A few months ago while out on a morning run, I paused to let a man in a small truck pass me near the village green. As he slowed he leaned out of the open window slightly and asked, “Are you Judy’s daughter?” I smiled as I said no, not knowing who he meant or where Judy’s daughter might live. After hearing my American accent, he knew before I had finished saying,”No … sorry, I’m not Judy’s daughter,” that he had mistaken me for someone else.
I went on with my run pausing to snap a few photographs of the misty January light that covered the low-lying land making it difficult to see clearly beyond what was close up. About a mile or so into my run, I stopped suddenly after I realized that I had answered his question without the slightest hesitation and had in fact given him misinformation because my mother’s name is Judy, making me Judy’s daughter. While he was clearly thinking of someone else, the irony of my response was not lost on me.
Most of the time I don’t think about my mother. She doesn’t exist for me except in memories, none of which are pleasant. Occasionally, she creeps into my subconscious like she did last night showing up in my dreams where she behaved as she has in real life. In my dream, she sat across a table from me refusing to speak or even acknowledge my presence. The table was designed to roll a bowling ball back and forth between two people making interaction even more necessary than the game usually requires. Bowling was something she loved to do and I imagine she still does. I would not know now what she does or doesn’t do only that she has no involvement in the lives of her two eldest daughters or the three children they share between them.
The last I heard, she was living in Madison, Alabama where she moved after marrying Bill, her fourth husband. I took my daughter Miranda to see them marry in 1994. It was the last time I saw her. She cut me out of her life twice, once at 14 and later at 34, covering a span of 28 years so that now she has been absent from my life for more years than she has been in it. When she cut off all communication with me the first time, a therapist said that after a while it would be as if she had died.
It wasn’t. It was painful and sad, but I felt hopeful when she finally responded after an eleven year silence only to struggle through ten more years of distant and difficult communication where only one of us seemed interested in building a healthy relationship.
By the time she stopped speaking to me the second time I was older, a mother myself with a daughter I loved so completely that I was even more confused as to how a mother could abandon a child in the way that my mother had. I stopped caring so much after that and found a sense of peace about her lack of interest that was easy to maintain most of the time.
A few years ago, my mother completed a detailed book of our family genealogy. She was still in contact with Margaret then and sent a few copies of Just Folks to her. Surprisingly after years of silence, she also contacted my daughter’s father so that Miranda might have a copy. It was her first overture to Miranda, her first grandchild, in many years and while she sent the two book volume to Miranda, she never bothered to respond after Miranda sent a note back.
The saddest and most telling piece was that she left all three of her children, me, Margaret, and Pam completely out of the family history. Since she did not include her three children, she also omitted her five grandchildren. When Margaret questioned why she had not mentioned us, she said it was her history and it was about her, making it clear that her children were not part of her history. It is interesting to note that the children of distant cousins made it into the pages of family history as did her husband Bill’s childhood pictures complete with his parents, brother, and sister. Family pets from as far back as 1951 can also be found there in photographs, having secured a place in the genealogy book that her children and grandchildren did not.
So you can see how when I said without thinking that I was not Judy’s daughter, it was because for so much of my life I have not been regarded as such and I think I actually forgot that once upon a time, I was Judy’s daughter.
She will be 70 later this year and with her history recorded as it currently exists, it is a sad legacy that it will one day it appear that she died childless when all around her were her children trying so hard to be seen.
That is such a sad story…..
Now I know more about your mother. I had assumed that she was no longer alive, and in a way that’s true, but the fact that it isn’t makes the story more painful. I can see why you say that you weren’t Judy’s daughter. Thank goodness you have been able to have a good relationship with your own daughter, to remake something bad into love.
That is so sad. I am still mourning the loss of my mother, 3 years ago. I can’t imagine living without my daughters and my grandchildren. The loss is mostly your mothers though. She is and was wrong!
Wow, Elizabeth. Your story is eye-opening. While somewhat opposite of the current relationship I have with my mother, there are many similarities in the feelings the story brings up. I’m sorry your mother doesn’t get to see the beautiful spirit and mother you seem to be.
A sad and incomprehensible story. I am sorry for your loss–and sorry that your mother has chosen to lose you. A sad legacy indeed. But with your spirit of love, it is a legacy you have not perpetuated.
Tears rolling down my cheeks as I read this. Absolutely heartbreaking – that a mother should cut children out of her life..as yours did..and what I imagine must be a lifelong struggle on your part to make sense of it all.
So very sad…
Refusing to speak or even acknowledge my presence…cut off all communication…eleven year silence…no involvement in the lives…
Sounds like my marriage.
Shut down. Emotional neglect and abuse. Transferred to you what her parents, husbands or others did to her.
I haven’t seen or heard from my children for over 20 years since they left to live with their father. What did I do to cause that?
I hope you’re able to write about this anger and pain more. I’ll bet it would help more than a few of us.
It seems to me that the gift of this particular journey is as Denise as said above, that the legacy is not perpetuated. I think it also goes beyond this. Through your insight of your own feelings and understanding of what the legacy can do to a child, you become a more compassionate and supportive person to many people, not only children, that you come into contact with.
(John, I tease you gently – this was worth *all* the therapy!)
Oh dear Elizabeth.. such a sad story.. .. :-(..
Very, very sad. I’m always surprised at how many times we children will try to build the bridges, as our parents tear them down. It’s sad to watch, and sad to do.
that is heartbreaking – I can so relate to the raising your own daughter and thinking about how could a mother do those things that you have experienced as a child – I have the same thoughts about my mom – anyhow – thanks for sharing your story
I am so sorry – this is heartbreaking and just makes no sense. Too many missing pieces to understand…
This must be so hard for you and your sister and your daughter! How can a mother cut her own children and grandchildren out of her life??? Too many missing pieces.
Oh dear that is a sad sad story, I can only imagine how hard it was all those years as a young adult trying to make sense of it, and of course now too. But I am glad to know the well rounded thoughtful person you are now……
lots of love.
That is a sad story and hard for me to comprehend as I always had a good relationship with my mum, who died 5 yrs ago. But having met you I would definately say it is her loss.
What an odd ‘coincidence’ that the fellow asked you particularly if you were Judy’s daughter . . . all I can say is that you are proof of that superhuman resilience that some are born with. Despite lacking for love and care for your own mother, you became a wonderful caring mother and person yourself. To me it’s nothing short of miraculous but I know you’re too humble to accept that. Really I think you must be the strongest person I know, all you’ve been through and accomplished in your life. I’m so glad your dad and Cullene took good care of you, you were reunited with your sister, that your daughter brings you such pride and joy, and that you and John found each other. You are one special lady.
I cannot even imagine what could compel a mother to cut off communication with her children. I am so sorry for the pain this loss has caused you. It makes me even happier for you that you know are surrounded by people who love you.
Thank you for sharing this sad narrative. I am glad I was in the dream you had about her. I cannot imagine a mother who could not love and adore you as her child. Unfortunately narcissist are unable to love anyone outside of themselves. I am glad she was unselfish enough to have children even though it has been painful for you and your siblings enduring her rejection and neglect. She has lost a lot, and those of us that know and love you have gained so much. Her journey is far from over, who knows what will happen when she finally hears her own voice. It will devastate her. Know that I am always with your when these tough times appear, even in a dream.
I was attracted by the beautiful photo & then started reading what you have written. I find it hard to imagine how a mother could do that – how dreadful is a complete understatement.
You sound like a pretty together person in spite of this. It’s a reminder to all of us of the love we mustn’t neglect to show to those who are so important to us.
It makes me think of the book “Notes from an exhibition” by Patrick Gale, where the main character is totally egocentric due to her bi polar disorder.
And finally, I find the photograph very atmospheric. In fact the beautiful emptiness in it illustrates your writing very aptly. The horizontal elements lend a certain calmness that evokes a taking control of the situation.
Wow….I’ve been reading your blog from the beginning and every post about your mom has resonated with me, but this one the most — except, mine is about my father.
Your mom and my dad could have been the same person. Have you read about Narcissistic personality disorder? A therapist ‘diagnosed’ (you’re not supposed to say that a therapist diagnosed someone who isn’t present in the treatment) my dad with it…his is pathological and I think it’s wrapped up in a couple of other disorders, but it is the most overwhelming part of him. It might be a fit for your mom — maybe not since I don’t really know but it’s worth a look into it. It made me understand my dad a little more — it didnt fix anything, just gave me a name for the hurt and pain I experienced with him.
He and I haven’t spoken in a decade as of this month. I know where he lives, and know more about him than you probably know about your mom because I’m still very close with my grandmother (his mother) and while I love her, she has excused his behavior towards me and my sister (my sister and my father don’t talk either).
All of this to say, it continues to shock and horrify me that parents alienate and abuse their children the way your mom and my dad did. You and I both have had to grieve that loss like a death — but also like an abandonment which is different and tied into our own self-worth…extremely difficult.
You have come through it as have I and emerged on the other side, but it breaks my heart to know that parents willingly and consciously choose to alienate their children. I will never understand it, because my dad and your mom have such beautiful amazing children…and yet they choose to remain alone without them. So sad.