Losing A Parent Through Isolation, Not Death

Here’s the true story of how I started losing my mother, Ann, in late 2005/early 2006 and completely lost her in mid-2008, just as I was leaving the US to move to England. (Names and place names have been changed.)

I did not speak to my Dad for the majority of my junior year of undergrad (Aug 2004 – May 2005), as this was when the divorce was wrapping up (either the 11th or 13th December 2004 – it was close to Ann’s birthday – “the best 50th birthday present ever” in her words) and my Dad’s and my relationship hit a bit of a rocky patch and it was easier for me to just not speak to him so I could concentrate on myself at university.  Talking about it with him years later, he was devastated by this, but we have both agreed and reconciled that it needed to be that way at that time; thankfully, our relationship has remained strong ever since and it continues to strengthen.  I’m proud to call him my Dad.  He sacrificed a lot to make sure that my brother and I were never without; I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be able to express to him how grateful I am for all that he has done my whole life.

By the summer, I needed help with my computer, so I “extended the olive branch” and arranged to meet up with him after I was settled in my dorm room for the summer on campus for my summer job.  He came to work on my computer and we ended up having a long heart-to-heart, all-cards-on-the-table conversation.  I confronted him with several questions that had been bothering me for the last several years, which he openly answered.  After a quite difficult discussion, I felt like things had been sorted, but (understandably) I was going to approach things with caution because I didn’t want it all to blow up in my face again.  As such, I did not tell Ann straight away that he and I had reconciled because (knowing what she’s like) if it all blew up again and we fell out, she’d just go “well I could have told you that was going to happen”… she was very good at that.  So when I eventually told her that Dad and I were on good terms again (including that when I finished undergrad I was going to move in with him and Rita in the summer to commute to Uni for grad school), and needless to say, she did not take it very well.  Even though I explained that commuting from Suburbia (7.3 miles) made more sense than Smalltown (19.9 miles), especially in winter, she just saw that I had “switched alliance”, even though a child should never have to pick sides between their parents, no matter their age.

Over the two years of grad school, I barely saw or heard from Ann.  In my first year, I was living with Dad & Rita, interning in the city, and spent a lot of my time on campus or at a friend’s place writing papers late into the night.  By my second year, my course load was lightened a bit (thanks to doing two summer courses), I had moved to Littletown (less than a mile from where she worked at a supermarket) with a friend from the graduate programme and was interning at two schools in Biglittletown (i.e. much closer to Smalltown than Suburbia or the city).  Ann never once came to see my apartment, and when I showed up at the house in Smalltown one day when I finished my internship early, I was given the cold shoulder upon arrival, being told, “you know I don’t like cold-callers”… not realising that I had to make an appointment to visit the house I grew up in!!  She was pushing me away with both hands, despite me trying to maintain a link.

Ann has also succeeded at turning my only sibling, my brother Danny, against me as well.  Rita’s youngest daughter had messaged Danny on Facebook, which led to Danny blocking me on Facebook, because Ann convinced him that I was behind it all.  I realised that he blocked me and spotted him in the Student Union at my university (where I was finishing grad school and he was a freshman) – which wasn’t difficult as he’s over 6’5” with bright red hair – and he was not interested in hearing my side of the story… he said he’d unblock me but to this day, he still hasn’t… that was roughly April 2008.  So I ended up losing my only biological sibling before I lost Ann because of the poisoned thinking she had instilled in him.  Growing up, my Dad always reiterated to us both that we have to be each other’s best friends, as one day we may only have each other.  Funny, but Ann never echoed that sentiment.

I had to corner her at the supermarket one day to get her to sign a document for my UK passport – which was a declaration stating that both she and my Dad were legally married at the time of my conception and birth – but knowing what she’s like, I had to say it was for a work permit identity document rather than my passport, because if she knew it was for my passport, she would have refused to sign it – and I had far too much riding on it for her to mess it up for me at that point.  She would have flipped out also over the fact that my Dad informed me of his previous marriage – a detail which she forbade my brother and I ever being told – because I would have found out anyway when applying for my UK passport (needed to provide the Divorce Decree from his first marriage and the Marriage Certificate from his marriage to my mother).

The last conversation I ever had with Ann was on Sunday the 13th of July 2008.  I can’t remember the entire conversation, but the one aspect that rings in my head is her final statement to me: “have a nice life.”  No goodbye, no “I love you”, nothing.  Just “have a nice life.”  Talk about gut-wrenching and devastating to hear from your own mother – the woman who carried you and brought you into this world… who kissed and hugged you when you were crying inconsolably or painfully ill.  I was 23 when Ann disowned me, but today at 31 I’m still bearing the emotional scars.

I planned our wedding without my mother.  I didn’t get to go try on wedding dresses with her, or pick out a cake or anything with her, like most girls do when they’re about to get married.  I couldn’t invite her because I knew she would not have made the effort to travel to the UK, plus it would have been too difficult for my Dad (he’s been emotionally damaged by her too).  I’m eventually going to go through my first pregnancy without her to ring and complain about morning sickness or ask what her experiences were with me and my brother.  I will have to explain to our hypothetical children that they have a grandmother who lives in America, but that she doesn’t talk to their mummy so they won’t ever know her.  How is that going to make sense to them?  Will they fear that when they reach 23 years old that I’m going to stop talking to them too, like some sort of sick family tradition??

I had thought that she would have broken her silence towards me when my Grandpa was ill in hospital and ultimately passed away… nope, I had to find out through an email from my Auntie Pam (married into the family so no actual blood relation to me) that Grandpa was in hospital, and through a Facebook message from my aunt Theresa (Ann’s younger sister) that Grandpa had passed away in the night.  I cried for days and still cry when I think about him.  I couldn’t afford to fly back for his funeral, and even if I could, I doubt I would have been welcome thanks to Ann.  Earlier this year when my Grandma passed away, again I found out through another family member (my cousin Jean, Theresa’s eldest and closest in age to me) and not from Ann.  That pain from both of their passings cut me deeper than I could have imagined and reopened the old wound from 2008 that I thought had healed over.  THAT PAIN NEVER GOES AWAY.

When one actively chooses to write off one of their own children, it’s not over when you exchange those final words.  It’s like throwing a stone into a still pond; the ripples keep going on for ages before the water stills itself again… which will be after the culprit’s demise, no doubt.  This is worse than mourning a death, because you know that person is still alive and going on with their daily life, and you can’t help but wonder if you ever cross their mind like they cross yours every day.

I mourn the loss of the person that I thought my mother was.

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