Estranged Love

My mom died with whiskers on her chin. I noticed them as I sat with her body just over two hours after she passed.

White whiskers on her chin. If I needed proof, irrefutable evidence that I was a horrible daughter, that was it. What kind of daughter lets her mom die with facial hair?

As I sat there, holding her slowly cooling hand, rubbing her arms, touching her face and stroking her hair...I sobbed. I sobbed because of the whiskers and all that they symbolized, I sobbed for the lost years between us and I sobbed for what was and what could have been. The tears fell on her hospital bed and as they did I talked to her. I spoke to my mom's body in desperate hope that some part of her was still in there. Still listening, still able to hear a remorseful daughter beg for forgiveness.

Memories crawled out from the shadows and sat vigil with me. My mom, sitting in my bed and reading to me. My mom, letting me help sew sequins onto the felt Bucilla Wizard of Oz Christmas tree ornaments. My mom, letting me go barefoot and get dirty with the neighborhood kids. My mom, sitting patiently with a squirming little me, spraying No More Tangles on the rat's nests in my hair (I will never forget that metal comb, mommy).

The other, not-so-sweet memories? They were there too but not as big and bold as they have been before. My mom and her husband fighting. Every holiday dinner imploding in a mess of curse words and thrown dishes and slammed doors. My mom, standing silently while the man she left us for kicked and hit me, chasing me through the house, forcing me to hide under my bed.

I wanted to think only of the good but sometimes the bad demands to be heard. I shut my eyes, hard. Whispered to them to go away, for now. Please just go away and let me be with her and our good times.

Two years ago I made the awful decision to stop interacting with my mother. Seeing her, being with her...meant being with him. Seeing him. I'd tried to help her leave a few years prior. Went so far as involving the local police, in fact. That was when I learned that you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. I often wondered if he was hurting her, physically, but now I am seeing it was something different. She was as vulnerable as one can be, during her last years. Unable to walk, virtually imprisoned in what used to be my bedroom. Her world was reduced to four dirty walls, a small screeching television, her laptop and a phone.

Going over to see her became an exercise in restraint. Every fiber in my being called out for some kind of justice whenever I walked into that house. Justice for her, justice for the little girl who hid under her bed, justice for all of the daughters and mothers everywhere who didn't have the kind of relationship they wanted.

For two years there were phone calls that went unanswered, birthdays and Christmases and Mother's Days unacknowledged, days and hours and minutes of life that ticked away: a mother and a daughter caught in a sticky web of hurt and betrayal and anger.

When her health sharply declined a month ago, he left a message for me. Telling me that it didn't look good for my mom, that this might be it and I'd have to live with myself if I didn't go see her. Three of my four kids and I made the trip one night, to the hospital where they all took their first breaths and where my mom would ultimately take her last.

We gathered around her. I touched her shoulder and said "Mom, it's me. I have the kids here." Her eyes opened, and I saw a universe of sadness in them. Planets of pain, a solar system of a life dotted with injured stars. My mom's eyes. We looked at each other and the anger which had built a seemingly impenetrable wall around my heart slipped away. I told her then how sorry I was. I told her what a walking disaster I was and I begged her to forgive me.

I said to my mom, "Maybe we will get a second chance somewhere else and then we will get it right."

I said to my mom, "I love you, mom."

I said to my mom, "Please, please, please forgive me."

I promised my mom that I would love my children fiercely for the rest of my days and that I'd never, ever let anyone hurt them.

Those were the words I said to her again, to her body. The nurse who had been with her at the end sat with me, with us. She cried with me and she told me that my mom went peacefully and that she wasn't alone, that she and other nurses held her and talked to her as she left this place. This beautiful woman (Christy? Cindy?? Methodist Hospital ICU, 3 North, October 3rd) hugged me and told me she was sure my mom knew I loved her. I hugged the woman who helped my mom die and then I turned and kissed the forehead of the woman who was my mom. The woman who helped me live.

The night my mom died, my own daughter and I were on our way home from a Target run. As we drove down the highway I had a sudden, overwhelming urge to lay my head on my mother's lap. I could see it, in my mind, could feel the warmth of her hand on my hair...the softness of her body on my cheek. According to the angel nurse and her timeline of my mother's last hours, this sense of my mom hit me just as my mom began failing.

My grief-wracked heart is telling me this was my mom reaching out to me, letting me know it was okay. Telling me that she, too, held our sweet memories dear just as I did.

Maybe it was her, saying goodbye.

Nancy. 10/03/2016. I love you, mommy. And I'm so sorry.


  1. Jenny,
    ((HUGS))... First , I am glad you are blogging again.. maybe it took this for you to get back to it. I think you and I have similar family issues.. with our parents.. More so with our dad's.. I did not endure what you did with your step dad.. but I am not close to my step dad, which makes me less close to my mom, than in the past. I honestly, think, you can not hold any guilt.. you did all you could and when you got the call.. you were there for her, so put your mind ease. I am sure it's going to hit at different times for different reasons for awhile.. just know I am here for you anytime, day or night. And remember the happy memories.. they will get you through. All my love! Kelly

  2. Grief, oh grief. The wounding you carry in your heart and soul that feels like it will never lift. I sat with a grief counselor for a year after the unexpected death of my soon to be husband. Having someone who understood grief and all the ins and outs saved me. Complicated grief is what they called my grief, unresolved issues left behind that we never would resolve. This is what I hear when I read your words - a kind of complicated grief. Find someone you trust and let them lead you along your journey. It will help heal you, trust me on this one. My prayers are with you Jenny.

  3. So many tears....so much love.

  4. I'm sorry about your mother and sad for you that life with her happened the way it did. Here's my thoughts. Don't say sorry anymore. Relieve yourself of that burden. She made the choices early in your life that caused you to make the choice you did the last two years. You are blessed with wonderful memories that probably make you melancholy because you wish life had continued with all the good stuff. When the tide turned bad, she wasn't equipped with whatever it takes to stand up for yourself. In order to defend and protect her kids she'd have to be able to take care of herself first. "You do what you know." Maybe she was never taught how to do that. Maybe I'm way off base about that seeing as I don't really know your story other than what I just read. However, I believe it seems grief lies not so much in the death of a person and their sudden absence but more in the longing for a sweeter time.

  5. Sending you hugs and prayers. I know that your mother forgave you - just as you would forgive your child if in the same situation. I am so so sorry for your loss. Be good to yourself.

  6. Oh, boy. I have tears in my eyes. I could have written this. I didn't have a step-dad and no one chased me, but I too, estranged myself from my mom in her last 4-5 years. When you mentioned laying your head in her lap, I cried, as I used to do the same. Very well told story.

  7. My mother and I had a complicated relationship at the end. I did not see her in the 2 years before she died (on my eldest daughter's birthday). In my case, she put up the walls and kept us out. I have lingering guilt that I didn't try harder to break them down before it was too late.

    You have my condolences and all the hugs you need.

  8. Tears falling down my cheeks. I'm so sorry to hear you lost your mom. Life is hard some times. So many memories that I have coincide with this story. I had curly hair and my mom had that stupid metal comb and no patience for my rats nest... her hair is thin and straight... I remember sobbing as she pulled that comb through my hair. I no longer even brush mine btw. My mom stayed with my dad who was an angry alcoholic. Life was hard and he passed back in 1998 at a mere 59. He was much better to me once I married and had children. I'm sorry that your mom didn't protect you. Do not beat yourself up for the lack of relationship these past few years. You protected your babies. She made some bad choices obviously and you are still reeling from them. You did nothing wrong. She knows you loved her. She knows you were there. Praying that you have peace.

  9. Man, this post was the best kind of gut punch. I'm so very sorry you lost your mom and I give you a LOT of credit for having the courage and character to go see her at the end. I would've buried my head in the sand ostrich style.
    Also, I had to pretend I got an eyelash in my eye because my kids were like "why are you crying?"

  10. So very sorry for the loss of your mom. I can't say I know how you feel, as I have yet to lose a parent. I confidently believe that your mom loved you & knew you loved her. Peace in your heart & prayers for you, Jenny.

  11. I am so sorry about the loss of your mom. I cried when reading this - because you really, really can't help someone who doesn't want your assistance. I am struggling with that with my estranged husband who is spiraling downward with severe alcoholism - we have tried and tried to help and nothing works and it is AWFUL. I want our kids to know I did everything I could to save their dad but ultimately there is nothing left I can do. You are a strong, amazing woman and a huge source of inspiration to me right now.

  12. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  13. Reading this brought a lump in my throat as this could easily be a story and picture of my life with my mother. The only difference is 1. she is still alive and 2. the man she left us for, my brother and I, never hit us. We never lived with them but she did move out of the state with him and we were not aloud to go. Many years later I tried to reconnect with her but the woman I remembered as a child was only a shell. She was no longer the mommy I remembered from my childhood. She was bitter, hateful, and spiteful. I chose at the moment to no longer have contact with her. It's been over 14 years since I last saw her and hear her voice. I hope the memories of your childhood with the good mommy bring you peace and comfort. I'm hoping one day mind do too.

  14. I have followed you for so long and am only now catching up on this post. I'm so, so sorry for your pain and regret. I can relate to a degree in that I've always had a strained relationship with my mom and actually haven't spoken to her since my daughter was born (maybe you remember my IG posts in july about being overdue?!) since she got drunk instead of being able to stay with my son while I labored at the hospital. I have often wondered how I would feel if I found out she were terminal; I am clearly still stuck with the angered-and-hard heart of all of it. So I will say to you what I hope is true for me-- you are not a bad daughter for being a good mom. You should not have had to sacrifice or endanger your children in order to make her happy. I think it's possible for me and you to feel sorry for our moms and sad for them since they never really got it together the way they wanted, but that doesn't mean you could have fixed it for her or should have done anything differently. MAN I wish we could go out for coffee or drinks to discuss more. Sending you peace and love and laughter in the meantime.


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