I was very moved by the responses to my last blog, about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Mr. Bourdain in particular must have been a remarkable person. My children were deeply upset by his loss, and all week I have heard people talk about what he meant to them, and how inspiring he was. He was a public figure and celebrity who really meant a great deal to people, and he will be very, very much missed by his many admirers and fans. Suicide is always a terrible loss, and a tragic event. It is always far reaching, and saddens and affects us all.
One of the people, who responded to the blog, is a frequent ‘responder’, with thoughtful and kind comments about the issues I raise in the blog. This person shared his own grief about his grandfather’s suicide, and his subsequent estrangement from his mother. He talked about how deeply affected he has been by both of those events, and no question, those are both events which would shake anyone to their foundations. It led me to think about, and want to share some circumstances in my own life, that I rarely talk about.
My mother was an extremely beautiful woman, it was probably her most striking feature. She was a model when she was young, and beautiful and naturally youthful looking until she died at 80. Great beauty sometimes seems to be more of a burden than a blessing, and I don’t think she was ever a happy person (She was solitary and dissatisfied, and even bitter in later years). She married very young, at nineteen, to a much older man (my father), and had me when she was twenty. And like some very physically beautiful people, she was very self-centered, and she was accustomed to having her world revolve around her. People spoke of her beauty til the end of her days. It taught me at an early age that beauty is not enough, and no guarantee of happiness. Having children was never part of her life plan, and I think it must have rocked her world when she had me. She was never good at sharing center stage, I only knew her to have one woman friend during her entire life, and my mother offended her early on, and the friendship ended. She was always and easily surrounded by men who admired her, and were dazzled by her (including my father, who never quite got over her). I think she considered women a threat, and didn’t seek their friendship. So having a child, a daughter, was not a welcome event in her life. My relationship with her was tenuous from my earliest memories of her, and she left my father, and me, when I was 6 years old, and moved on. Like the man who responded to my blog, and spoke of how devastated he was by his mother’s rejection of him—-for any child to be abandoned by their mother is a shocking event, one that can take years to recover from, and certainly takes time and a great deal of thought and introspection to even begin to understand. Once I had children of my own, I understood even less how my mother could walk away from a child of six, or any child, at any age. When my children were very young, I would feel literally physically sick if I left them for more than a few hours. There is an almost physical bond between mother and child, where a mother NEEDS to be with her child. We see it in nature, with animals, and in people. And because I was abandoned by my mother so young, I have always been extremely devoted to my own children, present for every event, there for every moment I could be when they were children, and very close to them as adults. If anything, my mother leaving me probably made me a better mother, and perhaps made me love my children more. I knew what it was like to feel ‘unloved’ by my mother, and never, ever wanted my children to experience that. She was more present in my life again once I was an adult, but in all honesty, we were never close. I was attentive and dutiful, as an only child, but we never overcame the enormous tear in our relationship, which occurred from her leaving me when I was so young, and the time, years and experiences we missed with each other.
We all have preconceived ideas about what a mother should be, and most of us expect too much of our mothers, and expect them to be superhuman human beings, able to understand and meet all our needs, wanting them to be warm, loving, compassionate, all forgiving, and never let us down. But mothers are as human as anyone else, I don’t think motherhood ‘improves’ us, I think it magnifies what is already there, both the good and the bad. And some people simply shouldn’t have children, and cause a great deal of harm and pain when they do. Not having children by choice always seems a somewhat sad decision to me, but for those who know they don’t have what’s needed within them, they make a wise decision to follow their instincts and not have children.
We expect our mothers to love us more than anyone on earth, to accept us unconditionally—-and when they don’t, we are secretly convinced that it is some terrible flaw or failing in us which causes a rejecting mother to behave that way. It must be our fault if our own mother doesn’t love us, and those who have been rejected by their mothers carry that weight for many years, sure that something terrible must be wrong with them. It took me many, many, many years (and therapy) to understand that whatever my failings, the flaw was not in me, but ‘simply’ in a mother who didn’t have a mother’s love to give. Understanding that is an enormous relief when it finally dawns….’oh Wow, it wasn’t me’. Not having a present mother is a loss, but in some cases it is the loss of someone who just has nothing to give us. Their tanks are empty, and their heart. I share that piece of my history with you because being abandoned by a parent is a terrible blow, and we feel it reflects on us, and being abandoned by a mother seems even worse somehow—your mother is supposed to love you no matter what. But not all mothers can do that. Mine couldn’t, and apparently neither could the mother of the person who responded to my blog. It’s worth saying too that because you were unloved by your mother does not mean that you are Unlovable—-there’s a big difference between the two. That person, a mother, who didn’t love you, clearly wasn’t able to—but that doesn’t mean that others won’t love you in your lifetime. You ARE lovable!!! We all are!!! And deserve to be loved.
It made my life infinitely easier once I understood that it had nothing to do with me. She was just fatally flawed, and didn’t feel able to be a mother, unfortunate to be sure—-but what crime could I have committed by the age of 6 to make her not love me? None at all.
Interesting things happen too when you don’t have a mother. Throughout my life, much older women have appeared in my life who were wise, loving and compassionate, and took me under their wing for a time, and gave me a kind of love and approval that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Much kinder and more intelligent and wiser women than my mother, a friend’s aunt when I was in my 20’s, just an extraordinary woman, a friend I met when I moved to California/ a Superior Court judge who had no children of her own. Both of those women were loving mentors to me and cherished friends until they passed away. And a third one, whom I had known as a child, a friend of my parents who lost track of them early on, and reappeared about 20 years ago, and she is an extraordinary woman, still active and brilliant and engaged in life in her 80’s, unfailingly loving to me, and always a source of love and encouragement in just the way I would have hoped from my mother as a child, or later on, and never had from her. I feel very fortunate to have had these women in my life, each of whom has made an enormous difference, and gave me enormous gifts of love. So my needs were met, despite my own mother leaving me as a child.
What I wanted to share is that the turning point comes, and the healing, when you realize that a child is never abandoned because THEY are insufficient in some way—but because the parent is insufficient and incapable. It’s not about you/the child, it’s about the parent who lacks the ability to love a child adequately, enough to be a loving mother. Being a mother, especially a good one, is not an easy job, and not everyone is equal to it. Once you understand that, all the heat goes out of the loss, or most of it. And our needs are met in different ways in life, not always from the sources we expect, but sometimes from more unusual ones. Losing my mother for all intents and purposes so young wasn’t easy, but once I understood who she was, and saw her with compassion, the loss was no longer a tragedy, but simply a fact of my life. And yes, I did hope for better from her right to the end, but it never happened. She died quite suddenly, still in very good form, still beautiful, and leading a very independent life. She died of a bad flu, within a week of catching it, when it turned to pneumonia. I was able to see her before she died, and I hoped for a minute that she would suddenly say everything I had hoped to hear for all of my life, but she didn’t. She was who she was, true to herself and true to form until her last breath. Quite amazingly, about a week before she died, she said in passing “You were the best thing that ever happened to me.” I was stunned, had never heard anything like it from her in my entire life, and jokingly said to a friend “she must be dying to say something like that”. It was a final gift, and the best she could do. And between my children, and the kind women who have mentored and befriended me over the years, I don’t feel cheated, I feel blessed. And the best I can wish for those who had a similar experience to mine—I hope that you realize in your heart of hearts that there is nothing wrong with you if you feel that your mother didn’t love you—if so, it was her burden to carry, and her failing, not yours. And the sense of loss and lack falls away when you realize that. Our best mothers are not always the women we were born to, which was just an accident of fate. And Don’t forget that YOU ARE LOVABLE, whether your mother loved you or not.
Much love, Danielle