You know that feeling you have in the middle of the night? The one where you’re laying in bed wide awake, your mind is busy and you can’t find a position that brings you any comfort or a quiet mind. Your tossing and turning in the quest to get comfortable seems like an endless struggle and you long for it to be over…eventually, you begin hoping for daylight. Then it happens. You move just a foot or maybe even an arm or perhaps just one hand….you might even simply adjust your pillow….and then with that one very small change your entire body, mind & spirt feels as if you’ve found “the spot”. Suddenly your entire body is comfortable, your mind gets quiet and you close your eyes and appreciate the new found comfort that finally allows you to drift off to sleep. That’s how I felt when my mother died. My Mother had suffered physically with heart failure for over 20 years. Emotionally, she suffered from a different type of heart failure that stemmed from an unbelievably horrific set of tragic accidents in 1943.
Living in Northern Michigan with her parents while my Dad was serving in WWII, their first child Donna, at only a year and nine months, was killed in a trucking accident. On that very same day, my Dad, on a tour of duty in France, was severely wounded. My mother was 8 months pregnant for my oldest brother and her world had come to a stop. In a different time, a different place there might have been resources to help her, but in this time and place she was told to “get on with it”….She had a new baby on the way and that baby was going to require her care. So she got on with it. Her life. My brother was born and months later my Father was released from a Military Hospital and came home…and she got on with it. Five years later she had another child, a boy. She had came to terms with her changed family….two boys…no girl. She got on with it. She wasn’t prepared for my surprise arrival some 13 years later. And to borrow a line from Carrie Bradshaw (Sex in the City), “she just wasn’t that into me”. We never really talked about it, we never talked about anything. Growing up, I never understood why she called me Donna…my name is Barbara. It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s and, when she called me by the wrong name…again, I couldn’t hold back….”I’m NOT Donna!” As soon as I heard that come out of my mouth I knew why we never had any sort of relationship, I suddenly knew why she wasn’t that into me. I wasn’t Donna. For most of my life, it was a constant struggle….one gesture after another to get her attention…getting her to acknowledge me. My mind always racing with how to escape her steely cold stare that made me so uncomfortable. Perpetually ready with an escape route for when she began her berating tirades. Eventually, I grew out of the quest for a maternal connection and realized, she just wasn’t like other moms. I thought once old enough to move out and live on my own, I would be free of her dismal view of me and anything I would set out to do. But it turns out the need for approval from our mother is strong… and it’s our illusion to think approval and love should come from the mother ship…especially when we haven’t yet been able to cross the street. It’s our experience that teaches us where to find the missing pieces. Her voice, still in my head continues to tell me; people just feel sorry for you, don’t believe the compliments you hear, … you are going to have to suffer if you ever want to be beautiful… you’ll never find a man to love you…and it’s sad you’ll never amount to anything. The list goes on, but we’ll stop there. These were the lessons my mother taught me. Given enough therapy, along with a hefty amount of research, I uncovered the root cause of her behavior. My mother had all the characteristics of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Did the tragedy in 1943 make her this way? Or was she already that way and the tragedy affected her in a different way. As little girls we look to our mothers to begin forming our own values and definition about who we are and when you’re raised by someone who believes you’re never “good enough”…You don’t know who you are, you just always think you should something else. So, on a bright August morning as I laid in bed not yet ready to get up and greet the day, and the phone rings (you always know it’s trouble when the phone rings before 10:00 am)….I see that it’s my brother, I know what he’s calling me for at the “too early to call anybody hour”….and he told me of my Mother’s passing. We chatted a short bit about how it was a blessing and she didn’t have to suffer any more. We didn’t even have a funeral for her – that’s another story for a different time. I sat there in bed waiting for some kind of emotion to hit me. I had anticipated this day for years. I imagined what I might feel…nothing or maybe something. I waited for some unexpected grief or regret to hit me and it never came. Suddenly, as I laid there in bed absorbing this new position I was in, I realized I was amazingly comfortable…my mind was, for the first time ever, quiet….and I felt an inner peace I had only, for 54 years, longed for. This time of year (Mother’s Day) has always been difficult for daughters like me. Hallmark Mothers aren’t always present in your life and you have to teach yourself how to set proper boundaries, how to have healthy relationships, and how to feel confident about your self. But today we don’t just “get on with it”, we get help, seek information, and try to do better than our mothers did. And that, as I look back (without anger) is the real lesson my mother taught me: Don’t just “get on with it”, get help with it! Related Post: Narcissist Mother? Ten Step Guide to Moving On
Update January 18, 2014:
For information on Narcissistic Personality Disorder, here are some of my favorites:
Dr. Karyl McBride’s Book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough“ available for download on iTunes