It’s a hot and humid day here in the low country of South Carolina and I am inside enjoying the AC. Sitting inside has me thinking about estrangement and how we as parents end up experiencing what we perceive to be a lack of control over the situation and all the baggage that comes with it. I fully admit to feeling like I was going insane when it all started last May, but in the year and few days since the beginning of the nightmare cast upon us I’ve come to know that what we experience is not insanity, it’s grief. Plain and simple grief, but beyond comprehension and so very complicated all at the same time.
I thought in the very beginning that I would never find my way through the instantaneous craziness and turmoil heaped on us by our adult child’s decision to throw us away. The longer the estrangement lasts, the stronger I become in the knowledge that I’m more than just a mom. I’m not only a mom, I’m a MiMi, a sister, a wife, a friend, a worker and a woman. A human being. What I am not is a piece of trash, though I have been treated as such. Once I started to fight my way out the fog of disbelief and anger, I began to claw my way back to what is rightfully my life. My life may not seem like much to those looking in from the outside, but it’s a beautiful life and I wouldn’t trade it for any reason. It’s been a tough life, but the rewards far outweigh even the darkest of times. Being thrown away by my adult daughter has caused me to look over my shoulder quite often to see how close the demons of the past are to catching up with me, and every time I look behind me they’re farther and farther away. I’ve been able to reach down deep and dig into lessons from my past to get me through these present times and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that I have learned that I have value to myself, and don’t really care if those outside of my small and intimate circle think of me as valuable. I don’t care that there are people out there that will assume I had to be a terrible mother to my child to be thrown away after 35 years of being her mom. I know I loved her and cared for her and I also know I made mistakes as a mom, but that’s what all people do. We all make mistakes. I know that self forgiveness is a lesson I learned in the past that has given me strength to navigate this estrangement. I wish with all my heart that our daughter could know that I am sorry that she feels we didn’t do things right, that we weren’t and aren’t good enough, but we know that we did the best we could and that does count for something. I see the mistakes I made as a mom and wish I could correct them, but it’s far too late for that. And I’m not going to wish my life away and focus on that which I know will never happen.
I think that today’s expectations for parents are so far fetched and unattainable that as the children grow and become more aware of the outside world, the parents become less than to their children. I think it takes decades for the children to realize that their parents loved them and tried really hard to be everything for them, but we all know not one single person can be EVERYTHING. I’ve spent the past year examining closely the relationship and lack thereof that I had with my own mother and know that I was wrong in so many ways in regards to the way I treated her as I got older. By the time I was 15 the relationship I had with my own mother was broken and I distanced myself from her as much as I could, though I never treated her like she didn’t exist. After I graduated from high school and moved out, I never looked back to my childhood until I was 37, when my father died. In all the years between 1979 and 2000 I was busy like we all are. I got married, we had our oldest, we joined the Navy, we moved a lot and we added a second child. We lost my husband’s Nana in the 1990’s, we kept on moving and we kept on serving. Somewhere along the line, my mother came to live with us as she started failing. It’s one of my biggest regrets now, but at the time, it seemed the right thing to do. After she came to live us, she became quite abusive to our younger daughter and as you can imagine, things between she and I failed. Miserably. We ended up placing her in an assisted living facility yet I still never cut her out completely. She hurt my child both physically and mentally and I could have easily walked away from her, but I didn’t. I look back on that time with her now as a learning experience. I learned from her how not to be and I have always appreciated that. When people ask me if I miss my own mom I tell them “I miss what could have been.” That is now how I feel about my oldest child. I miss what could have been. And what could be. Whatever she thinks I did to deserve being thrown away isn’t factual, but she has to figure that out for herself. The cycle is still going on, and for that I am very sorry.
I miss my grandchildren beyond description and this is where the grief really takes it toll on me. I fear that our daughter is denying them so much love and how can anyone not be resentful of that? I know they know we love them, but after more than a year of not seeing them, not being able to even talk to them, what do they think? These are the kind of thoughts that make this alienation feel like insanity and I have to constantly remind myself that I am not going insane. I want to feel the pain in some ways, because the pain means that they still have places in my heart that are theirs alone and that all of this is real. As a person that comes from a broken background (who doesn’t?) being able to give love is as important if not more important than receiving it. The bonds of the love I have for my grandchildren have not been broken, they have become stronger. I’ve had to learn that no matter how much we want to love them, we just can’t do that in person. I’ve kept their Christmas gifts, I’ve started memory books and boxes for them and I think of them every day. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day. They are never not with me or my husband in spirit and we look to the future while living in the present that someday we will be reunited with them. We also hope that our son-in-love will be a part of that someday, in whatever capacity works for him. When I let myself think of how his life must be at times, I cry for him. We’ve all lost so much because of the actions of our adult child, but we are still standing, living life and loving our family. We are not and will not be defined by this, though there are days I have to tell myself this all day long.
I am more than just a mom, and I hope that any alienated and estranged parent/grandparent comes to know that they are more than just a title. Or a victim. Victim mentality will only get you so far in a situation such as this, you have to find your inner strength and press on. For yourself, your other grand/children if you have them, for your spouse, your friends and your community. You deserve to be whole and happy, and I promise you that you can be, you just have to walk your specific path through the darkness that may seem to have no end… There is an end to that darkness and when you look behind yourself, I hope you catch glimpses of light that will eventually find its’ way out in front of you. Sooner or later the light will be leading you again.