I hope you, dear reader, will think about forgiveness today. I hope you will consider giving your mother the gift of forgiveness—whether she is still here to accept it or not, whether her transgressions against you were significant or small. More importantly, I hope you will forgive yourself for whatever poor choices you think you’ve made when it comes to the relationship you have with your mother.
We all deserve forgiveness, for only then are we able to move forward—to become capable of loving our own children in an openhearted way.
If you haven’t clicked on the link above, go here to read Linda Joy Myers’ excellent article on the Huffington Post. You can also learn more about mother daughter relationships and memoir writing on her website Memories and Memoirs.
With love and encouragement, Happy Mother’s Day!
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