Category Archives: Personal Posts

Mourning My Estranged Mother

Mom

I never wanted to write about grief. Grief is dark, lonely and destructive – it never gets easier, you just get stronger. But I’m writing this because I know I’m not alone. Others grief; we all do it in our own way.

In November 2017, my mother died of leukemia. Her death was unexpected and sudden. My mom and I had a strained relationship for many, many  years. From birth till age seven, my sister and I lived with our grandparents. We only saw our parents once a year. Growing up, my mom could be very cruel to me. Yes, we had good days. Days were she was just a “normal” mom. Loving, caring, and sweet. Then there were moments like my 16th birthday when she casually announced that my father (her ex husband) wasn’t  my “real” dad. “He may or may not be your dad,” she said. She simply wasn’t sure. Although my world stopped, she didn’t think this was a big deal. A few weeks later, she introduced me to my new “real” dad. I soon found out that I was nothing more but an inconvenience to him and his family. Eventually, he stopped coming or calling and I never saw him again. My mother who was hoping to rekindle their relationship was upset because it didn’t work out for her. Not once did she tell me she was sorry for what I had to go through. To this day, I still don’t know who my real father is.

This was just one incident. There were many others that left me shaken and unhappy.

The last time I saw my mom was August 2001. My daughters (then ages 6 and 4) and I flew to Germany to visit my mom and her new husband. She picked us up at the Frankfurt airport and drove us to their apartment, located just minutes outside of Heidelberg.  She was thrilled to have us there… but only on the first day. On the second day, my mom started to criticize everything I did or didn’t do. In her mind I was a disappointment: a bad mom, wife, and daughter. Although my girls were the most loving, gentle and sweet  kids, my mom was certain they needed to see a psychiatrist. I was devastated to hear such mean words from my own mother. At night, I laid next to my girls and cried myself to sleep. We traveled 14 hours on planes and cars, spent thousands of dollars, and this was all she could offer in return? I’m forever grateful that my girls didn’t speak German at that time. At least they couldn’t understand the hurtful words she threw at us. The next day, however, my mom acted as if nothing had happened.

My only highlight of this trip was seeing my sister and grandma. On my last day, my sister and I cried for hours. She and her husband were desperately trying for a baby. After many unsuccessful treatments, they considered adoption. They were very excited for the process to start. I was so happy for them because I knew they would make wonderful parents.  All I remember was my mom saying that it’s a bad idea because she could never love an adopted child. My sister and I bawled like a baby.

Countless times I wondered if my mom couldn’t stand to see us happy.

On our flight home to Los Angeles I swore I would never return to my mom’s house. I told myself that sometimes it is best to live your own life and go your own way. When 9/11 happened, three weeks after we returned,  I truly lost the desire to travel abroad. The world seemed like an uncertain place… I didn’t want to leave home.  Occasionally, we still talked on the phone and wrote letters to each other. She never once brought up our visit. In her mind, everything was fine. She didn’t do anything wrong. She never apologized for anything. Two years later, my son was born. My mom never expressed a desire to meet him.

In 2009, my mom and her husband visited my sister (she lived in Salzburg, Austria). One evening my sister called. She was in tears because mom “had lost it”. My mom yelled and accused my sister and her husband of being horrible hosts. She packed her bags and left. For my sister, this was the last straw. That night my sister told me should could not be around our mom anymore. The anger, the yelling, the toxic words… my sister didn’t want this in her life.

Around the same time, my mom stopped calling me. I continued to send her letters and photos of her grandchildren. Everything from birthdays, First Communion, graduations, soccer games, etc. – I never received a reply. Occasionally, she would send a Christmas card.

In October 2017, my sister called to let me know that our mom was in the hospital battling leukemia. My mom’s husband told my sister that “it wasn’t looking good”. I was shocked and numb. Half of me felt cold and vengeful, memories still vivid of things you shouldn’t say or do to your daughter. The other half wanted to be there for her, forgive everything and everyone. I wrote her a letter wishing her well.  I contacted the hospital in Heidelberg but they weren’t allowed to share any medical details with me. My mom and her husband didn’t own a cell phone. All the info I received came from my sister who was still able to communicate with my mom’s husband.

About a week later, my sister called my mom’s husband’s  home hoping to get more info on her condition. Surprisingly, my mom picked up the phone. After here first round of chemo, she was released from the hospital. For the first time in eight years, my sister and my mom talked. It turned out to be the most devastating conversation she has ever had with her. My mom wasn’t happy to hear from my sister. She was angry, rude and cruel. She accused me and my sister of being “horrible daughters” and said she never wants to see us again. She told my sister to never call again. My sister was sobbing but wished her the best.

A few days later, my mom was once again rushed to the hospital. In addition to having Leukemia, she suffered a heart attack. My sister, her husband and their adopted daughter decided to make the nine-hour drive to see her one last time.  My sister described to me the way she gently took mom’s hand assuring her that we love her. My mom looked at her and turned away. She didn’t say a single word the entire time my sister was there. She didn’t even care to acknowledge her grand-daughter. My sister said her final goodbyes.

The next day my mom’s sisters and brother came to visit her at the hospital. We were later told that mom was having “a good time with her siblings”. She was chatting away and laughing. Hearing this broke my sister’s and my heart in a million pieces. Our mom had dealt the final blow.

A then it was over. A few days later, my mom died in her sleep.

I didn’t visit my mom at the hospital nor was I at her funeral.  So I have been living with the feeling of being a “bad daughter”.  I believe these feelings complicated my grieving process. I thought because I didn’t have a relationship with my mom, that I wouldn’t have a need to grieve. Boy, was I wrong.

I never know when grief is going to hit me these days. It could be a song. It could be a photo. It could be a conversation I have with my sister. Sometimes I’m driving and grief hits me so hard that I have to pull over. I sob uncontrollably. I cry for what could have been. Grief comes in waves but the rhythm is unpredictable. Grief resides in my head.

Her death has left me with a lot of unfinished business, including unresolved arguments , unspoken words, unanswered questions, and undeclared love. I’m left hanging in mid-air, unable to complete my relationship with her. My only solace is knowing that my mom is no longer in pain. I try to focus on the happy times I shared with her. I visualize her pink lipstick. I can almost smell her favorite perfume: Chanel No 5. I choose to let go of my guilt and not dwell in regrets. I ask God for healing and forgiveness.

Even though my sister lives on a different continent, after our mom’s death we have become closer than ever. She even visited and I met my niece for the first time. I instantly fell in love with her.

Although losing a parent is a natural process, my mom’s death has forever changed me and how I look at the world. In an odd way it has made me a better parent. I want to make sure my children know how much they’re loved and when I’m gone, those memories, will be my legacy.

Mom, I love you. You are finally pain-free and at peace. When we meet again we will have that long overdue talk and we will find peace together.

 

Are You A Perennial?

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Move over millennials, there’s a new kid on the block : perennials – a new term to describe people with a no-age mindset.

The term was coined by US internet entrepreneur Gina Pell, 49, who explains, ‘Perennials are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, and are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded risk takers.’

Perennials, unlike millennials, is an ideal that ignores the notion that same age equals same interests… and companies should take notice.

As a 47-year-old mom of three (two adults, one teen), I like much of the same fashion and beauty products as my daughters. I wear skinny jeans with sneakers or flip-flops, jeans shorts, and even tank tops. I’m still the same size I was as a 20-year-old. Sometimes, we even borrow each other’s clothes.

That said, I’m under no illusion that I’m 21 and I don’t try to look like my college aged daughters. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. But I know I live very differently from the way my grandmother did at my age.  I also don’t feel middle-aged. In fact, I feel as young and vibrant as I ever have. I’m full of energy with a quest for fresh experiences. My friends range from age 24 to 75. I can have a meaningful conversation with any age group.

What has changed is that women (and men) my age and older no longer accept  being told what things “should” look like… and how we “should” act. We look and act the way we feel. We want to defy generational stereotypes.

In today’s landscape, classifying groups of people based on their year of birth is so limiting since people will age differently. Some may want to slow down at 40, others start a new career at age 50.

My daughters who are big fans of Electronic Dance Music festivals urge me to attend. They don’t care that I’m 20+ years older than most attendees. While I’m not a fan of electronic dance music, I think my kids are so cool for letting me into their world.

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The definition of perennial is something lasting or existing for a long  time; enduring or regenerating. But Gina Pell, founder of “The What,” wants to extend that definition to a new generation of consumers, one that surpasses the boundaries of age and continues to explore and learn.

Companies that only pay attention to millennials, create missed opportunities.  Instead of focusing all their marketing efforts on one age group, they should concentrate on others who may share the same interests, despite being outside the age-range.

Amazon and Netflix use algorithms to suggest new products based on past buying history and viewing habits versus customers’ age. Companies can benefit by measuring attitudes and interests instead of age and income.  It’s not always about how old people are or how much money they make: Companies should be more interested in how consumers think and feel.

As Gina Pell puts it, ‘Defining people by their birth year is so antiquated.’

Only One Handbag

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I recently had a conversation with co-worker who has a passion for handbags. She has lost count of the number of bags she’s collected over the years. She stores them in a big trunk and says she could open a shop.

Needless to say, my co-worker was shocked to learn that I only own one handbag. Yep, only ONE. I like to keep things to a minimal. Same goes for handbags. My mom was the same way. She used to own just one decent handbag at a time and wear it until it fell apart. I do the same. I wear the purses into the ground until they fall of my body and then get a new one.  Not every woman owns a closet’s (or trunk) worth of handbags.

Some would argue that two handbags are necessary. One for regular use, and one small clutch for “special” events like weddings, funerals, etc.  True, but I don’t go anywhere dressy enough for an “evening bag”.

Not only do I own just one handbag, but I like mine plain. I’m not a fan of buckles, chains, and other decor on my bag. Some of my earlier bags came from thrift stores. I carried them for years as they had plenty of life left in them.

Three months ago, my old purse fell apart ( I wore it for three years) and I replaced it with a simple brown handbag. Originally for Target ($40), I found it at Bargain Hunt for just $4.80. No, it’s not a designer bag, but it’s sturdy and practical, and I know I’ll be able to use it for several years. It’s large enough to hold my essentials, a water bottle, and my camera.

I know a lot of women love handbags and may even get addicted to buying them. I firmly believe  the prices of these handbags are often inflated because of the brand, but anyone willing to spend a few hundred or thousand dollars on a bag should be willing to make it worth its money. That said, I still don’t understand the obsession with expensive bags.  It’s a name you’re paying for! Same goes for shoes, dresses, or perhaps worst of all blue jeans.

Anyway, one bag is enough for me, much less complicated.

What about you? Could you or do you wear one bag until it dies?