Walking with My Mother Back through Time

By on November 11, 2011

By Linda Menesez –

I sit in the middle of such a familiar room, and yet everything feels different. Everything has changed!  I’m at my mother’s house, but she hasn’t been here in several months. My stepfather is, also, gone from the home.

Both of them are in the same convalescent hospital. My stepfather is 90 yrs. old. He has advanced Alzheimer’s, and has just had surgery for a broken hip, brought about by a recent fall. My mother is 85. She has Rheumatoid Arthritis and other serious health issues. She is now unable to walk, or even stand on her own. She needs help for the simplest of activities.

I’ve taken on the responsibility of sorting through many of their belongings. It is so strange to be doing this when they’re both alive! When the house is empty, it will need to be sold. There is so much to do in preparation. Right now, though, I am captivated by photo albums and boxes of loose pictures, many going way back to when my mother’s life began.

As I sit looking through her albums, the years fall away! I see her as a baby, and I think of my grandmother having to be both mother and father to her. As unusual as it was back then, my grandmother divorced her husband when my mom was just a small baby. I’ve heard that he had a violent temper. My mom only saw her father a couple times while she was growing up, the first time when she was 16 yrs. old.

The pictures of her as a young girl show a child whose face seems serious and uneasy. I know that her stepfather was an alcoholic, although I knew him later as a kindly grandfather. Could this be the same man I read about a few minutes earlier, in a short autobiography she wrote? Her words painted a very different picture. She wrote about being afraid of him when he drank. I have heard that he and my grandmother argued about his drinking. Was it just raised voices that frightened my mother?

Her teenage pictures show a pretty girl, with long, dark auburn hair. I remember her telling me that people used to say that she looked a lot like Susan Hayward. In these pictures, she appears to be posing happily, more comfortable with herself than she seemed to be as a small child.

I move on to the pictures of her as a young woman, in the embrace of a soldier. This is the man who later became my father. I turn a few more pages, and I see a picture of her as a new mother, holding me, a young infant, in her arms. Neither of us knew what was to come. In another picture, I see myself as a toddler, with my baby brother sitting in a highchair nearby. How was she as a mother to two young children? I don’t know. I don’t remember.

What I do remember is a time years later when she became emotionally ill with a nervous breakdown. I was 12, and my brother was 10. She was filled with anxiety and depression, and grew unable to deal with her fears. She was hospitalized for a period of time, and then she and my father were divorced. My mind turns away from the pictures to remembering all the sadness and confusion that were a big part of our lives during those years.

We remained in our father’s care, and she became someone that we visited on weekends and for short periods during the summer. Before long, she remarried and moved several states away. She and her new husband had a baby girl. Throughout high school, my brother and I still came to see her in the summer, but she was on the periphery of our lives, no longer a central figure.

As an adult, I have often questioned whether her ability to mother us ended as abruptly as it seemed, or if it had been gradually changing over time. As a child, I probably wouldn’t have recognized that.

Through the years, my brother and I grew saturated with her neediness and her fears. We still loved her, but we tended to emotionally, and often physically, distance ourselves for our own well-being. Sometimes a loved one’s extreme neediness can feel like it literally sucks the lifeblood from you.

Symbolically going back through time — through her pictures and her writings — has quite literally been a gift to me!  It has allowed me to feel a new-found empathy for her, for her struggles, her fears, and her various attempts to cope.

I look at the pictures lying scattered around me, and I see her life. I see her as a child, and I wish someone could have made her world feel safer. I look at her as a smiling teenager, and I wonder about the dreams she must have had for her future. Did she dream of traveling, of having a career — or did she just dream of being rescued by a young man who would make her his own? I look at her in her 20’s, and try to see behind the pleasant face, turned toward the camera. Was her life already beginning to spin out of control?

My questions, and my new way of seeing her life, have allowed me to feel kinder, gentler, and more caring toward my mother. She is a woman who has lost so much! She is no longer young, no longer dreaming of tomorrow.

She is now a very frail, elderly woman, who needs all the love, understanding, and acceptance that her family can give her. She has never been a “bad person.” She has been lost and tormented by fears we haven’t understood. Those heavy, dark fears stunted, and later shut down, so many of life’s joyful possibilities that were waiting patiently for her to reach out toward them. For whatever time she has left, I will call her daily, and visit when I can. I will stand beside her bed and gently stroke her face. I will remember this walk we took together, back through time!

 

Linda Menesez, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.: I’m a Santa Barbara counselor, helping busy people learn ways to lower their stress and improve their overall quality of life. I specialize in empowering women, who focus too much on the needs of others, to recognize the value of self-care and nurturing for better mind, body, and spirit wellness. Her website: http://www.counselinginsb.com/

About Linda Menesez

Linda Menesez, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.: I’m a Santa Barbara counselor, helping busy people learn ways to lower their stress and improve their overall quality of life. I specialize in empowering women, who focus too much on the needs of others, to recognize the value of self-care and nurturing for better mind, body, and spirit wellness. Her website: http://www.counselinginsb.com/.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Walking with My Mother Back through Time