As much as my heart aches for a mother’s love, I breathe a sigh of relief that I’m no longer enmeshed in her web of manipulation and lies.
The last Thanksgiving I spent with my mother, we crowded around my dinner table and toasted each other with wine glasses full of sparkling cider. It was a warm, festive affair, just like every other Thanksgiving I’ve hosted for my family before or since. My mom brought salad, as she always did, and I rolled my eyes at the salad, like I always did, because who brings a salad to Thanksgiving dinner?
I don’t remember much about that Thanksgiving because I didn’t know it was the last one I would spend with my mother—I didn’t try to remember every detail because I thought there would be plenty more to celebrate together.
I didn’t lose my mother to death or disease. I lost my mother to what I can only label as relentless narcissism. Narcissism is perhaps a disease in its own right, but it’s also a choice. When I confronted my mother with her behavior and told her how much she was hurting me, how much she had always hurt me, she walked away. When given the choice between learning to build healthy boundaries and walking away from her only child, she chose the easy option.
My mother isn’t pining for me, and she certainly isn’t mourning my loss. She’s never reached out to me or tried to repair the damage in our relationship. She’s simply gone, with just as much finality as if she were dead. The only difference is that death wouldn’t be a choice. Death would be a relief—death would mean never having to confront the knowledge that my mother doesn’t love me again.
It’s been five years since my mother last sat at my Thanksgiving table, and I haven’t spoken to her in almost as many years. I hear of her occasionally, and it’s always a tale of bitterness or vengeance. As much as my heart aches for a mother’s love, I breathe a sigh of relief that I’m no longer enmeshed in her web of manipulation and lies.
I know all of the tips and tricks. I avoid gatherings where motherly love will be on display. I don’t watch movies or TV shows that focus on families during the holiday season. I go to therapy, I do my mindful breathing, I read my self-help books, and I do my fucking work. But no matter how much I do, there’s always a little girl trapped deep inside my chest screaming at my mother to love me. She used to ask why, and beg her to love her and vow to try harder, but she’s grown past that now. Now all that’s left of that little girl is the grief that tears my chest in two and threatens to consume me.
Doing the work is bullshit. It’s painful as hell, and sometimes I think it’s even more traumatic than the trauma that led me to therapy in the first place. But I do the work to be a healthier person and the mother my kids deserve. When I look at them, I can’t comprehend what would compel a mother to walk away from her kids, and it’s in those quiet moments that I know my mother is broken. She’s a coward who would rather turn her back on her child than do the painful, excruciating work of healing her own trauma.
There’s no comfort in understanding my mother. I have always understood my mother. She raised me to understand the pain and trauma of others, regardless of what it cost me. Understanding has never been my problem, unless it comes to boundaries and a healthy relationship dynamic. Those are still alien and strange to me, even after 38 years.
I used to rage and cry, and my grief felt new and fresh. I wanted my mother to change, to be someone she’s never been and never will be. I wanted her to tell me she was sorry, and to embrace me in her arms and never leave me. I put up boundaries to save myself, but I still wanted her to meet me halfway. It took me a year or two to stop hoping, somewhere deep down inside. It took me even longer to admit how much grief was still trapped inside my body.
It’s easy to be fine. It’s easy to say I don’t need my mother. It’s easy to say I’ve done what’s right for my family by cutting off ties with her. It’s easy to pretend the need for a mother’s love isn’t primal and all-consuming. I’m good at pretending, but part of doing the work is casting aside the pretense of fine for reality. Reality hurts, reality grieves, and reality isn’t always fine. Reality misses my mother, and reality never wants to see her again. Reality is messy and complicated, but it’s my truth. Even when I have nothing else, I have that much, and it’s more than she’s ever had.
I don’t regret my motherless Thanksgiving dinner this or any other year. I know I’ve made the right choices for myself and my family. But the little girl inside of me will never stop missing her mother, or the mother she never had, the mother who would love her as she deserved to be loved—on Thanksgiving, and every other day.