The jury within is relentless
I had a peaceful Thankgiving, and then a dream brought me back to the old, unresolved, relentless ongoing court case and battle in my head.
Aging seems to bring these old cases up more dramatically and repeatedly and harshly. Short term memory may not be so great. Long term memory can be relentlessly vicious.
My Thankgiving was a solitary one, and it was good. A visit to the mausoleum to “talk” with my parents, a walk in the gorgeous redwood state park not too far from my home. Feeding my neighbor’s kitties and spending some time with them, which was good for all of us. I lost several kitties not long ago, don’t know if I can handle the loss of another one (so no kitties currently), and am glad to spend time with sweet kitties that I can visit, feed, and yet not live with. Loss and grief are more frequent companions on this journey of aging, so I find myself more cautious about who I invite into my life and how deeply.
And then last night I had a dream. It’s interesting that when I had visited the mausoleum early that day, I had thought (and quietly said to my mother and father inside my own head) that it would be ok for them to visit me in my dreams, thoughts, feelings. I thanked them for all that they had done for me. They gave me so much more than either of them ever was able to have in their childhoods. They did the best that they could, given their own struggles in their own very painful childhoods.
The first to appear in the dream was my father. Although I don’t remember the specifics, it was an ok dream and felt like it was basically positive.
The next to appear in the dream was not so positive.
In this dream, my mother was with me. She was crying and asking me why we couldn’t have had the same relationship that she saw the other daughters and mothers having. She wept hard, asking me why. It broke my heart.
I woke up with that broken heart and have felt it all day long. Taking myself to the gym didn’t help. It was hard not to break into tears on the gym equipment. I cut my time there short. I hardly spoke to anyone.
My mother and I had a complex relationship. I think that relationships between mothers and daughters are often complex. She felt suffocated in the house and in her life with my father. He loved her intensely, and was very jealous of losing her, fearful of the abandonment that he had felt his entire childhood. So he clung tightly to her. So tightly that she couldn’t breathe.
I was an only child, so a lot of the focus was on me.
While I was a young child, my mother and I had a close relationship. I was dependent, and this suited her, I believe.
My entering adolescence brought challenges. My wanting to be independent, apart from her. And my going away to college (which I had to fight very hard for, in order to be able to go) broke her heart. To me, I felt that it was my only chance to breathe and get away from what felt like deep enmeshment and suffocation, inability to be myself or even know who that was. To her, I’m sure it felt like complete and utter abandonment and rejection.
Years later, a friend of mine would visit her in the assisted living where she ended up after surgery (which then led to her needing more supervision than I could provide for her at home.) She confided in this friend, who shared with me that my mother had never forgiven me for leaving her to go to college, and also for my seeming so happy to get out of the house.
I felt that anger in her toward me for a very long time. There was so much unresolved between us.
And I’m afraid that I wasn’t as good a daughter as I might have been while she was living with me for several years. I tried, but could also feel my own holding back and resisting and desperate fight for enough of a sense of separation from her. Esoecially with her in my house. Just the two of us.
She moved back from her country of origin, Italy, to move in with me about 8 years after my father died. They had moved back to Italy when my father retired many years ago, when I was a young adult and it became clear to them that although I was married, I was not going to have children. If I had children, they would have stayed in the US to be grandparents. But, since I didn’t have kids, my father longed to retire back to the old country and be with his remaining family there. So they lived there, with my father eventually dying years later.
She stayed 8 more years after his death, and then decided it was time to come back to the States and back to me. And she knew no one else here in the state where I now lived. She only knew me.
There really was no discussion about it. It was what she wanted and that was that. And I didn’t have the strength to say no. I knew that it would be challenging, at best.
We had some good times, some sweet times, and some very challenging times. Both of us hurting in our own ways. Neither capable of breaking through that.
I feel guilty about a lot of what happened. A lot. I did try to take care of her as best as I could, take her places, spend time with her, try to find friends for her. It never felt like enough.
Several years later she got sick with breast cancer. And she decided, now approaching the age of 85, to refuse treatment.
Her last words to me when she was on hospice and in her hospital bed in the assisted living facility? “You are trying to kill me”.
Looking back at my experience with hospice, I can see why she felt that way. I have a lot of feelings about hospice, but that is for another article, another time. Her words were so painful to hear. I felt like I had failed her completely. Again.
Then this dream happened last night. With her crying about and expressing her pain. Pain that I know that she really did feel about us and our relationship. Pain that I also felt but somehow was unable to figure out how to fix. Even with being a social worker in my career, it’s a whole different case when it’s you and your own mother. Knowledge goes out the window and down the drain when it’s your own buttons being pushed.
So today I have felt my own version of a black Friday. Black in terms of an all encompassing darkness. Black in terms of the light being gone. This familiar old and ever present guilt. This feeling of having been a failure and a disappointment.
I have written before about the jury inside me and how I am working on that to create more self advocacy. I have written about now having an internal defense attorney. This is all still true, for which I am grateful.
Today, however, the internal attorney for the prosecution was powerful, and my defense attorney was silent, for the most part. I think that she is still there and will have more to say, hopefully. But not today.
It’s humbling, these old patterns and relationships and feelings. So very humbling.
So here I sit, steeped in these familiar painful feelings. I know that it is important to feel these, and to work through them, and to let go. I need to work through them and get to the point where I can forgive myself and then give myself more complete permission to live my own life as fully as I can, with whatever time that I have left.
I think that sometimes we punish ourselves for what we see as our past mistakes, faults, trangressions, failures. At least I think that is true for me. I feel like a part of me has always held myself back from fully participating in my life, from fully claiming who I am. From fully living my passions. From fully inhabiting this precious body that we borrow for a while. From claiming my right to live and to live fully. To be here now. Faults and all.
That is my intention now. I am still alive, so there is still time. And that, perhaps, is the gift of that dream. To finally face that demon inside myself and break free. And live.