Saturday, August 16, 2008

Of Mothers and Daughters

The relationship between mothers and their daughters has provided inspiration for countless movies, novels and memoirs--something I totally get. I don't have much of a relationship with my mother; to be honest, for the past couple of years, I've had none at all. It's true, that old saying, "You can choose your friends but not your family." For my mother and me, a good relationship was never going to happen. From the beginning, we seemed to have wildly divergent interests, beliefs and values.

When asked why our relationship devolved so drastically--to the point that I've spoken to her for a total of three minutes in over a year--the only answer I really have is that I got tired of being disappointed. With a few exceptions, Mom never seemed that interested in what was going on in my life, especially once I was married. There was never what most people would consider an appropriate level of interest or excitement when Hannah and Charlotte were born, in their milestones, or even when I finally told her about everything that Charlotte had been going through. Instead, our very short conversations always turned back to Mom and her health issues.

Of course I was concerned about her, but more and more dismayed at what I saw as a shocking lack of curiosity about any condition or treatment mentioned by her doctors. Every time she called I would have to Google a diagnosis or a new list of symptoms. And she never seemed that interested in my girls, or in my sister's, something I found to be both unfathomable and inexcusable. But this of course is only how it appeared to me. After all, there are always two sides to a story. Perhaps she thought the same of me. Perhaps she was disappointed in her daughter. Perhaps I was just never able to understand and appreciate her view of the world.

Earlier today, Hannah asked me why she didn't ever see "Other Grandma."

"Is it because she was mean to you?"

"No, of course not. She lives on the East coast and we just don't really, well, we just don't talk that much anymore."


"Well, we just don't have that much in common, and we're all so busy . . . "

There was no way I was going to tell her the whole bit about being tired of being disappointed, sad that my mother never called to check in, didn't send birthday cards or any of that grandmotherly stuff. What I did tell Hannah was that there was no way she and I would ever get within miles of that situation. She means too much to me and I approach that love and our relationship in an entirely different way. We have our arguments, yes. We butt heads (often), yes. But that is because we are both strong willed. But we think and we love and we talk about things. And I will make sure that we always do.

My mother died tonight. I'll never get a chance to try to bridge the chasm between us. But I also know in my heart that it was unlikely that the attempt would have made a difference.

Perhaps I'm still numb from all that's gone on this week. Since my brother called with the news, I've had teary moments, but not the gut-wrenching sobs like those for Argus. Thomas says--rightly, sad as this is--that I was probably closer to the dog.

So now I'm having a glass (or two) of wine, hoping that it will assist in my search for the tears that ought to be there. Because right now, the thing that feels the worst is that I don't seem to feel at all.

I'm sure it will come. I'll just have to keep looking.


Pranayama mama said...

Oh Mel, I'm so sorry. You and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

There is much truth in what you have written. Sad, but true, the "mother" in grandmother, stepmother, and, yes, even just mother, is an earned title. I have the pleasure of knowing you, and you are now, and will continue to be, a mother as defined by the relationships you have built. Our thoughts are with you as you deal with the loss.

Anonymous said...


I'm so sorry that you are going through this. Your mom missed out on a hell of a lot of great stuff not being close to you and your beautiful girls. I feel sad for her that she passed away without realizing that.

My thoughts are with you as you cope with the losses that you have suffered recently. Sounds like you all could use a plate of cookies from Mr. Dan!

Melanie K said...

Mr Dan's cookies fix a lot of things, so anytime he feels like it . . . :)

Thank you for caring about us. it mans a lot. and that goes for all of you commenters--anon and otherwise.

uncle wally said...

the missus, pranayama mama, showed me your blog today. sorry to hear about your dog and your mom. I can identify with your suffering to some extent - I had pretty much stopped talking to my dad in my teen years, and only, when the missus and me were close to being wed, did any sort of talks ensue. I had planned to go see him at the hospital when he was dying, but missed the opportunity to say see you later, as he kicked before I got there. My mom did tell me he was crying, worried about who would take care of his dog.

I wouldn't presume to know what your are going through now, but there are some similarities in our experiences, and while I will not prattle on here, I can understand a little what you are looking at, and it can be confusing. perhaps the most difficult problem you will face is a lack of resolution, something you will constantly bang your head against in the future.

there is no upside or happy ending, but you're not alone. watching the simpsons with a beer sometimes helps.

Melanie K said...

@uncle wally: It's always good to know that other people have gone thru the same thing: After all, as much as we might wish it, our experiences are rarely, if ever, unique.

As i told another friend of mine tonight, Thomas said that most people hear "My mom died" and translate that into what it would mean to them. That I can understand. Sitting here trying to figure out why I'm so disconnected from the whole thing, that I cannot. Yet. And the most confusing thing is that I feel . . . nothing. Except of course the confusion about why I feel nothing.

I'm sorry that you missed the opportunity to say goodbye to your Dad. But I'm really glad that you had reached the point where you were able to at least speak to each other again.

I like the Simpsons and beer idea, but I'll probably go with the Daily Show and wine. Stinking elitist that I am :)

So, thank you. And by the way: your wife is one of the best, kindest people I've ever known. She won't accept that, but I'm guessing that you already knew.

uncle wally said...

Daily show works as well, be sure to check out the story in today's ny times (

Part of the reason you don't feel anything, is because there was not much to connect to (meaning that you didn't talk to her much). Pepole feel bad when pets die because pets can't express their feelings, and so we project feelings for them, and amplify them. when we don't talk to people, and they go, we pass it on as bravado, only to realize later, when it is too late, that there can be no real closure, since we never said what we wanted to. that's the part that stings, but you don't realize it until months after the fact.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry, melanie. I've been away and came back to read about BOTH of your loses. I remember well the emotions around your relationship with your mom. My thought sare with you as you process all of this.

Melanie K said...

thanks, @uncle wally. loved the article and had somehow managed to miss it earlier. also, you'll be happy to know that the Simpsons Movie arrived the day after you suggested it. :-D

@jessica thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hey kid. I had similar issues with my mom. She was killed when I was 37. I journeyed back 9 months before this to the midwest for Christmas after about 7 years of estrangement. Even face to face we had nothing to discuss.

The most difficult part was explaining to my young nieces that the family dynamics did not mean they would grow up and never see their mom again.

Truly, it wasn't until years after she died that I came to some peace about our relationship. Of course I loved her. But there was so much bad stufff between us.

Finally, I realized she had moved on to the next level to be healed. She never meant to hurt me. She was damaged herself.

Whatever pain and confusion you are feeling now, you will come to terms with this and be OK with what was. In the meantime, keep your loved ones close.

Hugs from nursepam

Christina M. said...

I came across your blog on blogher and I want to send condolences. I am so sorry to hear about your mom. :( You are in my thoughts.

tonya said...

Melanie, I lost my Dad last year after a 6 mo. bout with cancer. I wish I could say I was close to him, and I tried-- I really freaking tried-- but it was hard. Too hard.

He was a compulsive liar my entire life, and it was always about him. He always had ready apologies and excuses for those months and months when he dropped off the face of the earth and ignored my calls, emails, and letters. He never understood how much he was losing until he was on his deathbed, and by then it was obviously too late. The smile-turned-grimace when he looked at my baby son in one of his last lucid moments was probably the only time I ever saw him with regret about his choices and how he lived his life. Too little, too late. I always thought his priorities were really fucked up when he could not be bothered to be interested in the only three living relatives he had alive that still somewhat cared about him.

This lack of true connection with him makes me sad to this day, but at least I know I did the best he could, and I'm sure (in his mind at least) he thought he did, too. I was glad saw my son twice before he died, and I took pictures. Not so much for me, but because I felt it might be important for my kids some day. *They* might care about seeing him, knowing more about him.

I think it will take me years to find a point of stasis over losing him. It is sometime surreal to know he's gone.

I wish I had some words of wisdom for you, but I did want you to know that I can relate to part of what you're going through. Hang in there as best you can....