“Yeah, love you, too.”
I said it as I left Mom yesterday. I said it as I do every day, without thought, perhaps without meaning, maybe even without real feeling. Was it guilt and resentment and anger, rather than love? What is love and why am I having such a hard time with it and my feelings toward my mother?
My cousin sent me a wonderful article by Grief Counselor Kerry Egan. In it, she discusses love and the things her dying patients say about it. “They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.” She also talks about the resentments we sometimes feel toward our loved ones.
A dear, kind, loving friend from Writing Group and I were discussing our elderly mothers. Since her mother’s passing, she has been harboring feelings of guilt at having felt anger and frustration toward her dying mother. She knew she was “supposed” to feel love for her mother. She was afraid she hadn’t. I know exactly what she meant.
I should love my mother more. I admire those who love their parents unconditionally. I hear them talking about how much they love them and what terrible grief they feel at losing a beloved parent. Tears, emotions, heartache. A very long time ago, my father died, upsetting our lives and leaving us bereft. I could not cry at the funeral. I have since but not then. Why not me? Why is there nothing there? Or is there love hidden somewhere that I can’t find it?
Why do I feel resentment? Not anger, exactly, but just a smoldering resentment over the many hours Mom left us with the maids in Mexico, ignoring us for her bridge club, her painting group, her Junior League. And when we came to the United States, did she ignore us again by immersing herself in her Masters and then later her doctorate? She certainly never wanted to explain anything so scandalous as sex to her seventeen year-old daughter.Did she perhaps not notice us, what our interests were, what we did, or didn’t do in school?
Oh, please! I write such Horse hockey! She was busy living her life and working her butt off to support us! I’m sure my siblings remember it differently. She herself would disagree. She assures me all the time that she is proud of me, that she loves me unconditionally. But, in my mind, there is always the niggling doubt, the comment, the glance, the feeling that she expects me to do better, be thinner, be richer, be smarter. Can I blame her for not having supported me in my writing? Would I have written the Great American Novel by now if she had? To be honest, no, probably not.
My friends accuse me of being an overachiever. Did I, in a desperate bid for her attention, drive myself to get a doctorate, like she had? Again, probably not. Can I blame my failures or my ambitions or my own frustrations on my mother? There is nothing more senseless than blaming the past, whether our parents or our upbringing, for our shortcomings. Or for our successes either, for that matter.
Love is, without doubt, a pain! A pain in the head. A pain in the heart. A pain in the gut. A pain in the nether regions. But it is a pain we can’t avoid. We feel love and its sometimes attendant pain, whether to a greater or a lesser degree, toward most of those we meet. In my case, I wonder what love is as it relates to my elderly mother. I truly don’t know.