Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer, Jeune mère et sa fille
“If you think something's happened quickly, you're looking at only a part of it.”
― Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay
I will have been seeing my therapist for three years in January and it wasn’t until this past week that I told her in detail how my mom died. As soon as we realized it, we laughed because we had turned over every other rock when it came to my relationship with my mom and yet we had never even looked at this door let alone opened it. It was our first time having a double length session because I felt like I needed time and space to stretch out and talk about things without feeling rushed and although I hadn’t really planned on talking about my mom, we did because everything seems to go back to her and the oldest wound of all. I told my therapist the whole story.
How my mom went downhill very suddenly and slowly all at once.
How I had watched her alcoholism make her sicker and sicker: autonomic issues and memory problems and seizures.
How her skin and eyes yellowed from the light olive it always was to something just not right.
How the last time I hugged her she was skin and bones, papery and barely there in my arms.
How she used to be strong and solid and would squeeze me so tight.
How no one in my family thought it was serious when she went to the hospital again because she had been so many times.
How I finally found out that this time was different and made it to Florida just in time to be the last person she could actually speak to before losing that ability.
How the next several weeks crawled by and I felt myself losing my mind as I waited for it to happen.
How I woke up just before the phone call from my abuela telling me my mom was dead and I already knew what she was going to say.
How I ran to the bathroom and threw up as soon as I hung up the phone, everything I’d been holding inside me emotionally finally leaving my body.
How I felt a pain and emptiness deep in my gut while also feeling the smallest sense of relief that my abuser was never going to hurt me again.
How I held onto this for a few hours until my dad called to tell me that my mom hadn’t actually died from complications of her alcoholism but from breast cancer.
My therapist stopped me here to ask if I was ok because I had tears streaming down my face; I hadn’t even realized I was crying as I talked about this. I mostly felt anger that I hadn’t been able to access on the day my mom died five years ago, a feeling I hardly let myself feel in fear of losing control. Now I felt it and sat with it along with my hurt and disappointment as I continued.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 right in the middle of my immigration process to move to Canada. She didn’t tell anyone except my stepmom (who was extremely close to my mom as well as my maternal grandparents); somehow she convinced my stepmom to not say anything until after her death. My mom explained that she wasn’t going to seek treatment because she had put people through too much with her mental illness and addiction and she no longer wanted to be a burden on her family and especially me; she didn’t want me to stay and take care of her instead of going to Canada to live my life because she felt she had taken so much from me already.
This was the essence of my mom and because of that this was our relationship: a strange version of The Gift of the Magi where she loved me so much that she wanted to give me everything she thought I could ever want without ever understanding what I actually wanted and needed. I could feel my therapist’s eyes on me after I said this and I was still as she finally spoke.
“Do you think that despite how bad it might be for your own mental health you’ve been choosing to try to save people because you didn’t get the choice to save your mom and you wanted to be able to have it end differently now?”
My therapist watched for my reaction. I could feel myself shaking as I took in what she said when she spoke again.
“What would you have chosen if you’d known?”
“I’d still have left.” I answered instantly from my gut and I knew it was true. She considered my answer.
“There are so many things we can trace to a source but for some reason we can’t quantify resilience,” she said. “People have the same and different experiences and backgrounds, suffer more or less than others, and some people just have an incredibly powerful urge and ability to survive. I’m not sure why but you’re here because you’re resilient.”
I took this in and thought about the reason I’d extended that day’s session, the feeling of needing help to process deep hurt and fear around a relationship. I thought about how many times in my life I’ve found it hard to leave, to let go of something or someone I couldn’t get through to; my ego and need to control and win keeping me pinned in place for far too long. I thought about how we reenact the same dynamic over and over again without knowing it, hoping against hope that this time, it will have a different result. Even when you don’t think there’s a choice, there is. Even when you love someone, you can love yourself more. Even when you think you can’t, you can.