I am writing my story as I remember it and what is true for me.
While I share my struggles and grief, I acknowledge and do not want to discount that my daughter had an experience of me that has caused her to cut me out of her life. I was a practicing alcoholic during my daughter’s crucial adolescent and teenage years. My marriage at the time was full of lies and betrayals. I was angry. She was witness to my drunkenness, my anger, be it shouting, leaving the house abruptly or feeling the tension of my silence. This was traumatic for her. If I could heal her trauma I would.
I can not undo what I did. There are no excuses. There are explanations.
One of the gifts of isolation time during Covid has been time, time to write, time for online writing classes and time to read. Reading other memoir is a great teacher while writing my own memoir. The latest memoir I picked up, What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang is about mothers and daughters, family secrets and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us. I can’t put it down only stopping to re read and underline phrases.
Maya’s mother was a psychiatrist, her father had a temper and did not hold women in high regard.
“Against this backdrop, my mom’s stories provided a glimpse of an alternative universe where people aren’t worthless; they were simply misunderstood.”
This week, I was fortunate enough to have a small piece of writing published by Visible Magazine. A boost in the arm, knowing my writing is worthy of publishing. Maya’s quote worthless vs. being misunderstood struck a cord. I’d like to believe that if some understanding came to be, my family could heal. If grace ever presents itself for the opportunity to understand, I will surely welcome it. Meantime, I’ll accept what is and keep writing.
Here’s what I know, the rest I’m guessing at.
It’s been four and a half years since I have seen or heard from my daughter, fact.
She and I have struggled in our relationship since her teenage years. The struggle intensified when I divorced her step dad after an 11 year relationship. He was a good step dad. I stayed in the marriage longer than I should have because of that. He was a good man, but our marriage wasn’t. We both had a part in that. He and his infidelities, me choosing to stay with him in spite of that. Me drinking to deal, becoming angry, sometimes showing rage that my daughter unfortunately witnessed. It sucked for her. I have days of wishing hard for a redo or an opportunity for understanding and forgiveness.
I’ve read of relationships either strengthening or ending during this Covid time. In the beginning, I thought surely my daughter will want to connect, with all the fear this disease has evoked. Time passed, I got wind she was going through a divorce. As more time passed, the message was clear. She will not be reaching out. She has me blocked on all forms of communication. Covid will not be bringing us together. Nor will it be bringing me together with most of my family of origin. My sisters had a summer visit in the same town I lived in this summer. I didn’t hear from them. I learned on social media one sister has a new grandchild. The message is clear, for whatever reasons, some I am responsible for, divorcing, drinking and suicide attempt our family won’t be coming together. I suppose some things are unforgivable. Sometimes we are seen and defined by our worst actions.
I’m guessing, my family has deemed me crazy, unforgivable, toxic while the diagnosis of varying mental illnesses have certainly been tossed about amoung them. Since we don’t talk, I’m just guessing.
Some days, most days, I realize I have a pretty great life. I’m content really, living in a town I have loved since I discovered it. I’m healthy, have such dear friends, I’m pursuing creative outlets. I’m sober, I’m seeking, will never stop seeking and growing hopefully. I’m not pining to be in a relationship, nor do I feel I need another person to complete me or take care of me.
Some days I miss my daughter so badly, it kinda messes up the entire day. But those days are fewer and they will always happen. I am a mother. I miss my child.
As Dr. Joshua Coleman mentions in his talk here, I chose to feel the pain instead of avoiding it or pushing it away.
Thanks for reading a blog that started as a travel blog turned into a variety of blog posts, favorite shows, podcasts, writings, great places to donate, businesses to support, sometimes it’s sharing the journey of family estrangement. I feel it is an important topic to bring to light and discuss openly.
From Scientific America: “Family estrangement is one of my most requested topics from listeners and readers coping with the loss and isolation they feel when someone cuts family ties. In a way, the grief of family estrangement can be more painful—or at least more complicated—than the grief over a loved one who has died. When a family member voluntarily walks away, you may miss them and feel confused, ashamed, frustrated, and disappointed, especially if the hope of reunification is dashed.”
We all have individual rituals. If I miss my morning coffee ritual, which doesn’t happen often, my whole day is thrown off. I have a couple friend, who take a nap every afternoon for 15 minutes with the timer set. Another friend, does yoga daily. We now have the ritual of picking out the perfect face mask for the store outing. All of these help us feel grounded and add to our individuality.
Then there are the collective rituals; weddings, birthdays, bat mitzvahs, baby showers, graduations, baptisms, cheering on a sports team, dancing at a concert, Friday prayers and funerals to name a few. In participating in these, we bond, we are allowed to express emotions in socially acceptable ways. We can feel relief, inspired, connected and full of love sometimes during rituals. All these rituals will come back and certainly some new ones are being created at this moment. I’ve had a couple of 6 feet apart lunches outdoors with a friend. That’s a new one. Zoom conversations and workshops.
A few years ago, I became estranged from my daughter and grandchildren. It’s been a lonely grief process at times. Aside from my friends, who have held me, listened, and loved me. I certainly felt at a loss for an appropriate way to express my emotions at times. It’s not the kind of grief that is talked about often. Shame can be a hinderance. I was going to join a grief group once, however was told that since no one had died I couldn’t join in. Understandable, but where do I put this grief? It’s not the kind of loss that is talked about often. I feel for those who have lost a loved one to Covid19. I hear stories of virtual funerals. Meantime, they need a hug.
This poem from my collection: Snippets on Estrangement
I Need a Funeral
I need a funeral
Bring food and flowers
Cry with me
Tell stories of those we love
No one has died
But they are missing
May never be seen again
Photo credit, Fscott images, ritual gathering for sea turtle release.