Browsing Tag

mothers

Grief, Guest Posts

To Mom with Dementia

October 22, 2017
dementia

By Caroline Leavitt

You are alive but not alive. You, who used to try to know every single detail about me as if it were your own, don’t know who I am anymore. “Who?” you say. I try to get you to remember something, anything we can hang our relationship on. A song about a turkey sitting on a limb that you used to sing to me, but you don’t remember. “What turkey?” you say. “What song?” I ask about your boyfriend Walter. “Who?” you say.

“Tell me something,” I say desperately. You do. You tell me that you are going to take a streetcar and go home, that you have gone to a restaurant and gotten lunch for yourself, chicken and pie, that you are going to see your sister Teddy. I know streetcar is an old term and anyway, you never leave your room. I know that Teddy, your sister, has been dead for years.

You can’t hear me on the phone anymore. “What?” you say. And then, “Who is this?” The last time I came to visit you told me to leave after half an hour because my presence agitated you. I cried in the car and Jeff, my husband, took us out to dinner.

Oh, Mom.

The only way I can tell you what I need to is through writing now, to imagine how you might respond, how we might work our relationship out.

First, I want to talk to you about all the things you did for me because I want you to know, again and again, how I appreciated it, how I knew you did things that some other moms might not have. I want to talk about how when I was in second grade and I failed a test where all the questions were about Jesus and Mary, and you marched up to the principal and demanded they retract the F I received because I was Jewish and who gives a Jewish child a test about Christianity? You demanded an apology, too, which I got from my teacher, though after that, she never quite liked me again. I want to mention how in junior high when I was denied entrance into the National Junior Honor society, because I was Jewish, you went to the school board and fought for me, and even though they refused to give in, I felt your fierce love. We went shopping and then to eat and then to the movies and then for hot fudge sundaes and we laughed. Oh, how we laughed! I want to remember with you, how when my fiance died, you flew up from Boston at three in the morning. You sprawled on the bed with me and held me while I cried. There was the time, too, when I was critically ill, and you came to stay with us for over two months to help us.

You loved me. I know that. Maybe too much, because you didn’t like when I went off on my own. You didn’t approve of my choices. You hated that I moved to New York City. You despised my wild hair and how I dressed. (“You like that?” you’d say, your eyes gliding up and down my body.) You hated my boyfriends, except for my first husband. “If I were fifteen years younger, I’d take him away from you,” you told me, which stung. You were proud that I was a writer, yet you walked into the bookstore for my reading loudly announcing that no one would show up. Once, when I got a bad review, you went into a bookstore with that review in your hand and asked them if they would stock my book despite this terrible, terrible write-up.

It wasn’t until I was an adult with a husband and a son that I really got to know who you were, and I came to understand you, to feel a deep well of compassion. You were one of 8 kids, the runt of the litter. You grew up with a mother who didn’t really like you or try to understand you, who preferred your shining twin brother. You had buckteeth that your parents wouldn’t fix (You, at twenty, found a kind dentist who let you pay a little every month.). Your fiancé ditched you and you carried a torch for him forever, and you married my father on the rebound, a nasty brute who would punish you with silence, sometimes for weeks. It was the 1950s and you couldn’t divorce, not with two little girls. When I was seventeen, when I decided I couldn’t stand another silent vacation with you and my dad, I ran away from our cottage, and before I did, you shouted at my dad that if I didn’t come back, you would divorce him. He found me, hitching at the side of the road, and because he was crying, something I had never seen before, I came back. As soon as I came into the cottage, I saw your face, how you were packing. I saw you were disappointed, that I had ruined your chance at escape.

I wanted you to change. I begged you. But it wasn’t me who changed you. It was my dad dying. Your life opened up. You traveled! You seemed happy. You and my sister were close as sardines, which made you so, so happy, but I had my own life, and I know that hurt you because you told me so. I was so happy when you fell in love at 90! So happy that you had four years of bliss with Walter, and that when he fell and died, you already started dementia and never knew your one true love was gone, that even today, you are sure you still see him.  You made me realize there is always another chance.

Except for us.

I can’t yell at you for being so cruel sometimes and get you to understand. I can’t thank you for being so loving and make you feel good. We can’t come to any understanding about anything.  Not now.

I write about you. You were Bea in my first novel, Meeting Rozzy Halfway, the woman whose fiancé jilts her. You were Ava in Is This Tomorrow, the Jewish woman in a Christian neighborhood who fights back. And most wonderfully, you were Iris, in Cruel Beautiful World, the woman who falls in love in old age. You never recognized yourself in any of my novels, even after I told you. “That’s not me!” you said.

I know, at least some part of me knows that even if you didn’t have dementia, you probably would not hear this. You’d tell me what you always did, that I am selfish. That I am too independent for my own good, that we’ve always had this problem with me. That you were a much better mother than I ever was a daughter. And as always, I’d be silenced by you. I would know if I said one thing in my defense, you would shut me down again.

But I watch you vanishing. From me. From my sister. From yourself. I feel the tears and the rage boiling inside of me.  I remember when my dad died, I slept beside you and you woke in the night, holding me, crying, “I want him back!” even though you hated him.

Sometimes I hated you. I can admit that. But mostly I loved you. I really really loved you.

And I want you back.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times Bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow, and Cruel Beautiful World, as well as 8 other novels. She hopes there is a cure for dementia because love is fair and dementia is not.

 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, The Body, Young Voices

To the Moon and Back

October 9, 2017

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Hannah Guay

The day I decided to get a tattoo was rather spontaneous. The idea, of course, wasn’t. I had planned on getting one for almost two years before I finally went through with it. Some of you might be thinking, “Who let her do this, doesn’t someone have to sign for you?”

The answer is yes. My dad did.

Most parents might not do that, but after losing my mom, the decision was easy. I just needed a little help from my sister. Sunday morning I woke up around 10:30am and texted her. She called Freak Show Tattoo and made an appointment for 6pm. The rest of my day consisted of getting ready and sitting around impatiently until 6 o’clock. As soon as it seemed an appropriate time to leave, my dad and I piled into the car. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Airplanes

August 20, 2017
plane

By Billie Hinton

1961

I’m being held in the arms of someone while my mother and father board a plane. We’re on the tarmac and they walk away and up the steep steel stairway into what appears to be a black hole. I push away from the chest I’m held up against, straining to follow the two people I know best in this world. The stairs roll away and the black hole closes and the plane moves away, slow and then fast. The black hole opens up inside of me; everything I know slips into the distance with that plane. I stop pushing and cave in to the chest, allow myself to be held, hot tears soaking into fabric that does not smell like anything familiar.

1985

In his small office my therapist sits too close for comfort, my knees and his a few inches apart. I find solace in the large window that looks out to trees and flowering shrubs. The wash of light through blinds is an escape hatch. He asks for my earliest memory. I tell about watching my parents leave in an airplane. He asks if I felt comfort with the person I was left with and I tell him I don’t know who that person was. It seems unfathomable that my parents left me with a stranger. How did you calm yourself? he asks and I tell him, I didn’t. I still don’t.

1988

In the office of my therapist, I write the final check for the final therapy session. His office feels larger now. The check number is 2001 and he comments that it has been an odyssey. I am moving to Texas to attend graduate school in clinical social work, inconsolable at saying goodbye to a man who has sat across from me several times each week for several years, knees inches away, wearing Birkenstocks which at one point I mocked, but have come now to love. After I leave I meet friends for lunch, still bereft at the loss of my thrice-weekly sessions, tears sliding down my cheeks at random between bites of food. One gives me his wristwatch to wear while we sit in the sun with take-out containers and iced tea in plastic cups. Comfort. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Instructions

July 24, 2017
wait

By Meg Weber

I. Before

Wait for the elevator to open, the green one in the lobby of the hospital where she gave birth to you. Wait for the doors to close, buttons to light up, the soft rise of the lift and the faint ding of arrival. On the sixth floor, walk the sterile hallway to the same room she was in last time. Brace yourself to see her, frail and exhausted, curled up in her hospital bed.

Wait for her eyes to peek open just long enough to notice you before she returns to fitful sleep. Feel your veins pulse with more emotion than you want to swim through. Wait for her to wake up again or for the shift change. Wait until you can’t bear to wait anymore.

Turn your attention to the view: forested hills to the north, evergreens for miles. Watch cumulous clouds drift across the bluest blue sky. Notice contrast and light. Feel hope and despair. Take photos of the clouds to add to this week’s study of darkness and light strewn across the spring skies of Portland.

Send a photo of the slightest wisp of a cloud to the person who carries you through your grief. Tell her it reminds you of your last time together. Wait for her text reply. Hope that this one won’t be swallowed in the ether but will arrive like an arrow of compassion sent directly to your heart. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, No Bullshit Motherhood

Making it to the Other Side

July 2, 2017
daughter

By Heidi Fettig Parton

“I’m too old to camp at a festival,” I told my twenty-two year old daughter, Hannah, when she asked me to join her at the Eaux Claires music festival in Wisconsin. Besides, it wasn’t good timing. My six-year old, Josh, was recovering from his third, and most extensive, middle ear surgery. Since Josh had entered the world in 2009, I’d been declining or canceling invitations on account of his health issues, which stemmed from middle ear disease to sensory processing disorder. But here was Hannah, romantically unattached and career-focused, eager to spend time with me, the mother who’d fostered her love of music festivals.

After surviving the wreckage of my 2002 divorce, I’d decided to expose my children of that marriage, Hannah and Ethan, to experiences instead of things. We lived far differently than we had during my marriage to my ex-husband: we lived in a simple house; we read books instead of watching TV; we ate bulk legumes and rice from the food co-op. During the seven years between my first and second marriage, I spent any extra money on adventures. Hannah learned well. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, parenting

My Age of Fatherhood

June 28, 2017

By Vincent J. Fitzgerald

Parenthood was the furthest thing on my mind when you were thrust upon me, but I undertook the charge, and its grown-up responsibilities, because part of me desired to be a grown up. You were fragile, vulnerable, and needed me close. Fatherhood was the first time in my life someone needed me to survive, and although often confounded by its tasks, I adapted, and was saved from reckless games my peers played. I never looked back, fixed my eyes on you, and hoped your future bright.

Divorce darkened that future for a while, but I remained a steady presence during the death of our family. Infidelity and deception devastated you, and although you had grown some, you still needed my shoulder to provide your tears a place to land. The whole affair rocked you at peak suggestibility, and although my wounds were also deep, I ignored them to ensure I tended to yours.

You had been hospitalized for a million days during which I prayed for your return. The moment you felt the victory of verdure, we imploded, and I feared you would return to where people never smiled, and medicine was measured by voltage. It was more worry than could fit in me, but mine was a malleable mind, and it expanded to the point of burst synapse. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Photosynthesis

May 24, 2017
paralyzed

By Halle Murcek

I kept the aloe plant on top of the microwave, housed in a little ceramic pot painted with sunflowers, fine lines of yellow and orange, dots of brown and black so meticulous they could only be painted by hand.  The kitchen got just enough sunlight to feed our plant, our “love fern” as I jokingly called it, at first.  It was no coincidence to me that my own grandmother grew them as well as my boyfriend’s mother, both of which had such similar qualities it was uncanny: the need to nurture, a green thumb, an abundance of recipes, the best baked goods, always warm, soft and rich, a kitchen always emitting some kind of luxurious smell that would soon take over your palate.  Remedies of hearty homemade broths that simmer for hours, jars of dried tea leaves, baskets of fresh vegetables from a garden, bottles of lightly scented lotions and oils to always keep their skin as soft as half melted butter.  The need to nurture.

The fleshy green body of our plant was still young but already stealthy.  I liked to think having greenery around kept my lungs healthy, recycled the old stuff I inhaled and exhaled through the apartment.  I imagined oxygen swirling and undulating like the clouds on a weather map you saw on the news.

Nick would meander into the kitchen each morning, sleepy-eyed, bare chested and stunningly pale, stretching toward the light that came in bands through the blinds.  With his toothbrush in his mouth he would approach the pot and press his callused fingertips into the soil, black as the grit permanently imbedded beneath his short fingernails from working long ours over a grill, feeding it, tending it then scrubbing it clean. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

The Exploring Heart

April 30, 2017

By Debra Feiner-Coddington

Sometimes in the middle of my nights when everyone else is sleeping the beautiful things happen. In those quiet hours they always have. Nocturnal now, nocturnal forever, I pass as a day dweller because I don’t need much sleep. While everyone else breathes into their night I prowl through my house, my home, and find the simple things I miss during the hours when the sun shines and I’m too distracted to notice them. Too busy. At night when I am alone listening to the little noises: snores, the creaking of our wooden house responding to the change in the weather, I find them, little treasures waiting to be found; seen. With no distractions I become Ponce de Leon, Magellan. And my home is where I unearth discoveries.  The rippling glass of a jar holding trailmix on the counter; very old, my son Baylin unearthed it cleaning out the ramshackle mess of a storage shack. An apothecary jar. Mouth blown and hand made. The uneven glass makes me dream about whose hands made it, what they looked like, what’s been stored in it over the course of its life. What it can tell about its life before, and the stories about us it holds for the next pair of hands to fill it.

Baylin never seemed to care much about the trail mix I made for his dad who thrives on nuts and berries. But when it was time for his cross country drive to Burning Man, his last ever road trip Baylin asked, “Ma, do you mind if I take the trail mix with me?” Mind? Oh dear. Even then, when I thought he’d remain with us, when I thought we’d watch him marry and give us grandchildren, even then I was tickled that he liked my trail mix enough to want to take it on the road to feed him as he traveled. What mother complains about their children loving the food they prepare no matter how simple? Even trail mix. “Mind? No Baylin. Take it with you. I don’t mind.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image

Pale Pink Robe

April 16, 2017

By Anonymous

I have a pale pink silk robe hanging in my closet.  Every time I open the door, it makes me feel delicate and artful and foreign and adventurous. In life, I am better off in a gray zippered sweatshirt because of the coffee I dribble, the olive oil spatters that zap me when stir-frying onions, the mascara wiped on my sleeves from the night before. Once a week I put the silk on, feel chilly, and go back to the sweatshirt.

But, god, I love that robe.

I bought it at the Casbah on Sunset. The Casbah was my favorite place to write ten years ago. Everything was beautiful and curated and sheer and perfect and the coffee was strong and there was the sense that the owner didn’t treat the staff like garbage. It was a good place to be. A good place to write and get hopped up on caffeine and candied apricots and look at huaraches and baby T-shirts and Turkish towels I could not afford.

When I look at the robe in my closet now, I think of the day I got it. I was with two friends. I had stared at it during previous visits. The perfect, barely blushing pin-up, nippley shade of pink with a muted, red, woodblock pattern, a simple cut, sheer-ish, a belt. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Making Shit Happen, Politics

Born To Run

April 7, 2017
office

By Andrea Askowitz

My mom has spent her entire adult life volunteering for the Democratic Party. She’s also an artist and was also very active in the women’s movement. She was the president of the local chapter of National Organization for Women and the head of the Miami Women’s History Coalition. She campaigned for equal pay for equal work and worked so hard for the Equal Rights Amendment that I can still recite the language: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The amendment died in 1982. I was 14.

My brother and I grew up under women’s lib, which meant there were no distinctions between chores. There was setting the table and taking out the garbage. There were no boy colors or girl colors. I had a purple bicycle, my brother had yellow. There wasn’t even a distinction in clothes. My mom tells me that at three years old, I only wanted to wear my brother’s clothes, so in every picture from that era there I am in beige corduroys and a brown T-shirt that said, “Keep on Truckin’.”

My mom campaigned harder for Hillary Clinton than anyone I know. She campaigned harder than everyone I know, combined. She spends summers in New Hampshire and in the heat of June, July, August, and September, at 75 and with bad knees, she walked door-to-door. For Hillary’s win in New Hampshire, I credit my mom. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Surviving

Mother And Daughter: An (In)Complete History of (Almost) Suicide

March 12, 2017
suicide

CW: This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

By Amy Buchanan

One of my earliest memories is this: Sitting in the passenger seat of an old, beat-up blue Volkswagen, tracing a raindrop with my finger as it slides down the window and swallows up other raindrops along the way. My bare feet don’t yet touch the floor. I’m barely tall enough to see the gray world outside. My pajamas are twisted up, cutting a red line into my neck. My mother’s boyfriend opens the door and ponderously shoves a wastebasket full of my socks into the back seat. He is a bear of a man; I adore him, but he can be scary. This morning he is scary. Just sitting next to him brings anxious tears to my eyes.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to some people. You’re going to live with them now.” He forces the car in gear, and we begin to drive away.

“Where is my mom?” I cry, a keening sound too big for my small body.

“Who the hell knows. Probably going to the ocean to drown,” he looks at me. “She doesn’t want you anymore. Now shut it.” Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Grief, Guest Posts

Reframing: Making Peace With My Mother

March 3, 2017
mother

By Jill Goldberg

My mother died last month.

Seventeen years ago, after my first son was born, I broke off all contact. At any moment in time during the past seventeen years when I felt the longing for a mother, I reminded myself that I wasn’t actually missing my mother. I wasn’t missing what I once had; I was missing and wanting what I never had. And I knew that even if I’d remained and accepted the endless, degrading, shameful abuse from him, and the lack of affection and protection from her, I would still never have what I wanted. Not only would I never be safe, I would never be able to raise children who respected their mother or understood what a family should be. The cycle of violence had to be broken.

I was angry and hurt and disappointed in my mother, but I wasn’t trying to actively punish her. I just wanted out. Ever since I could remember, I’d been counting down the years until I could leave forever. But still, she was my mother. She had never been healthy, and I did want to know if she was still alive as time passed. I tried to maintain minimal contact with a few relatives who would keep me informed, but gradually I realized it was not going to work. It had to be all or nothing. Either no contact at all with any relatives, or full contact, because they didn’t know, or didn’t want to know, and couldn’t understand, the reasons behind my decision. In order to protect myself, and to protect my growing family, the choice had to be nothing instead of all. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

House of Mirrors

November 9, 2016

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Premala Matthen

“You’re just like me,” my mother tells me.

Sometimes, rarely, I see her face when I look in the mirror. But I am often asked— by friends, by classmates, by strangers on the street —if I was adopted. I know why they ask, but she pretends she doesn’t.

“Nobody can tell you’re not white,” she says to me. It feels like a lie. “Everyone thinks you’re southern Italian.”

The dissonance is paralyzing.

As an adult I read parenting books, even though I don’t have children. I am convinced that I need to re-parent myself, though I don’t know why. My breath catches when I read: a child needs a mother who is attuned to her. She needs a mirror, so she can see who she is.

Sometimes I see my face when I look at her. When I am four, I decide that I am a writer, and she helps me send my story to a publisher. She makes me feel like the rejection letter is just as exciting as a publication would have been. Real writers get rejected; I am a real writer now. I’m nine when my first poem is published. She makes me feel like the world has been enriched by my words. Continue Reading…

Fear, Guest Posts, Illness

Embracing Imperfection

November 4, 2016
hug

By Meg Pier

“If you have special circumstances, please tell us,” announced a sign at the registration table.

I felt a combination of relief and skepticism, an internal tug of war between hope I’d get what I came for–and certainty I wouldn’t.

“I’m sure everyone thinks their circumstances are special,” I babbled to the attendants. “But my mother is dying and things aren’t finished between us. I got here late but it wasn’t my fault. I really, really need a hug.

And I wanted it from no less than someone considered by millions to be a divine mother.

Hindu spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi is also known to her followers as “Amma,” or “Mother” in the Indian dialect of her native Kerala. Amma’s ministry is hugging people, which she considers a manifestation of her darshana, or divine vision. Through a series of world tours over the past three decades, the rotund guru has embraced more than 36 million people—roughly the same number of people who have seen the Rolling Stones in that time period.

When I had happened to hear that the mystic would be practically in my back yard in a few days, I thought, “What the hell.” As a lapsed Catholic who was struggling to believe in anything, I needed whatever help I could get.

My mother had been diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer that had claimed half of one of her lungs five years earlier. I loved my mother deeply but her frequent brushes with death had left me so exhausted, addled and angry that at times I felt about to spontaneously combust. Continue Reading…