My mother could be … difficult.
She and I never had a real relationship. Mainly she was this woman I knew who gave birth to me and our main bond, from my perspective, was one of family obligation. You know, “but she’s your mother.”
I was raised by my grandparents after she and my father split when I was three, and I’ve often said her decision to give me up was at once the best thing that ever happened to me and the worst. I’ve had this conversation with enough mothers to know how hard “she gave her son up at age three” lands, and it’s probably true that a majority of the challenges I’ve confronted in life trace to that moment. But she was right, 100% right. It hurt me and it was a torment throughout her life, but it was the best thing she could have done for her son.
And it would almost inhumane to blame her when you consider what she grew up in, anyway. I know a couple stories about her family life as a girl and they’re utterly harrowing. I also know there are more stories I’ve been shielded from that are even worse. That she could get out of bed in the morning and go to work was a miracle.
So today I’m struggling with a massive bout of ambivalence. I’m not mourning the loss of a mother so much as I’m mourning the fact that I didn’t really have a mother for whom to grieve. And that my feelings are honest and unfair and beyond my grasp.
I was able to speak to her last night as she lay unresponsive on her deathbed. The nurse said she could hear. So I got to say goodbye. In the last three years we’ve talked more and it was better between us than it ever had been before, so I said I was glad we were ending on the upswing. I told her I’d made lots of mistakes in my life, but also that I’d accomplished many things of which I was proud and that she could take pride in, too. I said I loved her.
If consciousness somehow coheres beyond this realm, Mom, may you find more peace in death than you ever did in life.
Jane Roberta Smith Heitman
2/4/1941 – 1/20/2020