1/25/2010

Reach Down and Out


My last story about mothers and lost relationships has spurred a number of people to reach out to me and share their stories. I have heard quite a few happy memories of women that had mothers much like television moms, mothers that loved unconditionally with enough love of themselves to pour out love to their children.

But some women’s experiences with their mothers are of the other type; stories that are not happy with story book endings. Those touch me deeper; they reveal unreturned love a child innately has to their mother but it not being reciprocated. These stories show human frailty as its most basic level. For does not everyone deserve the love of a mother? This absence of love from a mom stays with people through out their life. I would like to share one of the stories below.

There was a woman nicknamed Jean. She was a caring loving woman that was devout in her Christian faith. She was a fantastic tailor who made things not just for herself but others in need. Her master pieces were often made for other. I was told she even once sewed every single costume for every character in a Christmas play. She brought joy to others but had a mother who did not love her, in a sense rejected her. Though her father cared about her, it is hard for a man to make up for an uncaring mother who is your primary care taker.

She had a sickly brother and what little positive attention was given by Jean’s mother was lavished on the younger brother. It was a miracle he survived his illness but the price that was paid to Jean was now not only non existent love and care but witnessing her mother giving love but to only one sibling, her brother Paul. She stood in the wings so often, even during holiday celebrations waiting for that which would never come her way, attention and positive regard. In a poor home where the only thing children can get lavished with is love, it was not to be hers.

Jean turned up pregnant and marriage seemed inevitable. The year was 1962 and in that day and age, a woman had very few options. According to her adult daughter, looking back, her mother was probably not ready to marry nor was she with the man of her dreams by any stretch. And after the marriage, the place they called home was a travel trailer that did have such enmities as a real toilet and bath tub. But of all places to situate it, he put it smack dab on this parents 20 acres so that she was within a stone throw of a mean spirited mother in law. This added to Jean’s stress and unhappiness. She was alone, no near by neighbors to call friends and with a husband where love and nurturing was lack in their marriage. Her mother in law seemed to have a mission, to make her daughter in law’s life intolerable. Her misery grew.

Her next ten years living there they did not a dime to spare. Jean stayed devout in her faith to God and that was her only salvation and source of love. When her eldest daughter was around seven years old, she turned up pregnant with a son. As the story was recanted to me, this last pregnancy may have been the final straw to put Jean mentally over the edge.

With the announcement of her pregnancy, her husband grew extremely frustrated and angry. He had plans, now that they were getting caught up on bills. He longed to save money and buy a home. He felt this postponement, due to the financial stress of another mouth to feed, was entirely her doing. He even made accusations that the son was not his, as if somehow that absolved him of any guilt. These accusations made Jean feel like a knife was cutting through her as this was so against her nature to do any discretion. She was shocked and hurt as the accusations flew. She was being scorned in her home and yet had done nothing wrong.

Jean’s world began a steady descent into a place of mental instability. She spiraled into a deep depression. Jean found herself flooded with memories of her own mother rejecting her. She remembered trying desperately to receive it but it was unreturned. Jean knew she was in a loveless marriage with a man who was not kind to her. She began losing touch with the world she wanted so desperately years ago to be a part of. All of this led her to a nervous breakdown, hospitalization and being medicated.

During this time, her son was not getting the care he deserved from her. A t some level, Jean probably knew this and yet seemed incapable of changing the outcome. Her life was on a self destructive path with no end in site. She went through the motions of being mother because the medication really did not allow her to be or feel more. The older sister of this little boy did what she could to give love to her younger brother when she could.

Somehow she did get pregnant a third time, when the eldest child was 14. This was to be her last child, and one, as she aged, that did not get along with her mother at all. She was showered with attention from her older sister’s friends and her older siblings and from, strangely enough her father. This child, almost to a fault, was lavished and allowed to be somewhat babied and not pushed to grow up and mature normally. To this day, she still lives alone, no marriage and no children, with her father.

Jean eventually confined herself to bed. She began hearing voices and labeled them as God speaking to her. She began to become totally submissive to the pull she felt was from God. She did not appear to realize she was going deep into the throes of mental illness and had a hard time separating reality from untruths. Jean sunk into the lowest of lows of depression.

As her descent continued, Jean’s children were being neglected. This was not done by choice but by an incapability to do more. The eldest daughter was heartsick inside about her mother’s sadness. She recalled days her mother sewed them Easter outfits, read them bible stories and expressed the love that she was never given herself as a child to her children. However, Jean began mentioning giving sacrifices to God, feeling some strange calling or pull to do so. Her oldest child sometimes feared one day her mother would kill her as an ultimate sacrifice. Hence, this child lived in somewhat fear, knowing fully well her mother loved her but also realizing her mother was out of touch with reality and might have the capacity to be harmful.

When the eldest daughter turned 10, Jean’s husband finally got a home. Even with this move, Jean was far into the throes of unhappiness now having suffered a nervous breakdown. A lifetime of being unloved was catching up with her and engulfed her in sorrow, she seldom felt joy. She continued her Bible readings and even, in saner moments, read Bible stories to her children at bedtime. Perhaps Jean knew, in the dark recesses of her mind, one truly sane thought, the knowledge that God could and does love unconditionally. Her daughter prayed that was enough to sustain her and give her mom some semblance of joy and possibly some reason to come back to reality.

It was not to be though. Several suicide attempts followed that were, by the grace of God, unsuccessful. Hospitalizations occurred also. After a heartfelt request, Jean vowed to her eldest daughter to not make anymore attempts on her own life. Somehow her daughter felt relieved but somewhat on guard as she knew her mother had deep seated issues that were still present.

No long after this promise, Jean was diagnosed with diabetes. She seemed to; be choice, let her health go by the wayside. Jean possibly saw an opportunity to ignore early warning health concerns due to her new diagnosed illness so as to accelerate her own death. Sores on her feet led to a need to amputate her foot. Jean was admitted to the hospital for the surgery but never made it home this time. The surgery led to her death. Jean’s life of living with mental illness was over.
Jean’s eldest daughter is left with memories of what could have been. She remembers a caring loving sweet woman who told Bible stories and believed in the love of God. Her mother was an excellent seamstress who made things that were impeccable such as Easter outfits each year for all her children that fit perfectly. Her creations were examples of the perfection she sought in life and was never equally rewarded for her efforts for love and happiness.

What survived after Jean’s tragic death was Jean’s true legacy. Her eldest child is a daughter that is everything Jean wanted to be and was in her early years. This Christian daughter is someone cheerful and positive. This lady cares about others, is giving, out going and quite vivacious. She can overcome rejection also. Yes, there are scars left over from the tragedy of her mother’s live but she lives on happy and productive in society. And she remembers her mother with kindness in her heart and a sense of loss that is irreplaceable.

She has a daughter who has an incredible work ethic. Growing up poor, Jean’s eldest does all she can to ensure she is never in that same predicament again. Her lack of children has not given her a chance to replay how differently things could have been for children in the home so she could see the reverse of a dysfunctional childhood. Those of us blessed to call Jean’s eldest daughter friend indeed feel lucky. We also know that her mother shines down from heaven with rays of joy and pride at the woman her daughter has continued to be.

Mothers come in all shapes and sizes. They parent their children in many different styles too. Each mother, we have to assume, does the best they can do with what they have. Sometimes, simply said, it is not enough. And when it is not, it is virtually impossible for a child to be unaffected by their mothers short comings. But, as we grow older and learn to separate from our parents, we can learn to look back with keen eyes and an open mind and see more clearly. We can remember and forgive poor choices our mothers made. We can be grateful also for what was done well. But, as Jean’s daughter feels, we must never forget them. The chain of dysfunction must be broken and we must be a positive legacy for the efforts our mothers made. With the understanding of the experiences from our past, our history, we can learn much about ourselves. If we can envision a better future for us, we can make it happen. Do it, reach down deep and then reach out and make that difference!

Jean, you are remembered and are now in God’s loving arms. Amen. We shall see you again one day and be blessed with your smile!
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