Monday, November 14, 2011

Motherless Child

Thinking of Mom

My mother died of heart failure at the tender age of 62 and I mourned for her in the sand dunes of Somalia. Mom left us almost 3 decades ago, but this year brought a surprising gift of closure with my story's validation as grand prize winner in a contest and selection for the beautiful anthology Wisdom Has a Voice: Every Daughter's Memories of Mother 

From Voluntary Nomads Part Five: Somalia Safaris, Chapter 18, a very brief glimpse of a much longer scene:

Motherless Child

Of course I expected to be sad. I didn't expect to be overcome with paroxysms so fierce they turned my body and my spirit into one wrenching spasm. I remembered the overpowering contractions of childbirth as I suffered the agony of motherdeath. But there was no gain in this pain, only loss. Grief overwhelmed me at odd moments, once in the middle of a ladies' luncheon at the home of the DCM. One second I was talking about the batch of new educational video tapes donated to the school library, and the next second I was sobbing into my napkin. There was no logic in it. Waves of sadness ebbed and flowed in a tide that bore no relationship to my conscious thoughts.
When I thought about my mother, I regretted never telling her that I understood why mothering was a difficult role for her. She had been traumatized at the age of two when a stroke killed her mother. Her only memory of that time was the painful one of being held over the coffin in the parlor and forced to kiss those cold, hard lips. From age two to eleven, she lived in an emotional limbo with her withdrawn father and stoic German maternal grandmother. When she was eleven, her father hired a housekeeper, a "widow" with a one-year-old daughter. Within a year, the housekeeper became Mom's stepmother and Mom lived her adolescence like Cinderella, chastised for leaving dust on light bulbs or forgetting to take the washing down from the clothesline.
I wished I had encouraged my mother to seek help for her depression. As a child I felt responsible for her moodiness, but try as I might, nothing I did made her happy. My childhood, indeed my whole life, was dedicated to being good, to pleasing my mother and taking responsibility for the happiness of everyone around me. I tried to be perfect, as if that could cure all ills. The burden of guilt warped my childhood, fueled my decision to study psychology, and spurred me into therapy in my college years. But I never discussed depression with my mother.
If we had ever had a heart-to-heart, I would have told Mom that I loved her. And I would have praised her intelligence and her accomplishments in business, art, and music. But Mom was gone and I could only mourn her passing and the lost chances to mend our tattered relationship. ###

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