Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Sure could use / a little good news today"

I am sick today, but I'm not going to complain because I've been pretty healthy (physically, anyway) for a while now. I did, however, receive bad news. I found out that the father of one of my children's classmates died unexpectedly last weekend. He was only a few years older than I am.

I hear the news and immediately whisper the bracha "Baruch dayan emet." And then all I can think of is how this woman I've known for several years now has just lost her husband and has two young children to care for. It is, in a way, normal to lose one's parents. Better that one should bury one's parents than bury one's child. But losing a life pains and frightens me all at once.

I could not speak on the phone so my husband called the family to offer his condolences, child care, meals. I am still in shock. I spoke to this man less than a month ago. He was too young to die now!

This news brings up not-yet-healed grief of my own. I want so much to reach out to this woman and her children and at the same time I am so anxious. I fear that I will become overwhelmed by our shared grief and I will lose myself. I fear that my anxiety and depression will prevent me from connecting. I fear that I cannot step outside myself enough to be helpful to her.

I sent an email to my rabbi asking for suggestions. He said that she will need support not just for the short term but also for the long term. I know he is right. I had a lot of support for a few weeks after my mother's death, and then it trickled away. Offers to check in with me in a month or go for a walk or get together for lunch disappeared. I know they meant well, but I really could have used some of that support a month or two or even six months after her death, and it was not there.

I hope that I can use that experience to create a different reality for this woman. My mother-in-law still mourns the loss of her husband, ten years later. My mother struggled with severe depression and suicidal thoughts after my father died. That is my only reference for losing one's spouse. I pray that she has a strong support system through her synagogue and that I can find the continued strength to be there for her as well.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Moving forward

I'm sorry I have not written. I had no words. Everything was just numb.

My mother died on Mother's Day, 2009. I was with her for the last two weeks of her life, and it was an emotional roller coaster that can only exist in a troubled, volatile, sometimes violent relationship. While I tried to explain away much of what she said as being drug induced from the painkillers, the truth is that her criticisms and insults, even in the last two weeks of her life, were the same things she's been saying to me all my life. She just couldn't bring herself to accept me for who I am, even as she knew death was only days or hours away. My brother confirmed this, too.

I learned much about my mother by talking to him in the days and weeks and months after her death. Things I didn't know he knew. Things he observed but never brought up, to avoid rocking the boat in his very good relationship with her.

I talked quite a bit with a social worker who spent several months with my mom in hospice. She said I was a "lightning rod" in the family, and that my brother was the one who smoothed things over.

I think I am finally starting to get it that the reason I was never good enough in my mother's eyes has more to do with my mother than with me. But it is still so very hard to feel like I am worthy of love and acceptance.

It was just this past Mother's Day (2010) that I finally was able to really cry and let go of some of the grief and anger and guilt I've been holding for over a year. It was not even something I could bring up in therapy because it was too raw, too painful to fit into a 45-minute session and then put my public mask on and go back out into the world.

There is more.

My mom's live-in boyfriend was emotionally and verbally abusing her. I didn't get it when she would tell me about their fights because she was always the instigator with my dad and I am sorry to admit that I thought she played some part in her fights with her boyfriend. But then he started in on me when I was there with my mom for those last two weeks. The nicest thing he called me was a bully. He threatened me with physical harm. He told me I was not welcome in the house and to never come back. He told me that my mom didn't love me anymore and that the only reason she didn't object to my being there was because she was too weak. He verbally attacked the hospice nurses and threatened to call the police. My brother finally convinced him to say his goodbyes to my mom and go on vacation until it was all over.

I knew even as he was saying these horrible things that it was him, not me. But it brought back all of the horrible things my mom said repeatedly to me when I was growing up and I wondered again as I had years ago, what if there's some truth to it?

My mom's rages always ended with my being beaten. Hearing her boyfriend rage at me immediately took me back to the same place, and I truly feared for my life. I also feared for my mom's safety and it was a very weird situation to see my mom as the victim.

I confided in one of the social workers who was at the house when the boyfriend went into his worst rage against me and the hospice workers. He noticed I was wearing a Star of David and asked, You're Jewish? I said yes. He said, But your mom doesn't consider herself Jewish? I said no. He gave me two thumbs up and a grin and said, Rockin'! He was one bright spot in an otherwise abysmal day.

It has only been in the past month, maybe, that I am trying to move forward. I am trying to treat myself better, eat better, exercise with mindfulness. I am trying to clean up the mess in my house and my life so I can have the future I want, the future I think G-d wants for me. I am trying to open up and talk about the past a little more, so I can finally let it go.

I wondered recently why we are in the world. Some would say we are here to honor G-d, but that is too simple and too ambiguous for me. I believe G-d wants us to be happy. I believe G-d wants us to help each other. I believe G-d wants us to find the best in ourselves and each other and make the world a better place. I think that's what the mitzvot are about, and believing horrible things about myself is not on the list.