I know I’m partly molded from my mom’s madness. Aging creates inevitabilities and as much as I’d like to deny it, my mom’s penchant for critical, caustic commentary often simmers just beneath the surface, within me. Especially when I’m stressed.
My mom, Sue, could be unrelenting in her expectations of those around her. Every now and again when I’m zooming around the house doing too much at once, my dad’s voice surfaces – one of his periodic tirades directed at the hurricane that was Sue. He’d say – ‘Slow down, Sue, just SLOW down’.
Her frenzied, nearly out-of-body movements prompted him to utter, more quietly and with resignation ‘She needs to stay in her body when her head moves too fast’. Yup. Getting ahead of herself. Driven. Compelled.
Later in life she’d receive a diagnosis of depression and then the more defining manic depression. Eventually, heavy layers of additional issues (anxiety, alcoholism and more) were catalogued but it was her urgent, tempest in a teapot cleaning binges and spur-the-moment, 911 household projects that stick with me today. Sometimes, I do the same. Take on too much at once, putting a premium on “busy” for the sake of busy? For the sake of task completion?
Sue would wrangle all onlookers into the fray and then make everyone around her feel guilty for taking a break. Sometimes she was fun loving in her ability to manifest a near party-like atmosphere because of her charisma but invariably, she pushed too hard. Drama time would arrive. Predictably with tears and flying crockery (plates, lamps – whatever was within reach).
As an adult, I recognize that her maladaptive behavior was borne from her demons and insecurities…constantly evaluating and critiquing those around her – benefitting from the short-term lift in her own self-esteem but at what cost? Long term anguish, most assuredly, along with fractured relationships within the family. One daughter especially.
There are days when forgetting is liberating. I can still love and admire aspects of her. If nothing else, I can marvel at her ability to morph from wildly funny to destructive – in a blink. She was a sight to behold. You know, in the I paused to look at the car accident kind of way. You couldn’t help yourself.
I learned I could step back, remove as much emotion as possible and observe her more objectively, adjusting my regard and expectations for her. It made it easier to be empathetic and less angry. Occasionally the heat is still there, though, and I work my way through it.
This week I learned that my near year-long effort of unwinding my mom’s story – painful as it’s been – will come into the light in 2023. I have a publisher willing to showcase the twisty-tale of my mom’s life and I’m grateful. Over the next two months I’ll be doing a bit more editing to polish up the near 300 pages and then I think I can finally say goodbye to her – despite the fact that she passed seven years ago.
Every bit of this journey was insurmountable in my eyes…without my best friend Linda encouraging me. “You can do this. You should do this”, she would say, as she read one chunk after another, offering the gentlest of nudges, motivation, and love. I wish I could bottle Linda’s patience to sprinkle around. I was a lot to handle 😊 – especially when I retreated into the painful globs of life with mom.
What else? These two thoughts guided me as I struggled to keep writing:
“One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”
“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”
-Sir Winston Churchill
And my dad…who loved her no matter how hard she made it — and helped me find my way, too. Writing about mom’s madness helped me open a window to see her with forgiveness first.