On Grieving a Narcissistic Mother
I Googled “pissed-off grief.” Apparently, “professionals” find it to be “unhealthy.” But what if it’s all you got?
My mother died last night. I like the brutality of the word “died.” To say she “passed” implies that she’s merely lost in the neighborhood, having passed by my house because of…well, her fog of narcissistic preoccupation.
There. I said it. My mother did a great job of taking care of our physical needs, but she betrayed me when I was sexually abused by her adult cousin at a very young age. She pretended it hadn’t happened, leaving me to cope on my own. She told me years later that she knew it had happened, but that she had no regrets over how she had handled it. Her tone, when she said this, was airy and light. I might as well have asked if she liked some weird flavor of ice cream. When I rebelled as a teenager, at the age of 13 getting involved with a man at my high school I’ll call PsychoTeacher, I was blamed and scapegoated by my parents. I married this abusive specimen of manhood, and it took almost ten more years to extricate myself.
This morning, I feel nasty and mean. I will try not to inflict my mood on anyone today, but I really don’t want anyone telling me they have “sympathy for my loss.” They have no fucking idea. They can keep their damn Hallmarks.
Here’s the thing. I loved my mother. There were times, in her final years of dementia, when I’d visit her — with the gun of moral duty pressed to my temple — and I felt a strong energy of nurturing love flowing out of her. I wanted to become a child-sponge, soaking it up. I sometimes ventured to put my head on her arm, but warily, as if she might bite.
She loved me. But.
I long ago gave up hoping we might have a real conversation, one in which she shared something — anything! — of her inner life with me, but the finality of death has shredded the last vestiges of a hope I didn’t know I still felt.
Today, I thought of Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She writes about how rarely she and her brother saw their own mother when they were children. How they handled this makes perfect sense to me. They didn’t talk about her. They didn’t talk about her…