The Lost Grandmother

About a month ago a very close friend of mine lost her mother. Theirs had not always been the best of relationships, and she always told me she’d envied the relationship I’d had with my mother. Last week I received this letter from my friend in an email, and she has given me permission to share it to show that even a badly broken relationship can be healed, as long as both parties are willing to work towards it.

This is an excerpt from her story that has been included in my book, “Memories in a Daughter’s Heart,”  due to be published by the end of November.

“Dear Children, I wanted to write a little bit about your grandmother who passed away.

As you know she was my true mother, and the mother of Ken, Craig, and Elaine. She was blessed with four children. She lost custody of my brothers and me when I was five years old, and Elaine had short terms in foster care.

Through the years, and with Grandpa’s multiple marriages and long term relationships, you met a few “mom’s” who were actually stepmothers. You called them “grandma.”

My real mother loved her children; however she had multiple emotional problems that made mothering too challenging and overwhelming for her. She suffered, among other things, from mental illness, narcolepsy, and manic depression which actually required shock therapy several times in her life.

Back in the 1950’s, mental illness was not fully understood, and most people were not equipped to deal with a young mother who was so depressed she was unable to properly care for her babies and young children. We went hungry; our diapers were often unchanged; and the house was usually completely unkempt or not cleaned.

Unfortunately my dad did not have the patience or understanding to help my mother or cope with her problems. She became addicted to prescription medications, specifically amphetamines and barbiturates. When our dog had puppies, they were named after the drugs. Isn’t it weird that I remember that?

My father was not easy to be married to; he had a very harsh side, and was cruel to my mother. He must have taken her to a doctor for her to have gotten those medications, and tried to get her help, but she needed much more than that.

My brother Ken, being the oldest, remembers the most of it, and the traumatic childhood experience left scars on all of us as well as a sense of fragmentation.

My parents divorced when I was about 5 years old, right after my kindergarten year. My dad was awarded custody of us. At first we were able to see my mother, but not very often. After one of our visits to see her, something bad must have transpired, because after that visit I did not see my mother for 9 years until I turned 15.

My mother did finally marry again to a nice man named Tom, and they had my sister Elaine.

Through either my dad’s own doing, or whether on advice from an attorney or psychiatrist, he stopped allowing visitations with my mother. To my knowledge this was not done through any legal channels or court order.

I sneaked around to try and communicate with her, and when I was in high school, I had her send her letters to a friend’s address.

Growing up, I never heard a good word ever spoken about my real mother. I grew up afraid I would be like this person who was spoken about so negatively. I tried to overcome it all and prove my stepmother wrong.

grandmotherWhen I turned 18, I could openly begin communication and establish a relationship with my mother, and finally get to know my sister.

Many years went by where we only talked by phone or through letters, but not many personal visits, as I didn’t have finances for such travel. Though we didn’t see each other often, we became better and better acquainted; while we didn’t have the “normal” mother-daughter relationship, but we had a love for each other.

When my father died seven years ago, I had to sort through all of his papers. My dad had saved everything. Among those papers were letters from my mother to us; beautiful, eloquently written letters that were never given to us. If we had been given our letters, we would have known our mother loved us; that we weren’t abandoned, like we’d been told. I truly believe it would have made a big difference in our growing up to have had that security and knowledge. Why he kept them, I do not know.

There was even a letter from my mother’s mother to my father begging him to not take the children away from her. In that time period, that was how people handled these situations, and they believed it was best to sever all ties.

Yes, my mother was flawed, and did not have the easiest personality to live with. She could be difficult and self-centered; she certainly had had a hard life, and had to do many things to survive and sometimes made the wrong choices.

When Elaine called me and told me the medical team that had been caring for her had said nothing more could be done, and were recommending palliative care for her; I was compelled to go there to be with her. My mother and I had come a long way in building our relationship, and I wanted to say goodbye to her, and be there for Elaine, too. Your dad encouraged me to go. So I went. And I’m so glad I did.

Alone in my mom’s room holding vigil, I had a compelling moment; I needed to forgive my mother. I laid my hands on her forehead, and said, “Mother, I forgive you, and I love you.”

My mother passed away the next morning; I will always believe she was waiting for me, and waiting to hear those words.

I called Ken and let him know that our mother had passed away. Regardless of their broken relationship, I wanted him to know. The next day he called me and said, “I’m not a praying man, but I said a prayer for her that, “I hope she is in a better place, and I forgive her.”

The power of speaking those words of forgiveness cannot be adequately expressed with my words.

I am sorry you could not have known her as your grandmother, and become more acquainted. My mother always asked about all of you; she was interested in your lives’ and cared very much about you. All of your pictures were in her room. She was proud of each of you.

I fortunately learned to embrace the good things about my mother these last few years, and learned not to dwell on her shortcomings. After all, we all have them. I am so thankful I was able to do that and finally enjoy a good relationship with her in these last years. We had so many fun, memorable days together, and I wouldn’t have traded any of them.

My beautiful children, there is always something good, and very much to be thankful for.”

Nothing more needs to be said after this, except, “It’s never too late.” Thank you my dear friend, for writing this to your children, and thank you for sharing it so that perhaps someone else may be able to salvage such a relationship before it’s too late.

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