My Birth Mother Died and I'm Glad
I was raised in a world where mothers are praised and uplifted. But I know that not every woman who gives birth should hold that honor. Yet when my birth mother died, I was surprised by the unexpected range of emotions I went through.
Like millions of adopted or foster care children, I had a complicated relationship with my birth mother. I dreamed of having a “normal” Mom and often cried when I watched shows with the caring mother figure. Because not having that bond changed the way I felt about other people and myself.
Just because she gives birth to you, doesn't make her a good person.
I always had a rocky relationship with the woman I refer to as my Birth Mother. From the instant I was born, I didn’t belong to her. I belonged to my adopted family who loved me, wanted me, and taught me how to love back. My Birth Mother wasn’t any of those things. When she died, I went through a vast range of emotions, but until recently I doubted any of them were actually grief.
Our story isn't uplifting. It's harsh, real, and I share it only for those who, like myself, struggle with knowing how to feel. We are told over and over that we should love our parents, forgive people, move on.
We fought like warring countries.
My adoptive parents were family members. This was common back when I was born when someone was unable to care for a baby you just pass them off to the next family member willing to take your cast-off kid. At the time I was born she wasn’t even sure who my father was, she’d done a crap ton of drugs, and was in no place to care for a baby. That’s when my Gram and Pop stepped in became my parents.
I knew her, I knew what she was to me. But I never bonded with her. And that pissed her off. You see, she was the kind of person who demanded affection, went to great lengths for attention. And I didn't want to give her either.
My Gram and Pop were in their late 60’s when I was born. They were my Great-Grandparents. My Pop died of a hospital accident when I was 3. Granny, who also lived with my parents and I ( My great-great-grandmother) and I shared a room until she died. My world as a small child was of old people and dying. It was a common fact that people die.
Off and on, my birth mother came into my world. Each time was a hurricane and when she left the destruction was measured in scars and nightmares.
She came when she was “UP” and was a whirlwind of over-exaggeration. Everything was loud when she was there. I remember moments of her, of her trying to make me see how great she was and the best Mom. But thinking that I preferred the quiet of my Gram, the simplicity of life without her. She hated that bond that I shared with my Gram and violently acted out against it.
Those memories always make me clinch and hold my breath. To this day, I struggle with breathing deeply.
“I should have had an abortion with you like I did the others. I hate you.”
Abortion was one of my earliest linking words to her. And she made sure I knew what it meant and how much she regretted trying to trap her True Love with the announcement that he’d gotten her pregnant. Even though she was married to someone else, just like the intended True Love. I was the kid who was almost aborted, and whose birth mother wished out loud that it could be retroactive.
“Pull the fucking plug!”
Those were the words that I said on the last day of her life to the hospital in charge of keeping her alive. I hated the taste of the words in my mouth, the rage in my heart, the pure shock that I actually felt something at that moment.
And like that, it was finally over. 40+ years of a war that could never be resolved was, at last, coming to a close.
I remember that moment, standing in front of friends and my family, none of them knowing what was going on. We were leaving a movie, I got the call. It was the same ridiculous call that I’d actually gotten many times before.
My birth Mother liked to fake her “Death Bed” scene over and over to see who would come running.
Each time, I lived the moment that my adoptive parents died, I relived losing my best friend in an accident, I drowned in grief for people I lost. She forced me to suffer those losses over and over, mocking my pain and I had no defense against it.
“She’s dying. This is it.”
For 3 years that shit went on. The time before had been the worst. It involved a fake doctor, a manipulative lie, tears, and regret. No more, I wasn’t going to fall for it again. I shouted into the phone and hung up. Then she died.
I waited for the call or email to come in that she was still alive and had faked it again. But she actually died this time, of a curable illness that she purposely used for attention. The joke was on her, this time nobody came.
I walked around in a haze for days, maybe even weeks. Mostly, I pretended that everything was okay. I did not grieve.
About a year later I was going down the road, listening to the radio, and for no reason, tears filled my eyes, and that stinging feeling came over my sinuses. You know, the feeling where you are about to really lose your shit, and you are trying to hold it back. I pulled into a parking lot and emotions ran out of me… all of them. I choked on my tears, gagged on the thoughts.
This was ridiculous. I had never felt much for her other than frustration, pity, sometimes a friendship, but more often it was only tolerance. I pushed it down, blamed hormones, stress, and bad timing and moved on.
A few months ago I was sitting with a friend who’s estranged father was very ill. We were talking about the passing of parents who were not honestly parents to us. She ached to have a bond with this dying man out of the fear that soon it would be too late. I struggled to understand why she’d let go of her distance and walls she’d formed around herself to allow someone who once tried to murder her mother and herself.
It was then that I started to think more of my loss, of what truly transpired. And it ripped me apart.
Until recently I refused to acknowledge my grief and honor my feelings. I hid behind anger. I chose to remember the time that she tried to burn the house down with my infant son and myself trapped in the attic, instead of facing the fact that there would be no more dramatic holiday outbursts because she died.
She wasn’t going to call me up ever again and scream into the phone in sobs and gasps that she loved me and it wasn’t fair that I didn’t love her back.
I simply refused to be a part of the grieving for her. I refused to accept that it was okay for me to grieve her loss. Because I didn’t feel like I deserved it.
When I accepted that she died, that I had a part in it, and that she was never coming back, I expected pain but what I got was relief.
Pain made me cold and indifferent.
I stood there through the name-calling, spitting, and vulgar threats. In ways, I was preparing myself for this day. When one day it would be over and perhaps in a few years I would actually wish that I could pick up the phone and call my Mom and hear her tell me about that crazy thing she’d heard on some weird-ass TV show.
Softly I’ve allowed myself to honor the grief that I deserve to feel the loss of not just my birth mother, but for someone monumental in my life. She carved out my jagged edges, toughened me to the world, taught me about mental illnesses and addiction.
Through this grief, I see that most of all I need to embrace forgiveness. To say not only to myself, but to the world that it is okay to grieve for the loss of a parent who spent YOUR life, not loving you as you deserve to be loved, but teaching you about hate and negativity.
It’s okay to grieve for that loss because it proves your humanity and kindness still exists.
There are moments that I feel the sadness wash over me, hot and cold at the same time. Anger and sadness mix together and it can’t be ignored.
Today was one of those days. For no reason at all, standing in my kitchen and planning my day, I felt the grief and pain pinch at the joy that I promised myself to be a part of. The pain cuts through me, and instead of pushing it aside and not honoring it for the sincerity, I allowed it to come front and center.
It’s truly okay to sometimes be a little sad.
She died. She died, and now I am more aware than ever that I have daily opportunities to show up, be present, and make each day better than the day before because I know how short this life is. I know that today I have a choice to live better, to eat better so that I don’t die at 62 of liver problems caused by a lifetime of abusing my body and giving in to the desires. I know that I have one more day to tell my children that I love them and no matter how frustrated they make me, that they are valued in my life.
That nightmare is over, and I have the right to wake up. I have the power to pause my day, to understand that I am going through something and to make peace with it. And then move forward.
I forgive her for not being the mother to me that I deserved to have. Then I thank her for being kind enough not to abort me and to allow me to have a life. I forgive her for scaring the hell out of me and making me cry myself to sleep under my bed when she would force her way back into our lives.
Forgiveness is part of the grieving process. And you are allowed to grieve someone you didn't love.