It’s Never Too Late to Repair a Broken Relationship

“Let’s get right down to it,” she said. “We have never been close.”

“Since the day I was born.” I responded.

Thus began the first ever face-to-face, let’s-get-honest conversation with my soon-to-be-94-year-old mom. I started the conversation to talk about the hateful and hurtful things she said about me in public on Christmas Day. She had done plenty of unloving things to me over the past decades, but this was the first in public. And she did it twice in the same day at two different locations.

The first was in front of a close friend and her cousin, whom I had just met for the first time the previous night. The second was roughly 15 minutes later. We’d started the drive to my brother’s house for Christmas dinner, when she insisted I take her to the emergency room at the hospital because her tinnitus was acting up (ringing and whooshing noises in the ear).

Embellishing the version she’d said at my friend’s house, as we walked through the emergency room to the treatment room, she loudly announced, “My daughter is the most uncompassionate person and I pray to God every night that I never need her to take care of me, because if that happens, God help me.”

My mother always told me and my brother that there was one rule we could never break and that was to never embarrass her in public.

I was speechless, stunned and numb. Nevertheless, I helped her out of her clothes and got her comfortable and warm on the table. I told the staff that they had already treated her for this condition about a month ago – at which time they gave her a nasal spray which took the noise away – and that she had decided to stop using it. I did spray her nose before we left her home, but the spray takes time to work.

We sat in the room waiting for about two and a half hours and then suddenly my mom announced that the noise was gone. When I told the staff they shouted, “A Christmas miracle!” – a welcome break in the tension.

The drive to my brother’s house was quiet. It was the wrong time to discuss what she had said, so I tucked it away so that the day was not ruined for my brother and his wife. Although we ended up being over three hours late for dinner, we ended up having a pleasant time.

But what she did was the most hurtful thing she had ever done to me, crossing the line she herself had drawn. I planned to confront her with it, but timing is everything and everything has its time, and I needed to sit with this until I was clear about how I felt, what I wanted to say, the approach I wanted to take and the outcome I hoped for.

My relationship with my mother has been strained most likely since the day of my birth. We never bonded. I have no childhood memories of her every hugging or cuddling me, playing with or reading to me or saying loving or uplifting things to me. Neither of my parents attended any of my school events (I was a straight-A student), athletic games (I played on the school team for volleyball, basketball and baseball) or art events (I had an exhibit of my work at school and was offered an art scholarship to a 4-year college). I have no memory of ever being told I was loved by either parent, but my mom’s rejection is what launched my self-sabotaging belief that I was unlovable.

I can clearly see how and why that happened.

My mom got pregnant and my father married her (that’s what they did in the mid-forties) and she had a baby boy, my older brother. She bonded with my brother in a way that caused tension between her and my dad, and my sensitive brother suffered for it. When I was born four years later, I immediately bonded with my dad, intensifying that tension. I suffered for it, and the divide between mom/son versus father/daughter grew wider.

I am grateful that my brother did bond with her – he is the most loving, gentle, kind and caring person I know. They have always shared an emotional connection and he has been able to help her in many ways as she’s aged.

I was never jealous of that bond because I bonded with my dad and we were very compatible, but neither of us shared that compatibility with my mom. I always loved spending time with my dad and I think a source of a lot of her anger and vengeance against me is that I had a better relationship with her husband (my father) than she did.

I knew my dad loved me even though he never spoke of it because I felt it in his hugs and the time we spent together. He would spend hours patiently answering all my questions about this and that. We were matched mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. We would sing together while he played his guitar and danced around the house (he was a fabulous dancer) and even as a small child I assisted him when he tinkered with home construction projects or fixed the cars or the plumbing. He was a jack of all trades and always had his nose in a book learning something new. At 74 he signed up for a computer course to learn how to build his own computer, and since I owned a computer dealership at that time, we bonded yet again. He would laugh at my semi-dirty jokes and funny cards and I think about him all the time (he passed in the early nineties). The person I am today has so much of his intelligence, smarts, confidence, curiosity and good humor.

He didn’t have that type of relationship with his wife, my mother, and I suspect therein lays the reason she rejected me. All my life she has said negative things about my dad trying to turn me against him. And since my childhood she told me that she would have had a great marriage if they hadn’t had me.

Whenever she said those things it backfired because they made me dislike her more. We spent years, sometimes decades, estranged. Our relationship began to get better about the mid-nineties when I lived in Flagstaff Arizona. I had a breakthrough phone conversation in which I told her, “I want people in my life who are loving and supportive, and if you can’t be that way, you can’t be in my life.”

After a period of silence I heard what sounded like a little child’s voice say, “I love you.” It was the first time she had ever said that to me. I was 47 years old.

Ten years ago she moved near me, and I thought things were getting better in our relationship. She is, after all, my mother, and I do want the best for her. I long ago came to understand that being born to two parents who didn’t have a clue what love really was would push me to find out how to open my own heart.

So when my mom recently and abruptly announced that we have always been estranged, it was somehow liberating for me. At long last the ruse was over and she no longer had to pretend how she felt about me and why she was so angry with me. We talked for an hour and it was very enlightening, giving me great clarity about her perspective, attitudes and beliefs.

Since apparently she doesn’t believe in “let’s agree to disagree”, she suddenly announced, “Well, people can’t change so that’s it.”

I was shocked that she was so easily willing to terminate the relationship. But in that moment I realized that I was the adult and she was the child – a child who had never felt loved – and I redirected the conversation by saying, “People change all the time. I have changed a lot about myself. It just takes the desire to change.”

And in that moment she said, “We can wipe the slate clean and start anew.”

Another miracle!

We hugged and it was the first time I have ever hugged her when she didn’t stiffen and turn her body partially away.

Sunday is my mom’s 94th birthday. My brother is taking her to bingo at the casino, her favorite thing to do. While they are gone I plan to leave a plant on her table and a card and a letter I was inspired to write to her. Her heart is so closed and hardened and yet I see that maybe I can be the one who can create the first crack to open it. And with that thinking, I wrote a letter to her.

Dear Mom,

On this your 94th birthday, my wish for you is that before you take your final breath in this world … read letter

 

 

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