Talking with My Mother

I got into the habit of calling my dad in the late afternoon during his last months. It was a good time of day to catch him awake and it helped me feel as though I was doing something because his insistence that I not come effectively blocked me from action. One thing I learned during Will’s illness and after his death was that movement was a good thing. It helped. It’s kind of like taking a walk after eating, helps speed the crap through.

Sometimes I still call in the afternoon though Mom doesn’t appreciate frequent base touching. She is a grouchy old woman that way. Nearing 80 and indignant about the changing of the guards as DNOS and I are now treating her more like our children than our mother in some ways.

Calling was a risk. I had spoken with DNOS over the weekend. She reads my blog and called me wanting to express thanks for my sticking up for her while still trying to remain as neutral as possible. In the course of our conversation, I got her side of the story and wasn’t surprised to learn that Mom had overstated a bit of certain points.

DNOS walks a tightrope that I am familiar with but I am too far away physically to be much more than an ear for her.

“Don’t talk to Mom about this anymore,” she asked me.

Which is where the risk comes in. Mom knows that I talk with DNOS and when things are tense between them, she will casually question me about what I might know. Since I am way done with secret keeping, I tell her.

She didn’t like it. 

It’s my opinion – which I expressed to both of them – that they need to talk. Air out feelings. Discuss expectations. And on Mom’s part, finally bury the roles she assigned us as teens and young adults and start seeing us for who we are now.

Mom is one of those people who can’t forget. In the heat of anything, she will dredge up incidents from long past that she has relied upon to define people and set the rules for the relationships she has. She did this with Dad all the time, and while she had good cause to be angry about the wasted years his drinking cost their marriage, it was pointless and time wasting in its own way once he was sober and in declining health. 

I told DNOS that I thought Mom was dealing with a lot of regret and that Dad’s approaching birthday and then the anniversary of his death this coming October were going to make interacting with her less than optimal for a while to come.

I reminded Mom of a time when I was about 10 months out when I simply went off on her over the phone and then refused to pick up her calls for several days. It was DNOS who finally convinced me to relent. It was a stupid thing. I had called to just vent about Dee. I was tired of being her sole caregiver. Not like that was anything new. I had always been a single mom because of the circumstances, but I was under pressure at work because the statute of limitations was up on sympathy for me there, I was struggling with my inability to eat without pain and first anniversaries loomed. Mom tried to compare her struggles as a young mother with my situation. I wasn’t having it. I was totally out of line. It really doesn’t matter how much you hurt, lashing out is wrong. There will always be people who don’t understand or whose experiences don’t mirror your own or your philosophies on dealing. Grown-ups deal. They do not throw tantrums or pick fights.

Mom didn’t remember that incident, but I went on to explain that she might be feeling as she does because she is grieving hard right now and that her perceptions of the gift card incident and the sale of Dad’s car might be colored by this.

Of course she fell back on trying to make me feel guilty.

“I guess I am just a bad person.”

I reassured her as best as I could and pressed the issue of the need to talk with DNOS and let it go.

“Shaping up to be a great visit for us in October,” Rob commented when I told him. 

The October visit has the earmarks of stress all over it, but I promised to attend a wedding in Des Moines and I have a best friend there who needs a shoulder, so we are going. I feel bad for Rob though. 

I expect this will hit another dramatic high or two before it plays itself out.

4 responses to “Talking with My Mother

  1. adult siblings, aging parents… within this family structure honest and open communication is vital. why is it so hard? we are so fragile with the people who have known us the longest… despite my attempts at logical, rational thought, my relationship with my siblings constantly reflects the relationship that developed when we were small – despite my evolution from “the baby” to NOS. October? Bring Xanax….

  2. Dad can’t forget anything either. Guess that is how that generation was raised. All through the years he would remember every little thing that she said or did, and throw it out in every yelling match that they had, and she could never forgive him for hiding his drinking in the early years and being an alcholic. It didn’t seem to make an difference that he hadn’t had a drink since the mid-1950’s. I don’t know how they stayed married for 60 years. Now that it has been almost a year since Mom died, he still goes on about all of those perceived slights on her part at times and she left him. It got to the point after they moved from the farm into the apartment in town, I couldn’t handle going and staying over night any more. It was inevitable that there was going to be an argument because there was an audience. I still have feelings of guilt over that, and the fact that once one of them was gone, I would never have to witness that behavior again. I guess that is why to this day, and I am almost 60, that I run from relationships and commitment. I’d rather be alone than end up in a relationship like that. What I do miss is that Mom was always there to listen no matter what was going on in her life. She was able to do that with each one of her kids. There was never a bad time to call her. Maybe that was some of their problems – the kids always came first no matter what.

    • I can understand the impact on forming relationships. I think that is why I didn’t marry until I was 35.

      I don’t miss the fighting they did, and I think having an audience – for purposes of choosing sides – was a part of it as we kids got older. That simply wasn’t fair. But I wonder a lot how our grandparents relationship influenced things? I don’t know many details, but I think Mom’s fighting and grudge style must have its roots there.

  3. Family dynamics are hard. We can change and let go of roles, yet family members still see us through the old lens. I have been working on this for 23 years. There has been success with some, not so much with others.

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