Today I sat with my Mum : reflections on forgiveness

Heart in the Sky

Today after going to the doctor to check that what felt like some swelling in my breast following surgery was not an infection, I went to visit my Mum.

When I answered the door she was dressed in a lovely stripped dress with a long strand of sea pearls, fully made up at the age of 90.  I asked her if she was going out.  No, she just dressed this way to feel good, something in my heart saw a small girl who had struggled to hard to take care of herself over years, had endured so much loss and who was now living alone in an apartment with so many memories.

I was struck by the dichotomy of the absent mother of the past that I struggled to connect with and this person who has softened but still has such a difficult time fully honouring her own grief process as well as mine.

We spoke of a lot of things,  I cried about the pain in my breast and the pain which was deeper pain arising from realisations I had into my life that were only emerging this morning (not spoken of with Mum).  Mum stood up from her chair (with difficulty she has piercing nerve pain shooting up her leg after knocking a vein three weeks ago) came around to my side of the table and embraced me while I cried.  I felt myself letting go into her embrace to receive the love she was trying to give.  These words came to me.  I really want to forgive the past, I really want to let this pain go.

A few moments before she was saying that the way she copes with pain of the past is to live in the present, be grateful and get on with life.  I spoke of how I find it is important to acknowledge grief and pain.  And pointed out how being told to get on is sometimes like being told its not okay to feel the pain.  It was a gentle conversation.  Neither of us needed to convert the other to our view.

After a long talk and a simple lunch shared she went to the counter in her kitchen and came over to me.  “I want to give you something”, she said.  She laid down on the table a check for 20,000 dollars.  “This is to cover your operation and other expenses, I want you to know that I DO love you.   I know I haven’t been able to be there to help you lately as I haven’t been well but at least I can help in this way.”

Whenever Mum gives me money it undoes something in me.  I won’t speak too much about why.  What I needed was time and attention, but being the youngest this was in short supply.  All the family trauma that went on meant I was at the end of the line and missed out on so much.  After my father died the final terrible punctuation mark after three major life threatening traumas spanning a six year period, I was encouraged to go overseas even though my partner decided to drop me via telephone, a few days after my father died.

I’ve shared about this in other blogs.  I bought a bottle of Johnny Walker at Duty Free in Sydney and flew to Heathrow arriving in the dead of winter (February 1985) five weeks after we buried my father.  I had three bags and boarded the tube for the city.  After passing through a long dark tunnel we came out into the light to view dark rain filled foggy skies.  I did not have a hotel booking.  I was to find the YWCA in London and meet some friends, problem was I didn’t at that point know there were 6 or 9 YWCA’s in Greater London.  I was from a small town in Australia

I was grieving, disoriented and stumbled upon a hotel, ascending the stairs to the lobby only to find there sitting at reception a girlfriend who used to holiday near us at the South Coast.  Thank God for that.  I was so lost and alone.

In our conversation today Mum shared with me about the pain of her lonely childhood.  Her mother worked all the time.  She was shamed in school so often truanted and often had an earache. She would go to the Chemist near Wilkes :Pie Shop and the chemist would syringe out her ears.  I started feeling tears fall at that stage, thinking of the blog I wrote yesterday about the importance of touch and its absence.  It occurred to me this was probably one of the only times my Mum’s body and pain were attended to by someone else.

She also shared about another traumatic incident that occurred in her 20s.  She developed acute stomach pain and was found to have a cyst on her ovaries.  Three weeks in hospital followed after which she was weighted down by sandbags over the stomach.  Married at this stage my father was in the Far North of Australia with the Dutch East Indies Airforce.

As she shared about this I was reminded of the time I had fallen pregnant and awoke with acute stomach pain, failed to raise my partner and drove myself to the hospital waiting for hours in a room in casualty to find at 6am that the corpeus luteum of the pregnancy had ruptured.  An abortion followed, it was my third (I was 28 at the time.)

This afternoon as I sit typing this, a storm brews around my little house and thunder rumbles, I see how much my life and experiences have been a continuation of my mother’s.  The lonely little girl who had no siblings became the lonely little girl who had siblings she could not relate to, someone scared of friendships because she unconsciously feared being abandoned.   Some one traumatised at the age of 17 by a near death experience that forced her into a greater emotional isolation, regardless of the attention that surrounded her.

It is only now, 36 years later that that lonely girl is coming out of hiding, taking the risk to open up, tell her story and make sense of the pain and trauma.  Illness has perhaps been necessary for the deeper pain to be made manifest so that it can be dealt with, at least that is the perspective I have this evening.

I see how I may have made boyfriends suffer due to my fear.  I remember the rages I had when drunk which were an unconscious attempt to scare them away.  My rage was the only pain I could show, it was my fear of abandonment and manifestation of deeply buried griefs gone mute.  I needed someone to understand my pain. Sobriety helped me to stop enacting it so much, but it has taken a long introspective journey of over 22 years to begin to fully understand myself and my journey.

What is left now is the desire only for love.  I am so sick of anger and pain.  I need to tend these tender open, often raw wounds with love.  Who knows why it all happened, why my sister had to die so swollen up in pain, why my mother now has to suffer with so much physical pain.  I do feel that emotions get forced into the body so the loneliness and pain my Mum could not express now plagues her with physical ailments. For so many years I have longed to heal that pain. I thought if I made sacrifices and stayed close I could ease it, but it is and never was mine to fix. But the truth is that I do now desire to love, for to stay angry will heal nothing, will change nothing.  I finally have forgiveness in my heart because my soul is showing me that in order for me to live in peace there is no other way.



The dark place I visit

I find at the moment as my body is healing I am going into a very dark and deep place at times.  There is a lot of thwarted anger in this place.  There is a rage at my mother for ways she has invalidated not only me, but my sisters too.  I have been feeling really murderous rage towards my Mum for how she disempowered my sister who was disabled for so many years and came unstuck from trying to express herself in the world.  I think of the times she was denied money or accused of “being on a high” when she was trying to buy things in order to bring some comfort and beauty into her life.

I feel anger towards my Mum too for my other sister who when she was really trying to express her anger had it devalued and depotentiated, not only by my mother but by my mother and brother in unison.  It was around that time that my sister was committed to a psychiatric institution, there were many phone calls going on between my nephew (her son) and my mother at that time and I was back at home and trying to maintain my separate space and looking for a place to live away from there while still longing for the love and support from my mother, who just chose to go away again at a time I really needed her.

Last night a friend offered to pick me up and visit my mother today.  My mother has injured her leg and cannot walk.  I know this friend of my idealises my Mum who is certainly not all bad and does have lovely qualities, she just is not very aware of my Mum’s dark side which comes out in certain comments and devaluations designed to protect herself from a deeper knowledge of how she wounded all three of us.  I was just trying to get to sleep when her text came through and suddenly my bodymind was so disturbed that it took me ages to get to sleep.  My physical wound in the left breast is really stinging at the moment as it heals and its no wonder the pain of my own lack of nurture has manifested in cancer in the ducts of my breast.  When I have needed the love and nutrition of mother’s milk on an emotional level it has not been there and there has been unconscious anger and I know I have not always done a good job of taking care of myself and nurturing myself.

Now I know this is my task.  I have to face what I did not get from my mother and grieve for the loss, then I have to learn how to take good care of and nourish myself in a way my mother could not.  This is about tending a deep wound to the feminine that is not only in me but in much of our collective culture these days.

There is not only anger I feel towards my mother though.  There is so much love and sadness too.  I am aware of how harsh her early life was, how much she was used and abused and how little love her own mother showed her, sending her into domestic work against which my Mum rebelled.  I feel at times the deepest of deep compassion for her, the only problem at times is that this compassion has stopped me in my tracks and made me want to make sacrifices.  I think of opportunities I denied thinking I should take care of my Mum, she did not demand it, she puts her own needs aside sometimes, but I felt responsible to give the care in the absence of anyone to do so.  The stinging thing now that I am sick, though is that not one family member is physically there for me.  One is sick, the other has gone overseas for a wedding and the rest of our family here have little to do with us.

I go through such conflict around this battle between anger and compassion at times that it is almost impossible to know which way to turn.  And maybe my journey is about facing that my feelings are complex, they will rise and fall.  And perhaps my work is just to accept and hold all of these feelings in a way in which I am not too wounded myself, for I find that when I am with the wound at times, turning things over and over, my own body becomes punished, sore and very tormented.

I probably need to put the hurting down, realise I am powerless over what was done to me and make the extra important commitment now towards self love and self compassion.

When I am feeling better I can move and this helps the energy of that anger to be moved out.  Finding another focus really helps, something that is nourishing and fun.  At the moment I am using blogging and writing a lot in order to work through and contain the feelings, since my movement is limited.

It is very clear to me that under the anger is a lot of grief and pain which is the place I ended up in this morning after feeling all the painful feelings of rage, this grief connect me not only to my mother’s grief and pain but also to the ancestral pain that I know was deep on my mother’s side there was a history of loss, divorce, mental illness and separation on that side going three generations back.

I have felt for some time with my strong Neptune that it is one of my tasks to carry and feel this ancestral wound of disconnection, but it is one I cannot really heal as conditions were as they were and far beyond my ability to affect, control or change.  In the words of Al Anon, I didn’t cause it and I cannot control or cure this wound.  I can only bring understanding to the pain and move out from this place towards some happiness with a greater awareness of how past patterns and unconscious conflicts and needs have kept me trapped.

Sadly my sister I loved so much is dead.  The father who could at least feel me from within went years ago.  And the Godfather who really valued and acknowledged my True Self also died ten years ago.  I am very grateful in the past two years to have re-established loving relationships with my sister’s son from whom I was estranged for over 30 years following all the painful events that transpired following her stroke, so there are some blessings.  I know I must try to keep a focus on what can be good now, rather than be consumed by past losses, but the truth is there have been so many.

I want to have forgiveness in my heart for my Mum and sometimes I do, but every attempt I have made to draw attention to pain she has caused has ended in her attempt to deflect any responsibility, or apologies which are not really apologies at all such as “I’m sorry that you feel I haven’t been the mother you wanted or needed” or “aren’t you over that by now?”. “why haven’t you put that behind you?”.  A sincere apology would have enabled me to let go well before now, acknowledgement of my pain would have helped me to move through it much earlier than this.  The truth is that a true heartfelt apology has never come and so now, even though I feel for my Mum I feel I want limited contact with her.

I’ve excused her from the fact she cant be there for me at present.  I have been really hurt that phone calls to see how I am have been infrequent or very late in the day especially in the critical period following surgery.  My sister gives me the excuse that my mother is not well.  You can always pick up the phone though.  Its only a wounded foot.  The deeper reason is that my Mum doesn’t really want to face the true reality of the pain.   She would rather gloss over it or deny it.  She could have explored truly the pain of her own past at any time.  She could have chosen to be involved in my therapy.  She has helped my sister following her op but not me.  I know its too much for her, so I have to excuse her.  I still try to caretake her feelings at times.

Was it her task to love me better?  To spend more time with me? To help me express grief over my father’s death instead of focusing only on her own?  I feel it was.  Others deny this.  It is very confusing.  But the truth is I am very angry over what I did not get and this anger I feel has been deeply repressed until now.  I have made a lot of excuses.  I know my Mum isn’t capable.  I know I need to accept that. But the truth hurts.

So this is where I am today following the New Pisces Moon.  All that collective pain is so deep.  I know I will rest in the dark place for a time, I know that is part of my healing.  I also know I will move out from it on another day to embrace love.  I am just finding it really difficult to do that today.

I won’t fear love

What happens to someone when they are not allowed to feel what they feel, when they are having an intense reaction to something and that reaction is then judged as ‘mad’ and steps are taken to shut them down and invalidate the person’s reality?   Really the person was deeply outraged and angry about something that was legitimately hurtful and abusive (perhaps having triggered a complex web of other feelings, issues complexes reaching deep down and far back), but their reaction is judged (often by the abuser, but often also others the abuser has co-opted in to validate their own rejected and repressed betrayal, for example).   Those people bring in a psychiatrist and a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder is made, it is recommended the person is placed on something “to calm them down”.

This type of scenario is unwinding in a novel I am reading at present. The themes explored in the novel are cutting to the heart of similar issues in my own family. The central character in this book is called Grace. When the book opens she has been in a relationship with a narcissist where she walked on eggshells for many years always fearing when the next outburst or angry tirade will be expressed.

As her history is explored in the first half of the book it is revealed that she was raised by a mother who was not only emotionally unavailable to Grace for long periods but prone herself to rash outbursts of anger and strange behaviour that were frightening for her daughter. It is not made clear in the novel what happened to the mother that caused her behaviour but eventually she is diagnosed with “bi-polar” disorder.

The shadow imprints of this painful relationship rears its head when Grace hits midlife. Its nature shows why Grace would have been attracted to a narcissist. Her own emotional needs were never met. She learns to bury her needs and soothe or avoid her husband. Eventually the stress of trying to appease her husband’s endless needs leads Grace to hire an assistant who subtly begins to undermine Grace.

Grace’s behaviour starts to change in response to the mixed messages in the environment, (the not at this stage overt deception going on).  She becomes prone to sleeplessness and then bursts of energy which are nothing more than reactions to stress and buried feelings she has not really been able to articulate over years. Her husband starts to question her behaviour and label it erratic (a huge irony here in that his own behaviour has been even more outlandish). He convinces Grace to see a psychiatrist who diagnoses her with a mild form of bi polar disorder. The diagnosis sits badly with Grace, and yet she questions herself. This guy has a degree from a famous university, he has written chapters in the DSM her own mother was bi polar, has she inherited the bi polar curse? Who is she to question anyway?

Grace reluctantly takes the drugs prescribed which make her hungry, lethargic, sleep 12 hours or more a day and even more depressed. She gains weight and her self esteem plummets. When her closest friend find out what has happened she is outraged. She sees no evidence for the diagnosis. Grace struggles on, being undermined at times by both husband and his new assistant.

Then one day she finds them together having sex, as any normal person would do she flies into a rage attacking the woman who in partnership with her husband then arrange to have her taken to a psychiatric facility. At this part in the story I was hyperventilating. It was so similar to my oldest sister’s story, of which the full details have never been clear, only that her own husband had an affair with a women they were both involved with in and through the business my sister started, either before or after my sister had a cerebral haemorraghe in 1980.

A year later her husband took them and their four children away to New Zealand  (the mistress had gone forward a short while before). I believe on Jude’s arrival in New Zealand she may then have had to witness her husband and his mistress together. She had a series of so called “psychotic” breaks and was admitted to an asylum. She was then sent home home to us with a one way ticket. with one suitcase of clothes, she then tried to take her life.

In the novel Grace is luckier than my sister. She has manages to escape from the influence of the psychiatrist who was loading her with a number of different medications which basically numbed her so that she was only a zombie, less than even a shadow of her former self. My sister was never that lucky. When she came home and tried to cry her eyes out she was stopped from going there. Dumbed down with more meds, as with Grace with the numbing came a loss of all her creative ability, her joy, her zest, her sadness all palled under the greyness of a lifeless “blah” induced by the medications she was fed.

Her authentic liveliness and joy was squashed and little help was given, until later years to help her work through the painful mix of feelings. In the end there were only screaming rages with long crying spells, many of which I sat through in the course of her last years, holding her hand.

I am still in the middle of processing all the feelings that have been coming up for me in reading Grace’s story. I am reminded of the difficult journey we have on earth in coming to terms with our feelings, with their impact on others, with the impact of other’s feelings on us and even of our own feelings impact on us, of the long search to find a place where our feelings can be expressed in a way in which it is helpful and we can move forward rather than be paralysed or trapped by them.

I guess in the end it all has a lot to do with fear. There is a wonderful book out there on this subject it is called When Love Meets Fear and is written by David Richo   I read a quote recently from it which I can now not find but said something like this :  many people will be frightened by expression of your lively energy especially if it rocks their boat or confronts them with a part of themselves they would rather not see, your life task is to be and express this lively energy even in the face of others fear of all the tactics and machinations they use to try and undermine your true authentic expression.

I had a big “ah ha” moment when I read that paragraph. How often as a child was I shamed by the Nuns or even my parents when I expressed something they did not want me to express. This also happened to my older sister mentioned above who it said in later life “was just a little too big for her boots”, a bit too open, too lively, too “over the top”, a “naughty” girl. Witness the jaw drop as she speaks an outlandish truth to someone confronting them with something they are ashamed about or trying to hide. It’s just “not nice”! More outraged expressions and pursed lips.

I am not implying that we should have no restraint, no empathy for or sensitivity towards others feelings but we do need to have the courage to express what is true for us even if at times it makes us seem like an inconvenience for others who would rather we shut it up or dumbed it down a bit.

Interesting that just last month the Sun in Libra faced off with/opposed Uranus in Aries. Uranus has been passing through my eighth house of shadow energies over the past few years. My own Mars is conjunct Saturn which lends a fair bit of repression, duty boundness and doing the right thing to Mars lively assertive joy in self expression and movement. I have struggled with bound up/caged Mars energy for most of my life late childhood onwards.   Luckily I haven’t been medicated through any of the lows which were often descents in which feelings had to be negotiated, painful as they were and interspersed with periods of debilitating depression.

Lately  I am getting lots of hints about where repression due to displaced and projected fears occurs for myself and others and I am grateful for a therapist who allows me to express my own genuine feelings without being scared by them or having any controlling reaction. Being able to get my intense feelings out in a place where I can makes sense of them is what has helped me most.  Being able to own the fact I feel scared and acknowledge while holding my own hand and figuring out ways to act despite the fear has also helped.

There is a powerful line in a song I have been listening to lately by Sarah McLaughlin :

 “ If I feel a rage I won’t deny it, I won’t fear love.”

There are people who are going to tell us that our rage makes us madwoman but it doesn’t.  My rage shows me where love and respect for me isn’t being shown and life and love for myself and others asks me to see and own that rage and takes steps to empower a self that in being repressed or denied for too long is now rattling the cage from which I must liberate myself in order to express and fight for what I most need to live, to love, to express, to breathe, to survive and to thrive in my deepest authenticity.

Those who love me will validate my feelings, they will see the sense in them, they will not make me bad or wrong for having them. And it is the adult in me who must help me to hold those feelings, to process them, to make sense of them and then express them in ways which help me to become empowered and strong. When I feel a rage I won’t deny it. I won’t fear love.  For in feeling the rage, in allowing it to move me to authentic assertive (rather than aggressive) action  I demonstrate love, power and authenticity for myself, for you, for my sister and for the journey which in, at times, leading us to the darkest depths and deepest night eventually brings light and the dawning of a new day filled with understanding, compassion and hope.