I had dinner with my mother Friday night and wow, wow, wow do I have a LOT to write about! She had asked me about some items that ended up at her house throughout various moves and I happened to be traveling in the same general area, so I decided to stop by to pick them up and stay for dinner.
Flipping back through some of my early posts, it looks like I haven’t actually told you the full story about how I ended up really getting started on this recovery journey. The youngest of my 3 brothers was in a motorcycle accident in May of 2012. This brother (N) lived with me and my husband for 3 years after leaving home. We helped him get a job, his license (after teaching him how to drive), establish his credit and buy his first, second and maybe third car. I generally like to think I’m the one who turned him into the fiscally responsible adult who was able to buy his first house at 22, just like his only sister.
Within an hour of finding out he was in the hospital, we had run home from our jobs, packed a few things and set out on the 14 hour drive to get to him. And when I say we, I mean my husband, my rock, drove through the night while I alternated between dozing and crying (especially when I saw the evening news footage of N lying in the street and being moved into the ambulance). We got to the hospital at the crack of dawn the next morning and even though visitation in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit was limited to 3 increments of 20 minutes at specified times throughout the day, the staff allowed us to sit with him for a few hours in the morning.
Our mother arrived in the afternoon, having stopped half way to spend the night at a cousin’s house and leaving there after a leisurely breakfast and walk. When she got to town, she asked us to meet her somewhere closer to N’s house than the hospital (another 20 minutes away), because the air conditioning in her car was not working and she could not tolerate the heat for one more minute. And of course this little fiasco made us late for the 20 minute visitation. It didn’t take long for me to become indignant and probably a little hostile at her obvious lack of concern. Even during visiting times, she would sit in the hallway in front of his room, talking on the phone, telling her “woe is me” tale about how bad his injuries are, but how this was one way to get her children together for Mother’s Day, which happened to be that weekend.
She got there Friday afternoon and left on Sunday, while I cancelled my scheduled 2 week vacation to Europe to stay with N instead. We spent one week in Trauma, one week on a regular floor and a couple of days back at his house, at which point my mother suddenly reappeared. I thought she had left while he was still in Trauma, because her job wouldn’t allow her the leave, or she couldn’t afford to take off unpaid (I’ve been in jobs like that), but as it turned out, when she came back claiming she had a “motherly need” to be there, that she had left because she had rehearsals and a concert the following weekend that she didn’t want to cancel (she’s a part time musician, because it doesn’t pay the bills, and according to her, I just don’t understand how it is with musicians and how you can’t just cancel a concert).
At the time, my righteous indignation was on N’s behalf, but I realized later that I was also very hurt by it, because this was a reminder to me that even in the hospital, when I might *need* my mother, I would not a priority to her. I would not be important enough. I was beside myself. I would rant at poor N, who would shrug back at me from his hospital bed and ask why it made me so angry, because we already knew that’s how she is. He was right, we did know that’s how she is, but none of us had ever been quite so near death. It just seemed to me that certain situations ought to trump “that’s just how she is.”
Aaanyway, this story has several more examples, real jaw droppers, of us not being a priority to her, but they don’t contribute much more to the purpose of me telling you about it right now. The bottom line is that I was so angry and (as it turned out later) hurt, that I just started feeling totally out of control. I just couldn’t let it go and in addition to the raging wildfire of emotions that I tried to suffocate with food and other unhealthy behaviors, I spent a lot of time contemplating life and death. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I frequently wished I didn’t have to live anymore, and that’s when I sought out my first therapist.
So, all of that said, when I went to visit my mother on Friday, she was telling me about how her relationship with her new husband’s 2o-something daughter (A) had taken a turn for the worse and she couldn’t understand why. He has another daughter (B), who never cared much for my mother to begin with. When he separated from his wife the daughters picked sides. A picked her father and B picked her mother. It’s a shame that kids, even grown ones, are put in this kind of situation.
Then she proceeded to tell me that her husband (C), who is also a musician, had a recording session one day. He had rented a piano and paid another musician (I can’t recall what kind, maybe violin) to work with him and the session was supposed to end at 3. Around 1:30 A was looking for her father urgently, because B was having emergency surgery and my mother asked her if it could wait until 3pm. A told her no. My mother said she could go to where he is recording to let him know, but the news might upset him and affect his playing, and consequently the recording. Implying that he would continue to play, rather than dropping what he was doing to rush to his daughter’s bedside (which I assume was her expectation, as it would have been mine).
She was telling me this very matter of factually, truly and sincerely not understanding why this would have affected her relationship with his daughter. Meanwhile, I was sitting there as shocked and appalled as I had been when I found out she had left her son’s hospital bedside for a concert. At this moment, I had an amazing revelation. She didn’t not pick N, a child of hers, because we, her children, are not good enough, or worthy of being cared for. It is simply that she believes music, her passion, is more important than everything else. EVERYTHING. That might not be what I want, or what society expects her to choose, but it’s who she is.
And THEN, since I had some separation from the situation, I was able to tell her without blame or accusation or defensiveness (which is how it went when I confronted her about it on N’s behalf) that it’s OK for her to have these priorities, but she has to understand that from the perspective of a child, it is hard to accept not being prioritized by a parent. Especially in a time of crisis. I gave her choices after N’s accident as an example and explained that this feeling of rejection is what had upset me at that time. She has a right to decide what’s most important for her, but she can’t be surprised or offended when people are hurt by those choices and don’t want to be in a familial relationship with someone who puts music before family.
As much as I’ve always felt she OUGHT to know these things, this conversation revealed that it had never actually occurred to her. It did seem like she heard me and it felt really good for me to be able to get that off my chest without any anger, or blame, or hurt, or vengeance. Just facts. Assertive and authentic. She still didn’t take responsibility or apologize, but it was a good first step.
This wasn’t the only big revelation of the night, but this post is long enough, so stay tuned for more to come.