Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grief; or, MC has an existential crisis

My Mom-Mom is dying. She is 87. She was a war bride and married my Pop-Pop when she was 17, shortly before he left for WWII. She was Rh- with an Rh+ husband in the era before RhoGAM, and had 7 children and 13 pregnancies. Her last miscarriage was quite late into the 2nd trimester, and resulted in a hysterectomy due to severe hemorrhaging. She was a fierce Irish Catholic who smoked, drank, and swore like a sailor. She kicked the smoking habit when my Pop-Pop was diagnosed with heart disease. She developed Alzheimer's shortly after Pop-Pop died in 1992. The last time I saw her was at my sister's bridal shower 7 years ago. She did not recognize me. She wasn't told when her daughter, my mother, died in 2007, 9 months before my son was born. Neither my mom nor my grandmom ever met my son. 

All that I've written above could have been written by any impartial observer. When my sister called this afternoon begging me to come to the hospice center to see Mom-Mom before she passed, I admit that my main emotion was annoyance. I was never close to that family. When my own mom died the year before my son was born, I found it hard to reconcile years of abuse I'd suffered at her hands with the general sense of remorse and sadness seen at her funeral. My own sisters admitted that they could think of nothing positive to say about her in her eulogy, which ended up focusing on her love of plants and the seashore. Yet, despite the shared past my sisters and I had, they and my Dad still berated me for not crying at Mom's funeral. At the time I was so hurt that they could say one thing about my mom behind closed doors, but then chastise me for not pretending to be a well-loved, mourning daughter. In fact, my own feelings on my mom's death bordered on elation. I felt like a heartless, shameless jade.

Since the time I left for college at age 17, my relationship with my family has been marked by a purposeful emotional distance on my part. After years and years of feeling worthless, helpless, and small, I finally had the opportunity to come into my own. But it seems that since about 2000, each year a different member of my mother's family dies and I am forced to deal with my inadequate emotional response to death. Not just deal with it on a personal level, but actually being confronted by family members for not being "sad enough".

And so begins this latest round. I will go to see my Mom-Mom tonight, and likely will feel a strong sense of distance between myself and the woman in the bed. Mom-Mom never hurt me, but we were never close either. She was part of an entity that had maligned and censored me, even if she never did those things herself. And so she was distanced from me.

And now, I will pay the penalty for that distance by being shamed into grief.


Lisa said...


I want to say I sympathize, but I can't. I've had moments where I thought life would be so much better without my own mom, but I'm pretty sure I'd be in shambles despite the crap.

I just haven't had to deal with a death on a remote level yet. Not really.

That said, you feel what you feel. Don't you ever let anyone tell you you should feel something else.

Easier said than done, but it's true. We grieve in our own way, if at all. It's totally okay.

Quiet Song said...

I DO understand this. My daughter has accused me of not properly processing my anger/grief (she thinks I should feel more of the above emotions). I've had to really process her (mom's) astounding craziness though in the past year.

Sometimes I think its a competitive thing among family members as to who "feels" the most. Unfortunately, when you don't have as a big of a loss as other people because of your history with an individual, you actually feel something more akin to relief at their passing.

I'd like to finally be done with the Drama of Drama Mama, and we are getting there slowly. Now if I can just stay partitioned from those members of the family desiring to carry on her legacy . . .

Madame Curie said...

There is a back story with my mother's passing... I had been her primary caretaker for the 10 months immediately preceding her death, and she was definitely NOT grateful that I was the one caring for her. She made that very clear, and verbally assaulted me each time I made the weekly, 300-mile round trip to care for her. So when she passed away, I was beyond relieved. Add to that the fact that our family relationships dramatically improved after she died, and you sort of can get the essence of what I am saying.

I don't have those sorts of negative relationships with Mom-Mom. Its more of a distance than anything else.

Anyway, I went to see her tonight and said my goodbyes. Luckily my sisters weren't there, so I wasn't pressured (tonight at least) to grieve in anyone else's way.