Mother’s Day isn’t all cards and flowers

My birthmother lives less than 100 miles from me. I know who she is, where she lives, and she know where I am, too. We’ve corresponded – almost 10 years ago – through an intermediary before we knew who the other was.

She doesn’t want to meet me, and has not contacted me since we stopped writing in 2009. I wrote to her a couple of years ago to inform her that my address and phone # had changed. I’m always hopeful that she’ll change her mind. I received no response.

She has 4 other children and other family in the area. I have 2 brothers, two sisters, several nieces and nephews, and an aunt that lives close by, as well. I don’t know any of them. My aunt showed up as a “Close Family” DNA match on Ancestry.com a few months ago, but she hasn’t contacted me. I don’t know if she knows who I am or not. My birthmother wrote that she hadn’t told anyone other than her current husband when they married in the 1960s. My aunt was probably too young to have been aware of what my bmom was going through then, so it’s entirely possible she didn’t know about me. Apparently she doesn’t want to know.

I don’t understand it. I just wanted to meet her. That’s all. I have a family, and honestly the whole idea of “mother” is fraught with peril for me. That’s not what I want or need, either. I just wanted to hear her voice, see the way she walks, the way she moves her hands when she talks. I wanted to know if I am like her.

I know I don’t look much like her. I have her coloring and that’s about it. My face is my birthfather’s almost exactly, and my guess is that’s why she doesn’t want anything to do with me. He hurt her, and I get that. I’m not him, but I’m sure I’m all wrapped up in those bad memories. Hard to process that I’m an adult with a life now; not the baby she had to leave behind. In our correspondence, I got the sense that she is not that self-aware, and that she put that experience out of her mind – quite literally – some time ago, and hasn’t looked back.

She doesn’t feel like she owes me anything, and I agree. I don’t imagine we have much in common – I know she’s very involved in her church, and she’s very conservative politically. Ditto my sisters, who are soccer moms and live near their mother. My brothers both live out of state, and I don’t know much about them. Thanks to the internet, I know where they all live and what they look like. I’m grateful for that.

My birthfather is dead. He died in 1999, after a shortened, difficult life. He never married or had other children. He died of alcoholism. I have been in touch with his oldest brother, who was very gracious and sent me my bdad’s senior picture. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and my uncle said he was never right after he came back. Very sad.

All of my bgrandparents are dead. My birthmother’s mother died just a short time before we started writing. Her brother died a few years ago. He was old enough at the time of my birth to know what was going on, so bmom’s secret died with him and my bgrandparents, except for her husband, who I’m certain she didn’t tell about my recent contact.

So I know alot, and that has been a great thing. Just knowing that there were actual people involved in my birth made me feel more like I belong here, which I didn’t much as a kid. I’m a genealogy nut, so I’ve traced both families back as far as I can, and that’s been cool, too. The DNA thing was profoundly satisfying. As it turns out I really am the whitest white girl in America – 100% England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Knowing that meant a lot to me.

But it’s not enough. I want to meet her. I want to look in her eyes, smell her perfume, see her smile. That’s all. No one needs to know; just an hour or so, in a neutral town where no one knows either of us.

But she can’t do it. She has rejected me once again. This time it’s actually me she’s said “no” to. I’m a person now, not a baby she never saw or felt a connection to (her words).

On the shows like “Long Lost Family” and on the internet people get all dewy-eyed at the thought of a “reunion.” People hug and cry and express love to people they’ve just met and everyone feels all warm and fuzzy about it.

But this is the reality for most of us. No reunion, no happy ending. No cameras rolling.

Just the emptiness of rejection all over again.

 

 

Living accordingly

“Maybe the reason nothing seems to be ‘fixing you’ is because you’re not broken. Let today be the day you stop living within the confines of how others define or judge you. You have a unique beauty and purpose; live accordingly.” ~Steve Maraboli

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I’ve been beating myself up pretty good the past couple of days, feeling like a failure, abnormal, an alien. Feeling like an idiot for getting myself in such a desperate place again. Thinking about how hard I’ve worked to get well, to accept myself as I am, to have compassion for the trials I’ve faced and the ways in which they have shaped my journey. Berating myself for throwing all that away by willingly putting myself in a situation that has brought me to my knees once again.

What was I thinking?

Well, I thought for once I could do something meaningful for someone else. I wasn’t thinking of myself, necessarily. I was challenging myself to feel compassion for the one person in my life I felt least deserved it, but probably needed it the most. I knew I would be challenged, but I felt like I was up to the challenge and that it was almost pre-ordained by the universe. Major karma between me and my mother all these years, and I felt this would be the end.

I had no idea it would take this long. Honestly, if I had known I would still be here 6 years later with no end in sight, I might have run away screaming when she asked me to move in with her. Really, though, there was no other choice. She couldn’t live alone. What else could I have done? Looked my then 80 year-old mother, recently widowed after 60 years with the same man, living on meager Social Security and in poor health as always, in the eye and said, “no?”

Well, yes, in theory I could have. She would have died in a short time, probably, and I would have gone on with my life. I wouldn’t have felt good about that, though, and in some ways that might have been more challenging anyway. I’d still be around, and she would have called on me constantly no matter where I was.

Ultimately I would have felt like there was something more I could have done. So instead of feeling bad, I did that something more. I wasn’t being true to her so much as I was being true to myself. This is who I am, who I always have been – loyal to a fault. Like a dog. To my detriment, almost always, especially where my family is concerned.

So now I’m a better, if not happier person. I have never believed that the purpose of life is to be happy. I believe the purpose of life is to be of use. I believe in the Golden Rule. I think if there is a god, that’s really all the bible needs to say: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat others with love, acceptance and understanding. Even your worst enemy is a human being worthy of respect and kindness. Everyone is deserving of forgiveness, love and care.

Even my mother. I forgave her a long time ago, and now I’m working on the “love and care” part. Everyday. Mostly it’s on-the-job training, but I’m getting through. It’s so hard, especially the last few months when she has been so ill and my life has been turned upside down again, much as it was over and over as a kid by her poor health, and then later by depression. I’m tempted over and over again to question my decision to be here, and the life that led me here.

Over and over, however, I find that the answer to those questions is simply that “this is who I am.” This is who I’ve always been. I believe I have lived my life according to my purpose, even when I wasn’t really sure what that was. This is the family I got, and they are and have been my path to enlightenment. The path has been arduous – strewn with rocks and pits, over mountains and deep valleys – just like everyone else’s. I’ve been tempted to lay down my pack and stop so many times.

But I haven’t yet, and I hope I won’t. As I have gone on I’ve become stronger, better equipped, and better at seeing the way ahead. I can’t see where the path ends, but the next step is clear, and maybe the next step after that. I try to stay in the moment, and I find I’m happier if I don’t think about what’s ahead. I’m tired, but I focus on putting one foot in front of the other and that’s all. Just keep moving I tell myself every morning when the alarm goes off.

Get up, and just keep moving. I’ll be where I need to go soon enough.

Wasting Away

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.”
T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

I caught up with a childhood friend yesterday on Facebook. She and I were best friends and neighbors until she moved away when we were both 14. I’ve seen her once since then – 30 years or so ago when she came back to town to visit her mother – but then we lost touch. It was nice to see pictures of her now and to hear about her life, but it made me sad, too.

When asked to superficially describe my life I find the only thing I’m comfortable talking about is my work. I don’t want to admit that much of my life was determined by the severity and duration of the chronic depression I’ve struggled with since high school, and the rest by my obligation to my parents. I feel good about myself and the fact that I’ve survived the depression and done right by my family, until I’m talking to someone else, especially someone I grew up with. Then I find that I feel that – compared to them – I’ve wasted my life. Or, at least, that I have nothing to show for it.

On the face of it, anyway. In the condensed Facebook version you can’t see how much I’ve grown as a human, or what I went through just to be alive now. On the surface, it seems like maybe I took the “easy way out” by staying in my hometown and living a “small” life by myself. Maybe I was lazy or scared and couldn’t manage anything more important or exciting. Or more normal. 

What’s not clear is that my life has been the hardest way out, for me, anyway, because none of it is what I wanted or dreamed of. I’ve had to deal with the worst things I could imagine as a child – never getting away from my family and being alone all my life. I didn’t ask for depression; it just took over. I didn’t ask to have the parents I got or to feel obligated to them. I didn’t choose any of the things that made other choices impossible as my life went on. I have always just made the best of what I was given, which in terms of freedom to choose, was not a lot.

In the vast realm of human suffering, my life doesn’t even register on the scale, but it was hard for me. It’s been a struggle. I don’t have anything to show for it except that I AM STILL HERE. Still getting out of bed every morning and facing the days as they come. Going through a very difficult time right now and hoping that things will get better, but knowing they may not for a while, and still getting out of bed.

Every. Single. Day.

That’s worth something, isn’t it? Not giving up? Still trying to be a good person, and trying to do the right thing. Isn’t that valuable? I think so. But it doesn’t condense well, and that will always be a problem for me, as much of what goes on between people never goes below the surface.

I know, though. I know the whole story and I know I’m alright. My life has been worthwhile. I haven’t wasted anything. Most importantly, the ending hasn’t been written yet. There is more to come and I will keep showing up for whatever it is with the best that I have to offer.

 

Looking back, looking ahead

When I was younger I lost huge blocks of time – days, sometimes weeks – lost in the fog of depression. Everything just stopped for a while and then when the depression lifted, I went back to doing the things I liked to do – the things that made life worth living. My life.

I couldn’t lose my job, so I put every bit of what little energy I had into getting there most days during those times. Some days I did nothing but sit in my office and stare at the wall for 8 hours, but I was there, and I stayed employed.

That’s what life during those times boiled down to: focus on that one thing – the thing that had to happen so I could go back to my life when I was well again. Most days when I got home from work I went to bed. The next day I would do it again, and the next, and the next, until slowly, as the depression lifted, I could begin living fully again.

This time I’m spending caring for my mother feels like that time again, and it scares me. I find myself using some of the same techniques I used in those days to maintain my life so I can go back to it when things get better. I don’t have time, opportunity, or energy to do any of the things I enjoy; the things that keep me healthy. I have to postpone appointments, get togethers with friends, daily walks, posting on this blog – the list is long.

My focus this time is trying to eat properly and working as much as I can. This last week 1/2 days, next week, hopefully 6 hours per day. I keep telling myself I survived all those years with the depression, and I will survive this. I will survive this, and then I will have to rebuild my life just as I did before.

What’s different this time is that I don’t have to hide what’s going on. There is nothing shameful about caring for a family member, and everyone has been very supportive, and for that I’m grateful, especially at work. There was nothing shameful about the depression, either, but I didn’t know that then, and I had no support.

There weren’t drugs then like there are now, and I didn’t know anyone else who struggled as I did. I felt broken and different, and I did everything I could to conceal what I was going through from everyone I knew. Sooner or later that deception ended most of my relationships, so I was even more isolated, but that actually made it all easier.

I don’t have to do any of that now, and I’m very grateful for that difference. This is hard, but it isn’t as hard as that was, and I’m so much better-equipped to deal with the disruption now. I’m ready to get back to my life, but it’s not time yet, so I’m just hanging on. I know someday I’ll get back to it all and then I will be able to enjoy it all the more knowing that’s it all for a reason, and that I’ve spent the time away doing something worthwhile. My mother will be better (I hope), and I will be better for the experience.

So it’s the same in some ways, but very different also, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. I’m going forward, not backward, and it’s okay.

This too shall pass.

 

Throw me a line

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I spent most of yesterday at the hospital with my nearly 86 year-old mother. First we were in the Emergency Department, then later she was admitted for an overnight stay and some tests this morning. (She’s home again now and everything’s going to be okay.)

What struck me most about the day when I finally got home last night and thought about it was the waiting. There is no sense of urgency in the ED these days. We’ve been fairly frequent visitors since I moved in with mom 5+ years ago, and it doesn’t seem to me that it has always been as bad as it was yesterday, but waiting is definitely a big part of that experience.

There’s no choice but to gut it out, though, cuz the fact that you’re miserable and that it might be their job to ease your misery as if it were an emergency, clearly does not seem to register with anyone there. It makes me wonder how these people are being trained, and maybe even why they wanted to be in a “helping” profession in the first place. Didn’t they know they were going to have to deal with sick people?

The most helpful thing they did in the 5+ hours we were there was to admit mom into the actual hospital, which was a completely different experience. Thank goodness.

Anyway, that’s another blog. Back to waiting

I had an epiphany sitting in the uncomfortable chair in the little room in the ED in which my mother was on a gurney writhing and moaning in pain, and we were waiting for someone to decide to do something. I realized that I’ve been waiting for my mother all of my life. Waiting for her to let me go. Waiting for her to grow up and realize that she was the parent. Waiting to begin the life I dreamed of, not the life she envisioned for me with her as the center and my own needs secondary (read: non-existent).

There are a lot of dynamics at play in our relationship, adoptee guilt, fear of abandonment and need to please not being the least of them. I take responsibility for my choices – I could have walked away and never looked back, certainly. That’s not my nature, though, and there were other reasons I gave in to the manipulation, so I own my decisions. I spent a fair amount of time in therapy a while ago working through the resentment, so that’s not really an issue anymore, and I am certainly here now with her since my dad died by choice. I have been a good daughter to her and my dad and I feel good about that. I think it matters. 

But I realized yesterday that now instead of waiting and hoping she will change, I am waiting for her to die. I think about the changes I’ll make in my life after she passes and that makes me feel hopeful about the future in a way I’ve never experienced before. Being tied to her and her needs has always been a given, a limiting factor in my life, and the end of that is in sight now. I’m not wishing for her death, and it is most likely years away, but it’s no longer a lifetime away.

It seems a little ghoulish, but I’m making plans for my life without her and Iooking forward to that time, much the same way I’m looking forward to retirement. To me both those things represent the freedom – the liberation – I’ve been hoping for all of my life.

I felt a little guilty last night when I realized I was thinking in those terms, but there it is. It’s probably just rationalization, but I feel like I have done my time, and it’s not horrible for me to be thinking about my mother’s demise as a good thing. My parents have lived good long lives, and in a lot of ways I eased the way for them, certainly for my mother. I served my parents well and when that service comes to an end, I will be free and clear. All debts paid, and a clean slate before me on which to write the rest of my story.

No more waiting then – for anything or anyone. I have a lot to catch up on!

 

Born free

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I have regrets. There are things that haunt me now and again – things I should (or shouldn’t) have said or done, people I’ve hurt, opportunities I’ve missed. I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. I don’t think you can experience human life past age 5 without racking up a couple of really juicy regrets.

What I think is most interesting, though, is that I don’t regret the things I’m supposed to. Our culture tells me in a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) ways that I’m not living my life correctly. If you watch TV or movies, or read books, single people are usually the subject of pity. The message everywhere in our culture is that it’s not okay to be alone and be happy about it. Love is the answer and the question. We don’t care what your family looks like much anymore – 2 dads, single mom, grandparents raising grandkids – whatever. Anything goes – that is – any kind of family, as long as you have a family, or you at least feel bad if you don’t.

I don’t.

I never wanted to be a wife, and I never wanted to be someone’s mother. I knew from a very young age that I wouldn’t be good at either. What I understood about marriage and family growing up with my mother and father was that you couldn’t be free – to be yourself, to do what you want to do, or go where you want to go. In a family, if one person has trouble, it becomes the whole family’s trouble. (The same is true of joy, presumably, but I didn’t experience as much of that.)

When I was young I thought I would probably have to get married and have children cuz I grew up in the 60s and I only knew one person over the age of 25 who wasn’t married and/or a mommy or a daddy. She was a spinster, “whose fiance had been tragically killed in the war and because her heart was broken she never married, and she lived a sad a lonely life.”

I didn’t want to live a sad and lonely life, but I knew family life wasn’t what I wanted either. Imagine my joy when I got old enough to realize that not only wasn’t it mandatory, it wasn’t a trajedy if it didn’t happen. By the time I got to college, attitudes had changed pretty dramatically about women and family and while some folks are still taken aback now to find out that at my advanced age I have never married or had children, I don’t think most people give it a second thought.

The truth is, I don’t care what they think, because my life is right for me and not marrying and not having children are two things I do not have a single regret about. There have always been spinsters and bachelors, and I’m happy I’ve been spared the kind of assumptions that have been made about single people throughout history – that there is something odd and sad about them or that there was *ahem* something wrong with them.

Certainly, in the past, some men and women remained single because they were gay and unable to marry. That’s changing and that is as it should be. No question that if you wish to be in a relationship and to make that relationship public and/or binding, you should be free to do so, no matter what. Ditto raising a family.

Conversely there are people, like me, who wish to be free of relationship – gay, straight, or otherwise – and that should be okay, too. I think for the most part it is. I live in a small town, and even here, most people just accept me as is. I’m sure there are some folks who think I’m gay, and that’s okay. I’m not, but the reality is that it’s none of their business what I am, so they can just wonder. I’m good with that.

For me, though, the biggest non-regret has been my decision not to reproduce. I probably would have been willing to marry if any of the men I was involved with over the years could have allowed me the degree of freedom I require to be happy. Having kids, though, is – as they say – a whole ‘nother sack of cats. Pregnancy never scared me – the deal breaker was being responsible for and raising a good human being. Yikes!

I had enough trouble handling my own life and my own faulty brain chemistry and general craziness. How on earth would I have managed to guide a child through the minefield of life when I couldn’t see the way through myself? No, I always knew I was not cut out for motherhood. I didn’t want to be responsible for unleashing another damaged human being on society, and I didn’t want to watch someone I had brought into this world and loved struggle in the ways I had growing up.

So no regrets. My way through this life is not right for everyone, but it has been the right way for me. Ultimately, that’s all we can ask, isn’t it? As human beings, each of us should have the opportunity to live on our own terms, whatever they may be. For better or for worse, I am free.