Nothing compares to the relationship between a mother and a daughter. It runs the gamut from the highest highs to the lowest lows. We are our daughters’ biggest champions, their first friends, and their easy targets. We are the ones who worry and the ones who see danger around every corner. We are the ones who model motherhood for our daughters, for better or worse, and hope to see them live to reach that stage, if they choose motherhood, in their own lives. If you’re very lucky, you will be there for it.
Although most Lifetime or Hallmark movies would have you believe that families are perfect, and that mothers and daughters have easy relationships, I haven’t observed that in real life. Every woman I know, whether she glosses over the past or not, has some story about conflict with her own mother — and with her daughter, if she has one. Sometimes the conflicts are resolved quickly enough (certainly by the end of adolescence), while other times an estrangement can occur. I certainly butted heads with my mother. She had many problems – depression, hypomania, suicide attempts – that left me feeling that I had to mother myself. I have plenty of good stories, too. Yesterday was her birthday. She’s been gone nearly seventeen years, and I miss her. But there were times when all I wanted to do was to get away from her.
A family member is having continued issues with her adult daughter. They have moments of closeness and moments of barely speaking to each other. I can see the problem from the outside. They both have very controlling natures; each wants to have the right answer and the last word. The daughter has a daughter of her own now, and that daughter just broke her trust in a frightening way. She’s a teenager, and like most teenagers, she thinks she in invincible and knows everything about the world. The risk she took could have ended very badly. Both the mother and the grandmother are freaked out. They know what can happen to a girl, all with a simple lapse in judgment. The world is not kind to women. Our bodies are seen as property, still, after all these years. Yes, a boy or man can be raped, too, but it seems to be the first impulse a predator has when he sees someone with a female body. Some men actually think we want that.
The one thing I wanted for my daughter was for her to have a safe and happy life. I wanted her to grow to adulthood and be all the things she dreamed of being — a doctor or a paleontologist or a writer or a bass player. I wanted her to find love and maybe have a child or two. I wanted her to need me. She never really did. She always thought she had all the answers. Her first encounter with the violence of some men was at the age of 9. It broke her mind, and she was never the same. I was never the same either.
I wish I had been able to keep her in a bubble of innocence and protection, but the truth is, women rarely have the option to be home with their children any more. I, like most women, had to work. When she was little, I was home with her for the first two years, but I am a working woman.
I’ve had one job or another since I worked in my dad’s building supply one summer at the age of thirteen. I feel safer in the world knowing that I can always earn a living. Both of my parents instilled in me that I should always know how to take care of myself. And in truth, I saw my mother as weak because she was a housewife and took all the abuse my father could dish out. She was stuck, so she tried to escape by killing herself. Later, after their divorce, she did get a job in a sewing factory and learned all the ways to manage money and a household. But by that time, I was a teenager. She took all of her stress out on me, and I fought back. I left in the middle of my sophomore year to go live with my sister in Texas. My mother could be mentally cruel to me, and we were both better off apart. But I wasn’t estranged from her. We had a relationship up until her death. I forgave her.
All that fear and drive in me kept me from being physically present at all times for my daughter. So I blamed myself for every bad thing that happened, every unhappiness – in either of my children. The guilt was suffocating, yet I had to work. I needed it for my sanity and for my family’s bottom line. My husband and I were very bad with money, so it wasn’t even a possibility for me to stay home with the kids. Truth is, I made more money than him for almost all of our marriage. We blamed each other for money woes instead of coming together to figure it out. I resent the fact that with his second wife he doesn’t allow her to contribute to the bills. She can take whatever she makes from working and use it however she wants. Her first husband was a doctor, so she had a nice fat alimony before she married my ex. Yes, I resent all of that. I never had it easy, and he never even thought of being as considerate of me or my needs or my income.
Maybe he learned.
That we both miss our daughter is without question. We both failed her; we both loved her. We tried our best, but we failed anyway. I was telling someone this morning that I will always have regrets and will always blame myself, even though the truth is that my daughter had mental illness and addictions. She self-medicated, and one night she took a bad mixture of prescription medications. She wasn’t found for about twelve hours. The detective talked me out of seeing the photographs. He said, “Remember her how she was. If you saw the pictures, you’d never been able to see her any other way, and that would destroy you.”
Even though I know there is nothing I can change and nothing I can do to bring her back, it has taken years to reach a kind of equanimity with the fact that she is gone. I look back at pictures of the two of us and see the love we had. I see all the things we did together and how alike we were. I remember begging her to have the baby she was pregnant with in 2006, that I would raise it like my own, that she wouldn’t have to do anything. She lost that baby, but I have the ultrasound of my first, maybe my only, grandchild.
All those things I dreamed for her. All the things I hoped she would someday have. All that love I showered on her. It was all gone. Life isn’t fair, and love will break your heart.
The howl I let out when I saw her body in the casket was that of a mortally wounded animal, yet it came from me. I wanted to die on the spot. I understood later when Debbie Reynolds died immediately after Carrie Fisher. The bond between mothers and daughters is like a steel cable between our hearts. When you sever that, something happens, a kind of domino effect, sometimes happening quickly, sometimes slowly. I’ve seen this in other mothers. We age faster. We cling to our surviving children, hoping they don’t disappear, and if they do, knowing that we have said “I love you” a million times to them. We dream of our daughters and never want to wake up.
But we wake up and we keep loving them. They are never gone from us. That steel cord will never really be severed. It is eternal.
Mothers and daughters will battle for all time, but the love between them is something unbreakable. Even all these years later, tears spring to my eyes when I talk about my mother. All these years later, I still have to guard against falling apart when I talk about my daughter. The howl is still going on inside me. It won’t quiet until I see her again. Not much else makes me cry in this life anymore. When you have endured the unthinkable, everything else is just a curiosity.
Do me a favor. Call your mother this Valentine’s Day, if you are lucky enough to still have her. If you have a daughter, do something special for her. You will never regret it.
Much love, Jude
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