Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Letter To My Mother


Dear Mother

Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday here in the UK. Do you remember how I used to send you a card on the wrong day for a few years, until I finally remembered to mark the relevant page in my diary?

You were not amused.

That is what I remember most about you, you never found me amusing. Being amused by somebody and liking them go together and where liking is missing, amusement has no entry. Perhaps you loved me, it’s what mothers do, after all.

Even when I was an adult, you found me irritating, annoying, willful, disobedient, and most of all, ungrateful. You never missed a chance to recite your litany of all the things you had done for me, had had to give up for me; “and for what”, you asked,  “what do I get in return?”

I don’t know what you expected in return for having me and raising me. Later, when I had children of my own, I asked myself what I wanted from them and I found I had no answer.  Once they had grown up I hoped for an affectionate, adult relationship, on equal terms and free from constraint on both sides.  It didn’t work out quite the way I had hoped, but now I know that I did my best, which is really all we can do.

Which brings me back to you and me. 

You often complained bitterly about ‘having been the workhorse, the unappreciated drudge’ in your father’s house after your mother died. You complained that you were the one to run the household while your brothers and sister were free to pursue their own interests. You complained that your efforts were never valued, your wishes never considered. You felt unloved.

I remember one particular occasion when, on the drive home after a visit to your sister’s house, you burst into hysterical tears, and resentment at your sister’s selfishness poured forth in an unstoppable flow. I remember being terribly embarrassed at what I saw as a lack of restraint. I wish I had understood at the time, felt sympathy rather than distaste.

Is that what happened with me? Did I also take what you gave, showing neither appreciation nor gratitude? Did you raise me, your only surviving child, with the expectation of a return on your investment?  When you said that ‘Annie’, your stillborn child was prettier, sweeter than me, when you said that she would have been grateful while I ‘just took’, were you repaying your own family for the way they hurt you?

It is too late to ask you, you are gone. You would not have spoken anyway, getting close enough to speak of feelings was always to be avoided. When I tried to approach you, you always changed the subject, saying “I don’t know what you want. Things are fine, we get on well, don’t we?” But the day always came when  the dam broke and the torrent of recrimination, accusation and condemnation swept over me and drowned me in a flood of guilt. 

Did I finally do right when you lay dying? 

When the hospital doctors and their medicines kept you alive long after you had had enough, did I do right when you demanded that I took the pills away the moment the nurses turned their back? “Put them in the bin”, you said.  “They’ll see them there”, I said, “I’ll take them out with me”. We did this for a week. You calmed down and grew weaker. The doctors couldn’t understand. I sat with you, all day, every day and late into the night, hoping you would finally speak to me.

On your last day, a little girl came to visit the patient in the other bed in the room. You turned your head away from me and smiled your last smile.


  1. Oh my dear, dear Friko, your need and loss have brought me to tears. I have no doubt that you have spent a lot of time trying to understand your mother, and if this were not your story, but someone else's, you would have found an explanation without difficulty. But it is your very own story, and you have suffered, and still suffer, from it. For your bruised heart and broken dreams, I am so sorry.
    You did do the right thing when she was dying. I wish I could have helped my mother leave, as she would never have wanted to be in the situation she found herself in at the end.
    There is something here that I felt keenly as a personal experience - your distaste at your mother's outburst. This is something I have felt with both my parents at times when they were obviously and painfully human. The child within the adult me couldn't deal well with their vulnerability - I suppose it frightened me, but my reaction was to draw back, to be very uncomfortable with it. From where I sit, your reaction was also quite human - it's very hard to have the tables turned so abruptly and with such emotion attached.

    I also poured out my resentment and confusion at my mother and am sorry for it, but if I look at that through the lens of a mother, I would rather my daughter say whatever she needed to, even if I couldn't help.

    Friko, dear woman, I'm glad to know you better, and to understand the references you had made before.
    With love and friendship, Deb

  2. Deborah - thank you for understanding immediately.

  3. I found it best not to expect anything from children, who when all is said and done, did not ask to be born; but this only makes it all the sweeter when their love is given to you freely, and unasked. In fact, this is true of any relationship, not only parent/child - don't try to buy love, or expect it a right - just revel in it when it arrives as a gift.

  4. And re-reading this, I think it's remarkable that, not having received love, or certainly not in any recognizable way, you were nevertheless able to give it.
    Although I cannot, in any way compensate for what you missed, I want you to know that I really like who you are and am definitely amused by you (although not here and not today!). You know what I mean. :)

  5. Oh, Friko...
    Do you remember my post about rereading Mrs. Demming and the Mythical Beast? I had remembered a few lines from it, had forgotten their source. Upon rereading I found them:
    "As a small child I'd felt to blame for her misery. When gradually it became apparent that, do what I might, her condition was irremedial, my feelings turned to resentment. No child can endure knowing that she's incapable of making her parent happy. It is the ultimate failure."

  6. Ah Friko - what a poignant letter to your emotionally unavailable and abusive mother (yes that was abuse). She must have endured such pain, coldness and self-contempt - and because she did not do the personal work she needed to do - she projected much of it on to you. Really, it never had anything to do with you, it was all about her ... but how can a daughter know that when she is the object of scorn and derision.

    She did not feel good enough and could not tolerate it and projected all of her intolerable, irritable feelings onto you. I'm so sorry you had to endure that. You deserved so much more.

    As I'm sure you know, it is your task now to offer healthy mothering and compassion to the wounded child within - letting her know how lovable and worthy she is. Your poor mother missed out on so much by always looking past you. What she missed!!!

    I'm sorry to hear, too, that relations with your own children aren't as you would like them to be.
    Sometimes these scenarios get played out in families for generations, sadly.

    Such an authentic, moving, vulnerable post Friko.
    If I were there I would wrap my arms around you and hold you tight.

  7. friko this is powerful, sad and angry writing but also hopeful because in your unburdening are questions and in your life you've begun to answer them.
    i learned much about relationships of all sorts by default. through paying special attention to my own childhood and seeing what worked and what didn't. so here i am. with happy, healthy relationships with my children. lucky lucky me.
    you're a lovely person friko.
    it's good to let go of those things that bind you.

  8. The mother - child relationship is so perilous. And one always wonders what one might have done differently.

    I'm sixty-seven and, though she's been gone over twenty years, I still carry my mother around with me. She pops out when I least expect it.

    Blessings to you, Friko.

  9. Brave admissions and honest writing there Friko. Better to write it out and let go than be as your mother was and hold in any bitterness and turn your own life sour.

  10. I haven't been following you very long, but I found these words so moving. Please accept (on this occasion, but not all) a big hug from a stranger. *Hug*

  11. We carry the child we were through our whole lives . But we can choose , like you , not to let it poison us . In your final week with your mother you showed great kindness and compassion . Perhaps she realised what she had lost in pushing you away , over and over again , and just couldn't begin to try to put it right .
    But she trusted you to help her and you did .

  12. Oh dear Friko, how honored I feel to hear you express your heartache to us who read your post. Obviously you trust those of us who read this to understand and identify with you at some level. When you live as long as we have that gives one a lot of time for bumps and bruises to come along and at some time they MUST come out for our own good mental health. I love you from my soul and make no judgements as to your feelings and interpretation of your life events. Now is the time to lay them out and ask God's blessing on our doing the best we can.

  13. How sad to have to remember such painful memories. After reading how your mother treated and talked to you I am pleased that it did not turn you into a bitter woman. From reading all your posts you sound happy, well adjusted, with self-deprecating humour, and kind. This is quite an achievement after such treatment. It must have hurt tremendously to have your own mother undermine your self-esteem. This is so destructive, as much as physical abuse and it must be hard to surmount this kind of emotional trauma. My mother and I had a close and loving relationship but my father was aloof. He did not hurt me – he never spoke to me. I can well imagine how depressing it must have been for you and admire you for being able to talk about it. You do not choose your family, but you do choose your friends, and all your friends in blogland love you.

  14. Jinksy - giving because you want something back is bound to fail.

    Deborah and Bonnie - Thank you both. You have both thought about your replies and I am truly grateful. It is a long time since I felt seriously hurt at the thought of Mum's inability to show me affection; I have long ago forgiven her because I truly believe she didn't know any better. She was a very kind grandmother; I have no idea how she came across to my children but she certainly showed them great kindness.

    She just didn't like me very much, even the undercurrents had undercurrents. I don't know that I would say that I experienced abuse, it would certainly not have been called abuse then.

  15. June - your quote totally fits into my life; but my parents went one better; they said, if only you had done xyz for us, we would have been so happy.

    steven - I am not so sure that we don't all make mistakes; we try not to repeat the ones our parents made, so we make our own. Paying attention worked for you, I am very glad for you.

    Vicki Lane - My mother's ghost is with me only rarely now. All I ever say about her now is, "poor woman".

    her at home - I really wasn't sure about writing it out in such a public place, but now that I have and the reaction has been so kind and positive, I no longer let it worry me.

    brokenbiro - thank you for the hug. I very rarely talk as intimately as this; you'll find allsorts here.

  16. Smitonius and Sonata - I don't think my mother ever realised anything at all, that was her tragedy. She wept at the injustice done to her, but she repeated it nevertheless. Whatever I did for her, it was never good enough or even just enough.

    QMM - what a sweet lady you are. I am glad to have you on my side. And yes, those who come here regularly, I do trust them. As I hope they trust me not to hurt their feelings.

    Vagabonde - The memories are no longer very painful I could never have written that post if they still were. We are so different from the previous generation, we have been allowed to work our pain out, to let it out and resolve it. I would say that, on the whole, I am the person you describe, possibly even BECAUSE of the hard times in the past. And thank you so much for your last sentence. It helps.

  17. Dear Friko, what can I say? Only to echo everyone else's comments because they have expressed to you everything I feel for you. It was so good to meet you in person the other week. This must have been such a difficult painful post for you to write. We are so privilaged that you feel safe enough with us to trust us and just to let you know that whatever the past was, you are very deeply loved by real people.

  18. Friko, it is just so hard to have a disappointed mother. I'm having a hard time putting into words what I want to say... but I do want you to know that I have read every single word, I empathize with you, and offer you a smile and a hug from one daughter to another. (((())))

  19. Ah Friko, a brave, honest and revealing post and poignant indeed. You sounded such a confused and needful child - the sounding board for some very pent-up and adult emotions. That's quite a burden.

    Are children meant to repay their parents' investment? Meant to be grateful ? How can they, I wonder, with no example to follow or little to be grateful for? I feel so sad for the little girl that was you.

    Moving on is the great thing - we can't live in such shadows can we?

  20. Without doubt one of the bravest posts I have read on any blog. We have one daughter and three granddaughters. We have and, always will, love them unconditionally. So far, so good.

    Since becoming a grandfather, I've magically stopped feeling as though I've been taken over by an eight year old each time I visit my mother. At last, the spell is broken.

  21. This puts me in mind of my father - also gone now - so many things I'd like to know from him because I was never certain, and still am not, of his love. We can only go by the light we have at the time and it sounds to me, a stranger, that you showed compassion to your mother there at the end. Some questions just don't have answers in this life.

  22. Friko
    Thank you for your expressive post.
    From what I know of you I would be honoured to have you as my mother/sister/aunt...but most of all ...friend.

  23. Martin, I had to smile at your comment. Wryly.

  24. Good morning Friko

    thank you for sharing your story. We have all been touched and can empathise with you as we feel our own pain and losses.

    In writing your feelings you have not only liberated yourself in some small degree from the binds of the past but you have allowed us to visit ours and to muse on our own relationships.

    To a large extent our relationship with our primary care-giver shapes us and provides us with a framework for future relationships. It is apparent that you have used your mother-child relationship - while hurtful and painful, to build something better and more sustainable for your children and family.

    Happy days

  25. Friko:
    You & I are sisters.
    A cold mother marks one's life deeply.
    I have chosen to be unlike her.
    When she told me that I "spoil" my husband with affection I knew I was succeeding as a wife and a person.

    Sorry you lack something essential, but I will love enough for both of us, mother.

    Aloha from Hawaii my dear Friko

    Comfort Spiral

  26. Oh Friko! Not quite my story, but nearly! I do feel for you. And now I wonder if I am like my mother to my daughter.......

    Close family relationships are so fraught with difficulties, aren't they?

  27. Reading this, I felt so sad for the little girl you once were Friko. And, as others have said, so admiring too of the way you have built your life and made yourself into the person you are. I think I am extraordinarily lucky to have been mothered very well and I told my mother so a few weeks ago. Sounds odd I know but I wanted her to know! There is nothing more fundamental than knowing that your mother loves you, likes you, is happy to be your mother. When I was ill a few years ago I wanted my mother on one occasion like a little girl. I wonder if you have things you would like to say your own children so that they too know they are loved? Or if your own childhood has left you even more likely to say it. You sound to have been able to find some compassion for your mother. What an unhappy person she must have been. And I am sure you did the right thing at the end. How complicated people are.

  28. A moving, sad post Friko. Wipso and I were so lucky to have two wonderful, loving parents and we both count our blessings daily! You are surely proof that the human spirit can rise above such adversity. Live for today.

  29. What great writing, Friko. It brought tears to my eyes.

    I think she thought the little girl was you. I think her last smile was for you.

  30. This was very powerful writing, Friko. Having lost my mother at age six, I am forever in the dark regarding the mother/daughter relationship. I cannot offer anything that hasn't already been offered by all of these heartfelt and wise comments. But I have had the opportunity to give my daughters what I hoped was a mother/daughter relationship that I think is what I would have wanted with my mother. In the end that's all we can do. I'm sorry your mother couldn't see how utterly amazing and funny and charming you are. Because you are.

  31. mollygolver - thank you so much, the privilege is all mine and to know that there are lovely people like around makes it all the easier.

    Shattered - thank you, coming from you that means a lot.

    mountainear - I believe I have long since come out of the shadow and I have long since understood why my mother acted the way she did.

    Martin H - have you really? I never felt adult when visiting my mother.
    It is a hard thing to do to come out from under a parent's wing in their eyes.

    Argent - how right you are. some questions will never be answered and the sooner we understand that the sooner we can stop asking them.

    Jay Diamond - Friends sounds good to me. Let's continue, shall we?

    Delwyn - I think it is so much easier for us than it was for the previous generation; we are allowed to question and show our feelings, they were not, or at least, nobody showed them how to do it.

    Cloudia - good for you, girl. You spoil and cherish those whom you love and you will reap their love in return. Talk about return on investment. Perhaps there is still time for your mother to learn the lesson? Aloha, Cloudia.

    Gilly - aren't they just. Family relationships are a minefield; lucky are those we manage to negotiate this minefield safely and happily.

    elizabeth - thank you for your lovely comment - the little girl has become a reasonably contented adult who can appreciate her own children. Telling people you love them is very important; you telling your mother how much you appreciate her must have made her very happy.

    Twiglet - I am glad you two had a happy childhood; mine wasn't desperately unhappy all the time either; it just felt like something important was missing. But living for today is all we can do.

    20th Century Woman - Thank you for the thought; unfortunately, I don't think as you do.

    Nancy - Golly, Nancy, how very kind of you to say so. I am amazed at you having learned to become a good and loving mother without a role model.Or perhaps, starting from fresh, with only the ideal picture in your head, makes it less fraught? I am, of course, not saying that it is a good thing to lose one's mother at such an early age. What a hole that must have left in your life.

  32. I was watching Michael Palin last night, talking about the qualities of a great diarist, highest among which were honesty, bravery and the inclusion of significant detail. This has them all, a most impressive and moving piece of writing.

  33. Dave King - thank you Dave. Great praise indeed, but it just 'came out like that'.

    Deborah - cheeky!

  34. Friko, this is one of those posts that brings up so many feelings. Others have offered so many of the things that I thought as I read the post.
    My mother is 83 now and as she ages, her personality diminishes. While I was a loved and cared-for child, my mother had a very difficult personality - can't say more than that as I'm not yet as brave or at peace with it as you seem to be. The diminishment has made it easier for me to be with her - she's not the woman that she was and doesn't remember those times. Last month when I visited my sister she read me a short story about the hard times and the two of us cried. I know that my mother had a hard childhood and couldn't keep her resentment over that from colouring ours.

  35. Like others who have commented, I can add very little except to say that I admire you for forgiving your mother. She was obviously a very troubled and bitter woman who was unable to let go of her resentment of the drudgery she had to perform and was, perhaps, jealous of you because you didn't have to go through what she went through. As a result, she punished you for something that was not your fault. And her resentment was unfair and undeserved.

    I am glad you are able to see her now for the sick person she was.

    Trouble either makes us like your Mum or makes us stronger and more compassionate. The choice is ours and you have chosen the latter path. You are to be commended.

  36. Pondside - Mothers and Daughters, why is that a relationship so often fraught with danger? Is it that we talk about it now or has it always been like that. This post with its comments has certainly been an eye opener.

    Darlene - I didn't really have to decide to forgive her. She took care of me but she never loved me because she didn't know how. She had little love in her.

  37. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
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  38. Friko ich bin sprachlos und doch glaube ich zu fühlen wie einsam und verletzt Du durch das Verhalten Deiner Mutter bist. Deine Mutter war mit sicherheit kein glücklicher Mensch, und konnte darum auch kein Glück /Liebe weitergeben. Dir Deine totgeborene Schwester vorzuhalten, als das "perfekte" Kind ist ja nur der hilflose Versuch gewesen zumindest in ihren Träumen glücklich zu sein und eine heile Welt zu haben. Was sie bei Dir damit angeichtet hat war ihr mit Sicherheit nicht bewust.
    Von Herzen alles Liebe Ivy xxx

  39. Ivy - Danke fuer deine lieben Worte. So sehe ich es heute auch und heute tut sie mir wirklich sehr leid. Sie hat es nicht leicht gehabt in ihrem Leben, hat aber leider auch nie von sich aus etwas dazugelernt.

  40. Interesting story, Friko. I lost my mother on mother's day w/e. I did the best I could for my late mother.
    My birth mother I met when I was 35 and I didn't like her.
    I don't even know if she is still alive.
    I love how you hid the pills. A friend gave excellent end-of-life care to his formerly alcoholic and abusive father. They are all lessons, I think, as much as choice WE make. Good on you.


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