Today, for the first time, I did. It was beautiful.
I spent more time on this earth without you than with you. When you died, almost 30 years ago, I was just a teenager.
I was staying in an awful boarding home in the french-speaking part of Switzerland where you and my third stepfather-in-spe had put me “so that she learns French“. Your then-fiancé thought that I was the cause of your drinking and your unhappiness, so he was eager to send me away.
And I while I hated the place I was at, I was eager to finally be away from home. Be away from you. I felt safe for the first time.
I clearly remember that morning when I was called out of French grammar class to go see the headmaster in his office. I thought: “What did I do wrong? Hopefully it’s nothing bad.“ I was scared.
All I wanted was to get good grades in order to—for once in my life—make you proud.
All I wanted was—for once in my life—to hear you say that I was enough for you.
Across from the headmaster, there sat sat your guy. And I knew something was awfully wrong. All your guy said was: “Your mother is dead.“
The look in his eyes betrayed his thoughts. “It is ALL your fault, you fucking brat.“
In this second, a million feelings happened all at once.
The initial one was a sense of tremendous relief. It felt as if a ton of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. Right on the heel of that relief came a paralyzing sense of guilt.
“I must not feel this way! What kind of a terrible daughter am I?”
And on the heel of that, shock.
But I wasn’t shocked because you had passed away. I was shocked because I feared that he would take me with him, that I would be made to leave the boarding home.
Out of fear and shock, I started crying. And I begged the headmaster to stay.
Soon after, your guy left – with a hateful look in his eyes.
And I remember hoping: “They are not married yet, they are not married yet, let this mean that he has no real power over me.“
That was the last time I cried about your death for almost 30 years.
During all this time, my heart was closed and my mind was quick to remind me of all the terrible things that happened…
Your unpredictability. Your drinking. Your belying everything to the outside world. Your blaming me for your unhappiness. Your shaming me for the way I looked. Your not feeding me properly. Your weighing me every morning. Your throwing food at me. Your exposing me for all of my mistakes in front of other people. Your way of falling asleep with your cigarette on and causing fires. Your punishing me for saving your life. Your threats to take your own life. Your utter disregard for my feelings. Your merciless expectations. Your not letting me be myself, let alone a kid.
Up until your death, I was sure that I wanted to leave this world. It was too much. It was much too much for me, Mama.
Living with you was killing me.
After your death, I felt relieved, finally free to live my life. I was determined not to ever be dependent of anyone ever again, and as my teacher Brené Brown says, I “armored up” to face life by myself.
That felt better—safer—than to trust anyone.
Up until a few years ago, I never knew that there were so many unprocessed feelings hidden in my subconscious.
All I wanted was NOT to become you!
So I made sure I never started drinking, I never had any violent relationships, I was (haha) “in control“ over the things in my life, and I surely didn’t think my low self-esteem, my terrible body image, my shame and my feelings of unworthiness were a problem. It was just normalcy for me. I was used to your voice, your diets. So I kept on doing that: Yelling at myself for mistakes, and trying to become thinner at all costs. I did that, thinking—still thinking—that I had to change in order to get a pass.
Only after all of that took a very dark turn and the walls I had put up around me started to crumble, it became clear that, at my core, I had been standing on sand all along.
It was only after my breakdown that I could finally start to feel and that I could start—ever so slowly—building a more solid foundation to stand on.
I am in the process of doing that. I’m starting to get to know me. I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my own skin. Progress is painfully slow, but I’m doing my best…—you know I always did.
And today, on Mother’s Day, I suddenly realized how much I miss you.
How much I would’ve wanted to get to know the REAL you, the you that was buried underneath all the issues you kept piling up on top of your wounded soul.
And as I cried, my heart started opening. In an instant, I just knew that even if you could never show me, you must have loved me.
Mama, if you’re out there somewhere, know that I love you, too.
You had the most amazing smile, and I’m grateful to be your daughter.