Note to readers: Editor making final recommended changes, book cover in design, and publisher expects a late Jan, early Feb release! Keep ya posted :)…
I did learn that depression and anxiety ran way back through my mother’s side of the family, and her own home life was dominated, at least in the early years, by an alcoholic father although she never drank herself. By all accounts Nana was a modest drinker, and was not overtly affectionate with any of her children any one of which could be physically or emotionally ostracized for any perceived grievance on her part. It wasn’t unusual when growing up to know that one of my aunts or uncles might be estranged from her at any given time and maybe had been for years.
One of my aunts once told me that Ma had come back very much changed after her teenage visit to see relatives in Old Town, Maine one summer, the only trip she ever took out of state. It was as if something had happened up there, she said, that made Ma even more anxious than ever, and suddenly promiscuous. She was only seventeen. Did someone abuse her in some way? Might it have been maybe an uncle or a cousin? Some stranger? Was she dragged into the woods by a band of marauding lumberjacks while picking blueberries? No one seemed to know what if anything happened that summer or wouldn’t say if they did. She never talked about it and it was shortly thereafter that she met Georgie.
“Well the offer stands Ma, just let me know okay? It’s only a visit, what’s to be nervous about?”
“It’s my kids who should be here taking care of their mother!” she now snapped at me again. “I was a good mother! Someday you’ll find me dead in this fucking chair and they can all go to hell!” She was fond of throwing out that comment anytime she was feeling extra bitter.
“Here we go again” I said sighing, not wanting to go there but starting to do so in spite of myself. “Ma, everything isn’t as perfect as you think you remember it to be. We’ve talked about this so damn many times, and with your therapist too, you know that.” She became agitated and snarled at me. “You kids were always clean! My therapist says the past was the past!” Indeed.
True enough, but in saying things like that to Ma, her therapist really only heard my mother’s distorted version of the past. She’d suggest to me ways to try to bring my siblings into a dialogue with my mother to help address old hurts and maybe build from that and perhaps then everyone could let go and move on and get rid of some of the residual anger and resentment. But, she just didn’t get it. First off, my mother was incapable of being a positive part of any such efforts even if people were willing, which they would never be.
In spite of whatever insight that I would provide the therapist, she just couldn’t grasp the enormity of how the collective past in the minds of Trudy’s kids was now a boiling pot of bubbling and volatile emotions that could not be so easily cooled by the mere dulcet tones of any therapeutic advice anyone might give so freely so many years later.
I tried to check myself but still not able to resist, I slipped, stupidly, into my own therapist mode yet again. If Jody were there she’d have cut me off saying that she was hungry, and it was time to get going.
“Yes ma, I know, the past is the past. But you’ve got to understand that things are the way they are precisely because the past does matter, no matter what the therapist might say. You told me that she said that everyone should be able to move on. She’s right, but it’s not that easy. And didn’t she tell you that in dealing with the past, other people’s memories matter, just like yours. You get that, don’t you? Your memories are your own and they affect you, right?” She only looked at me with a blank expression.
“It’s the same for everyone else,” I went on. “Those memories have a very big impact on all of us. On our lives and our relationships—including the one we have with you. What I’m saying is you can’t expect everyone else to worry about and respect only your feelings when they don’t believe you have ever once considered theirs. You have to understand and care about their feelings, get it? It’s about empathy Ma!”
This was maddening and stupid, and I was starting to get pissed off at myself because once again I hadn’t stuck to the script! Dump the groceries, kiss her forehead, plop down her allowance, grab any mail, shoot the bull for a few minutes, kiss her forehead, then get the hell out of there.
No sooner had those last words I’d said to her come out of my mouth when I remembered an article on personality disorder that I’d read in a recent issue of some psychology periodical.
“Empathy is the action of understanding, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another. For a number of reasons, showing empathy is problematic for people with borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or both. Those with BPD are so caught up in their own emotional tornados that your concerns get lost in the chaos.”
Geeze, what an ass I was going down that hopeless road again with her. I’d been doing so well over the last few visits in not taking the bait and focusing only on what it was I could control when it came to her needs. That included the shopping, the banking, the bill-paying, the doctor’s appointments and above all, my own emotions. But, here I was, doing it again, trying to reason with the unreasonable and feeling that familiar agitation taking over that let me know it was almost time to get out of the “loony bin” for another two weeks.
“Well, I’ll give David a call and see if he’s ready to talk with you again, okay? Would that make you feel better?”
To be continued…