Coming Full Circle

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My tender years were filled with daily harshness and critical evaluation. No wonder I grew up feeling less than someone. My mother was so very demeaning and cruel to me, making my alcoholic, absentee father resemble a saint. My life, like all others, had its own set of hurdles to overcome. I’ll be the first to admit – it was a daunting task.

In August 2012, she died in Asheville, NC at the age of 73. She was hit by a speeding truck as she was jogging home. Yes, she was jogging. The man who hit her only had one brake working on his vehicle; otherwise, I’m guessing he would have been able to stop in time. She was dead on impact but resuscitated. Still, she was brain-dead at the scene and would be until she finally expired four days later. Her heart was strong. Probably because she was a runner, that’s why it took her so long to let go. Maybe if she’d lived as unhealthily as my father, she would have died within fifteen minutes like he did when we took him off the ventilator in 2014. But it doesn’t matter now. They’re both gone, and that’s not a bad thing.

This past September, I went on an excursion held in Asheville, NC. It was the first trip back since my mother had died. It was a much-needed mini-vacation and nature retreat of sorts. I got to spend some quality time with a dear friend for three days as well.  I expected some emotions to well up, but not prepared for how deeply it would affect me. Amazing how seven years later, the learned self-loathing from my past reared up its head. I thought I was past it.

During the excursion, I met so many loving and caring people. Quite different from my upbringing. One in particular – France Dormann – who connected with me right at the beginning. She had a rather emotional epiphany as we talked. She said to me, “What’s beautiful doesn’t need to disappear.” It’s not up to me to discuss the details surrounding what made this so tremendously valuable for her, but I will share why it was for me.

Her words echoed so much of what I dealt with in my childhood and even into my adulthood. What was beautiful about me did disappear for a long time. After you get told all of your childhood that you aren’t good enough, worthless, crazy, a problem child…
Well, you believe it. But not anymore. Once and for all, I realized my mother was wrong. Totally wrong. This was my take-away from what France said and what made this so beneficial for me.

After years of denigration and lack of connection, I felt as if I could finally reclaim that part of me that was worth praise and love. And oddly, I found it in the same place where the woman who lavished me with all the criticism came to die. After I had a few days to process the events, I felt lighter like an invisible weight had lifted. What is strange is I thought I’d worked through so much already, and had come to a place of peace. Obviously, not.

So much healing took place on this trip. The bonus being I was within arm’s reach of so many wonderful and supportive people. I cannot tell you how many tears I shed and how many meaningful hugs I received, but it was enough to wash away the sins of the mother who had inflicted a tremendous amount of torment on her daughter. And for that, I’m grateful for the torrent of tears and the love of my friends. My past will no longer own me.

Finally, Peace…

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The accident happened on Thursday afternoon. Woman vs. vehicle, and she didn’t fare well. I was at my mom’s bedside for the last four days, waiting for her to take her last breath. Every day I thought would be her last. But then the machines would continue to track her vitals, showing me how wrong I was. Her heart was beating strong and consistent. “Healthy as a horse!” came to mind. How ironic, though, being healthy, she got clocked by a truck. She did all that exercise for nothing. Her lungs, on automatic, pushed oxygen through her body as if she were still alive. But her mind was gone. Mutti was brain-dead. It was time for her to check out, but her heart betrayed her and kept pumping. Her DNR was useless. Life screwed her yet again.

It felt like she was staying alive for no other reason than for me to work through some issues. I guess that was a good thing. The staff always shook their heads in amazement. “She shouldn’t still be breathing.” they’d say. I put the TV on to pass the time. The kind nurses gave me blankets and a pillow to get comfortable, to check-in for the long haul. 

She finally died. It was Monday, shortly after midnight. Her evil heart finally stopped beating. Odd though, the air felt calm. That was a new sensation. Having been there so many days already, the efficient hospital staff worked to get the last papers signed. It was sweet how they didn’t seem to want to impose on me further. They instinctively knew with it being the wee hours of the morning; exhaustion was setting in. The previous events had taken their emotional, mental, and physical toll. 

I said my goodbyes to Mutti, took the last picture of her in the bed, even cried, then turned and walked away. Passing through the hospital door out into the parking lot was a bit surreal, but it was okay. It was like a chapter had come to an end, and I was eager to read the next page. And I was calm.

At 3 AM, the keys jingled rather loud in the door lock of my mother’s home. I hoped the neighbor wouldn’t wake up with the racket. I was feeling more and more drained. All I wanted to do was sleep, but opening that door gave me the opposite of what I so desperately needed. 

I’d not seen my mother in ten years, nor had I ever been to her apartment. It was strange walking through the front door. The room felt tight with clutter and dust, and paper everywhere. I sighed and hesitated in proceeding into this unknown territory. The knickknacks lining the ledge above the fireplace had a thick layer of grey fuzz. Only knowing my mother as a neat freak, I didn’t expect that. I was shaking my head in disbelief that my mom had lived here. It was so unlike the woman I remember growing up with; she was neurotic about vacuuming every day. She even straightened the fringes on the Persian carpet in the living room if it crushed a little to the side. Even the guests in our home felt uncomfortable as soon as they walked into her clinical space. This home was nothing like I remembered in my childhood. My mom lived here in this mess and filth?

The longer I lingered in the doorway, the more the childhood memories flashed back. All the mind games my mom played rushed back into my head, almost tensing my body in response. Self-preservation – an instinct, I guess. Yet, I still couldn’t quite understand experiencing a feeling at ease along with the adrenaline coursing through my body, especially in this filth. 

I was feeling disgusted, seeing every room had piles of paperwork. After a quick skim, I could tell each had a kind of organized storage system. Mutti kept papers, receipts, and records of every kind. Each type of paperwork had its pile. There were even handwritten arguments with the neighbor. Almost like a visual paper trail of every step of her lifetime, documented and preserved in a heap, by date. It was apparent Mutti’s anal tendencies still ruled her in her later years. They had deepened to a degree of sick, the beginnings of illness I’d not noticed in my youth. She was weird back then, but this was extreme. 

I found documents going back to 1941, and not only the ones you should always keep like a birth certificate or a marriage certificate. When I look back, I couldn’t understand how Mutti hid this during my childhood. It seemed she went off her rails in the last few years. Fascinating and creepy, all at the same time. And yet, I was still calm.

Did she wish I’d visited more? My guess is no. She wouldn’t have wanted me to know how off things had become in her life. Me visiting would have exposed her behavior. I’m sure she understood I would recommend she get some help. 

But I doubt I would have ever come to North Carolina anyway, even if she’d asked. I made an emotional break from her grip years before I’d stopped visiting. I had had enough pain managing the aftermath of my upbringing. Her bad habit of adding fuel to any fire made me tired of getting burnt. The sooner I cut ties, the better for me. When I left, I didn’t look back. 

Being here, amidst all this clutter, I finally realized she had always been the chaos. And she was no longer here to do damage. In my youth, as in this apartment, I was in the eye of the storm. Surrounding me was the disarray, but in here, in this hole, she was gone, and everything was going to be okay. 

I was going to be okay.

Elder

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death gifted me a new hierarchical level
a transition of status
deserved? maybe
definitely earned
especially in my family

accidental or age-related
expiring and passing the torch
a normal consequence of living
most times it’s hard
in my case, a good thing

finally having autonomy
the benefit of losing people
who held me back for years
death seems a good thing
#fight me

resentments let go of
feelings resolved
the chaos and drama over
by dying they
helped heal my old wounds