Yes, I want you to like me. Yes, I wanted my mother to like me, to love me, to be proud of me. And sadly, she obsessed her whole life with not being okay. It worried her terribly, the last days of her life. My brothers called repeatedly saying she’d gotten stuck on the chord of having been a terrible mother, especially towards me. The one who left the US, who saw her far less than the others, the designated black sheep in the family. Though I prefer to think of it as the colorful purple sheep.
We’d worked through so much the last years. More than enough, so I thought. Apparently, she hadn’t felt as relieved. Or perhaps she’d forgotten. One of the last weeks of her life, visiting her in her new apartment in a retirement home in Lennox, we sat in a circle, my brother Peter, my husband and myself. Her face compressed in, her shoulders pressing forward, desperate for love. After she died and we all went through photos, there was one of her as a little girl, maybe five, with the same expression. Please don’t send me away. It shocked me to realise my mother, my great and wonderful mother that everyone loved, carried this her whole life.
“When you were a little girl,” Peter said, in a caring tone, his body leaning towards her, “your mother told you that if you weren’t good enough, they would give you away.”
My mother’s eyes filled with tears. She shook her head, her lips turned-down in a disgruntled curl. Soon eighty-nine years old, soon dead, and still that little girl aching inside, the little girl never good enough. Her eyes now turning to my brother, tears falling down her cheeks.
“Youaregood enough,” Peter said.
“But, I…” my mother had lost her voice. It was just a croak that came out.
“I know,” my brother said. “You think you have been a terrible mother to Deborah. That’s why we’re doing this. She came back to be with you, to let you know that she is okay and she loves you and forgives you.”
I didn’t wait for permission from my brother, who was leading this ritual. Instead, turned towards her, taking her hands, saying the same. She was crying more now. “It’s okay,” I kept repeating. “I love you, and you are good enough.” Then my husband and Peter echoed the same, like a Greek Chorus.
My brothers told me how she kept talking about a birthday party she wanted to make for me at the end of May. We knew she’d soon die, but as her first (blood) granddaughter was getting married June 8, we thought she’d live for that. My birthday was the week before and my original flight would be in time for this birthday brunch.
She died six weeks before that date. Alone in her bed when she passed, not with any of her kids or step-kids. Peter thinking this was her last wish, to not show favourites as there was no chance for me to be there. My brothers and father met anyhow to celebrate my birthday.
I was able to make it back for the funeral April 12, and stayed for the wedding. The longest period spent in the US since moving away, and the longest time with my family since childhood. At times painful but also liberating to discover how I’ve carried this legacy of my mother – of not feeling good enough. So many choices made due to this need to be confirmed, to assure no one gets rid of me. Though sometimes it happened, because of this, this unquenchable need.
For whom? For what?
This essay could go in another direction now, towards the political decisions currently being made here in the US, based on ignorance, incompetence or even worse – a distortion of facts and scientific knowledge. Our environment is one of the states were such wrong decisions are made, with disastrous consequences. None of them thinking perhaps they’re not good enough. Wish they did.
Rather I shall continue on the personal note. For my mother, that early-planted need was not so easy to let go. Or she’d not have carried it for most of her life.
In the journey of my life, I’ve gone in many directions. Often judging this as too many directions; if I’d only followed one trajectory and poured all obsessive energy into that, I’d have ‘made’ it. To make it: the most important thing for my mother. In her case, that meant money. In my case, fame and recognition. In my yearning to be loved, to be good enough. To have permission to indulge in activities I love, an indulgence I’ve often felt foolish for.
How sad for my mother, that no matter how much money she earned or how many people phoned her, loved her, it was never enough. Those pits carved out in our early years rarely do get filled without some arduous work (that she seemed to have no time for), and she suffered that aching hole. My brothers and I hope we helped release her in the end, and she died in peace. Yet how much better if she were able to release that earlier?
Mom, I feel you teaching me now, that even if no one tells me so: I can be okay and more than enough.