LETTER TO ANN
I wish the things that can so easily be said on paper, were things that a face to face meeting to work through as two adult women could possibly solve. I wish we could both go through all of the painful experiences like we were at an alanon meeting, pouring out our soul with no defenses, no criticisms or judgements but just a way to get it all out in the open and move to forgiveness.
Is the relationship not worth the work?
When you and your husband of sixteen years got divorced, you were put in a super vulnerable place, but managed to come out of it surviving and figuring out how to be self-sufficient. This was no small feat as a woman with two children who needed both physical and emotional shelter. He left you. That must have been incredibly scary. People in your circle weren’t getting divorced at the rate that would soon follow.
There were no textbooks for what to do and what not to do. In hindsight, selling the family home, moving to a new community, getting your kids set up in a new school within a few months of your husband moving out was probably not what the textbook that hadn’t been written would have said. Emotions were high. Therapy wasn’t the go to solution like it is today. The tension was thick. Emotionally scarring being left by a man. Frightening as hell to be unsure of your financial survival and even worse that you had to depend on archaic alimony creating a dependence that likely did not give you a sense of inner strength. Meanwhile you had two kids, 14 and 9, trying to wrap their own heads around their new paradigm. They were holding on the best they could separately and together. They were trying to learn how to satisfy the demands of having 2 parents separately who one minute were going for long walks after dinner and in the next battling with such hatred for each other. In your anger you both forgot about the needs of your two struggling children. You were both responsible for this.
When your two children ended up living with their father 6 months into the new world of divorce, it must have been one of the most painful experiences a mother could have. This must have laid the groundwork for layers of resentment that would soon follow. A good therapist may have said to you to stop personalizing every single thing and start focusing on parenting.
Stop using the silent treatment as a defense.
Once two people get divorced, the worst part is that kids have options. Living with their father becomes an option, a way out from the emotional rollercoaster that was going on in your life as you tried to figure out your new role.
The problem with kids moving out is that the organic process of raising them past the teen years stops too and you never had a chance to see what it was like to move through the teen years. The distance and the resentment kept growing. Living with you again never seemed to be a possibility as you had moved on with your life, meeting a new man, finding your sense of purpose in a new career, becoming economically self sufficient.
When your daughter decided to move in with your sister instead of you, you took it so personally. You never got over that. You never forgave her, or forgave your sisters for not telling you or asking you because your daughter wanted to be the one to tell you.
When your daughter was procrastinating, your brother in law took it upon himself to tell you and you never got over that. It must have really hurt your feelings being left out of this decision, but your 19 year old daughter felt like she had no place to live and you and your former husband were not ever a consideration for her. It never seemed to occur to you to consider the pain that she may have been going through as the priority of your pain, your role as victim, was always the main event. But the reality is that it was your ego that was bruised because if you had really considered it you would have known it was more of the fantasy rather than the reality that bothered you the most.
It was at that moment where the hurts and buttons of your younger life of feeling left out of your two sisters connection began its climb. Instead of feeling happy that your daughter had found a place to live where she could feel safe and loved, you resented her for not allowing you a chance to mother her. You resented that she didn’t give you a chance to get back 5 years lost. So the resentments not yet realized lay dormant and your sister and daughter formed a bond like the sisters you never bonded with. You probably felt left out, but you never talked about your feelings so they went inward again.
As time went on, you moved. Around the time your daughter planned on getting married, leaving her to fend for herself for her wedding dress, her bridal shower and the entire planning of the wedding. This didn’t seem odd to you nor did it seem odd to your daughter until people started asking where you were. Your daughter would just reply like it was perfectly normal, “my mother doesn’t do things like this.” Oddly your daughter thought it was perfectly normal until the day she realized it wasn’t, but it was too late.
Your son moved back with you and you got another chance to mother, it seemed as if there was some healing, but then your baby, your only son was diagnosed with cancer and within a year, died. Not in your arms, after all he was 25, but in his apartment with his girlfriend who had been tending his broken body and spirit. You resented this too, but your son died knowing unconditional love from a woman and this was a gift.
You personalized the abandonment and another layer of resentment grew. All this time you and your former husband spoke only twice in the fifteen years of being divorced, at your daughter’s wedding and at your son’s funeral and both were brief and awkward and tense. Your children were watching and it broke their hearts again. You were both responsible.
Once your son died, there was your grief, YOUR grief. We all grieved. There was never a time during this grieving period that you and your surviving child and your former husband came together to process the pain. Each one did it on their own. Your daughter and your former husband were able to bond with the grief as the catalyst, the only positive that came from your son’s death. You went into a deeper despair and the very mention of his name would cause you to go silent in an awkward way so that your daughter never felt like she could speak of her pain and her loss to her mother. You both never had a chance to heal and bond from this terrible experience together. So your daughter figured out how to grieve the loss with her father, with her aunts, with her grandparents and the distance between you both grew more distant. Another missed opportunity for some healing.
Shutting down became the new norm and the distance grew until your daughter had her son, your grandson, same name as your son and there began joy again. A distraction. Your daughter tried to ignore your absence at her baby shower, at your son’s bris, afterall you didn’t do these things. Her bond with your sisters continued to strengthen and your relationship with your daughter was “fine” as your grandson became the light and the joy and all seemed well.
Then your daughter left her husband after 20 years and though you seemed supportive of her decision, the fact that she moved out seemed to trigger some serious old wounds that you could not name and the distance opened up like a scar from years past. The feelings that you had been stuffing with drinking for over 20 years started to bubble and you did not like this. It was uncomfortable, scary, you had moved far away from all family to escape this, it wasn’t supposed to follow you. But this is the thing with feelings, they only move on when you move through and there is no running away. You can run away from a fire in a building, but at some point the fire has to be put out with water or else it will consume everything around it.
Your relationship with alcohol was what grew deeper and the slings at your daughter began with the bar mitzvah of her son all the way to her buying her own house. Occasionally you would let out some of the pain in a screaming match or a nasty letter but it was never constructive, always filled with rage and disappointment instead of a grownup conversation. Through bouts of silence, unspoken resentments grew. Years of unspoken resentments. When your daughter received the news of breast cancer two years ago you had both not been speaking for awhile. When she called to tell you, there was a small chance for the relationship.
She with her ex-husband and her son came for a visit to your new house and it was a terrible visit, sad, painful. Alcohol was the force to be reckoned with and even if there was a sliver of hope, the force of the drink usurped the visit. The fact that your daughter came with her ex-husband and that their relationship was a mature one must have dug old wounds even deeper. The visit gave you a chance to witness what could have been in your own past. It was like Dickens ghost of Christmas past.
The thing about unspoken feelings is that there is always light on the other side, but you have to be willing to do the work, to move through the darkness and it can be really dark. Alcohol makes the darkness seemingly disappear, but that of course is the illusion of addiction. The sadness of shutting off the lights permanently is you never get to the light, to see what is on the other side, Yes there will always be more pain, but there is also so much more pleasure and joy and lessons. You will never know how your daughter coped with her double mastectomy or the way she handled this next phase of her life because you found the pain and the work to be something you wanted to go around instead of through.
Your relationship with your daughter never had a chance to heal because you never gave yourself a chance to heal. You were the parent and you never considered your role as the line leader to work through and help the relationship grow. It stayed stuck in old thought patterns and old sadness where it still sits.
Until one day when you decided that the pain was never going to go away unless you ceased any connection with your daughter.
And so you did.