37 years 6 months 13 days;
or 450 months 13 days;
or 1,958 weeks 2 days;
or 13,708 days;
or 328,992 hours;
or 19,739,529 minutes;
or 1,184,371,200 seconds…
That is my mother’s life in a nutshell. Until recently, I have refrained from any detailed discussion of her or her passing, in part because I held onto this overwhelmingly suffocating pain and in part because there was nothing to discuss. She was born, she was an alcoholic and then she died.
I have brief memories of her from the ages of two to three, glimpses really…nothing more until I was eight and she randomly stumbled in and out of my life as she randomly stumbled in and out of bars. At this point I had already accepted that my life was not meant for love or smiles or happiness. Instead, my sole purpose was to be surrounded by my floundering attempts to walk the path that appeared to be the least painful. The problem though, is that pain has a funny way of hiding…of tricking…and of always creeping into your life like an unwanted spider that somehow manages to weave the most intricately woven web right in the middle of the path you were meant to walk, while leaving the spider unseen. You can try to rid it from your life by tearing down every last piece, but there is always some remnant that catches you unguarded…and that pesky little spider is always lurking for the next opportunity to strike. You put forth your best effort, but you are always left defenseless. I was defenseless. So was she.
In spite of her ongoing love affair with drugs and alcohol, mainly alcohol, my mother somehow managed to stay in my life for a whole year and a half. Unfortunately, she also suffered from cirrhosis and severe depression. Although she was never formally diagnosed with depression by anyone other than me (and I am certainly no doctor), it was painfully obvious. At the time, I was young, naive and full of false hopes. I had hoped that she would love me. I had hoped that she would protect me. I had hoped that she would save me from this world and from myself. Unfortunately, she was the one who needed saving from the world, from herself and from this infestation of poisonous spiders that had clouded her path leaving her incapable of leading the life that she was meant lead.
After years of continuous let-downs, she became a severe alcoholic and during that year and a half that I knew her there was not a single day that she was not drinking or completely drunk. Upon moving in with her and her boyfriend we headed to the Cape where we spent a whole summer and fall being homeless while camping out until the State finally helped us to get an apartment. I remember her fighting with her boyfriend all the time about goodness knows what. I remember being terrified of the fights and hearing her scream for us to run to the neighbors to call the cops…so we did…and they came. I remember coming home from school and she would be passed out on the couch or the floor or my bed. She rarely ever woke up. Not when I hoped she would. Not when I needed her to. And I remember days on end when I would be stuck in the midst of my own webs of abuse while she was passed out right next to me. I always hoped that she would just wake up…that she would just see what was happening…that she would just put a stop to it…but that never happened. When she was awake, I always hoped that she would just be okay…that she would just pay attention to me…that she would just smile…but she never did. Instead, I am left with the memories of the progression of her diseases.
Cirrhosis…a horrific disease. Alcoholism…an equally horrific disease. Wrap those up in a pretty little package topped with a bow of depression and you have discovered the most lethal of spiders…the black widow…waiting for the next victim to be caught in its disgustingly terrifying web of pain that anyone could experience and that I had been forced to bear witness. Initially the alcoholism caused her to simply stumble around, slur her words, make a fool out of herself and ultimately pass out while the cirrhosis caused her to become a frequent flyer at the doctor’s office. Then things began to worsen. The more she drank the more depressed she became. I would watch her cry for hours on end as she became so consumed by this intoxicating web of alcoholism that she would tell me of the tragedies of her life and I would listen until she cried herself to sleep, because no one had listened to her before. Then I would cover her with a blanket while watching over and take care of her, because no one had taken care of her before.
I loved her. I thought I could help her. I thought I could save her. I was wrong.
Every day I accompanied her to the liquor store. Every day I sat there while she attempted to wash away the webs of her soul with all too frequent doses of blackberry flavored pain reliever. Every day I listened as she became a little sicker, leaving vomit and bloody remnants in the bathroom. Every day I watched as the seizures began to occur a little more often, her eyes became a little more distant and her skin became a little more yellow. Then I listened as the doctor told her she would die if she drank even a single drop and I accompanied her to the liquor store to watch as she ingested millions more because to her it was not a death sentence …instead, it was a long awaited promise for that peace she had so longed for.
Approximately six months or so before her passing we were removed from the home due to my own issues and she quickly went downhill. I am uncertain as to whether she would have gone down as quickly had we not been removed, but I have always held onto an immensely suffocating guilt that only added to my own struggles with depression. I did have the opportunity to see her on several occasions afterwards, but she was always intoxicated. Then it happened…that last memory…you never really know it will be your last. You spend the rest of your life unable to escape that picture and it has forever remained in my mind and my dreams.
It was January 1991. When we entered her home my eyes were immediately drawn to her. Not because I thought she looked beautiful like a daughter should be able to think of her mother, but because her skin was so yellow it was indescribable. I can only say how overwhelmed I was by absolute fear and I did not want to touch her because I believed I would do more harm than good, but I hugged her anyway because that was what she needed. The yellow had consumed her to the point that it was not only in her skin, it was in her eyes, her nails, her everything. I could even see when she spoke that her tongue was yellow and her stomach was so swollen she looked as though she were about to give birth at any moment…and the smell. It is a smell I will never forget. it was the smell of alcohol soaked sickness wrapped in death…or what I imagined it to smell like at the time. I saw the panicked look on my social worker’s face as she dialed a doctor’s office while my mother attempted to play it off by saying she thought she was pregnant, which I knew was a lie. At the same time, I once again did not want to upset her so I went along with it and let her believe that I believed her. I walked out the door that day fairly certain that I would never see her again and for once I was right…unfortunately. Apparently, she was admitted into the hospital that day where she remained until her passing. No one told me she was hospitalized. No one told me she was dying. No one took me to visit her. I recall the morning of her obituary. It was waiting on the table for me when I came up for breakfast while getting ready for school. Rather than eating that morning I left for school as though it were any other day, not mentioning it to anyone even though everyone already knew. Then I went to her funeral.
Until recently, I was incapable of grieving for I lacked any understanding. I lacked compassion. I lacked love. What I did not lack were questions of how this came to be. How was it be possible for a mother to fail so miserably? How wasd it be possible for a mother to choose alcohol over her child? How was it be possible for a mother to choose death while forcing her child to watch as it unfolded? These questions remained with me for years. In fact, I still have moments when I become stuck in some remnant of a web that I thought I had rid from my life so long ago. Only now I have the closest thing to answers that I will ever have, some through contemplation and others through my own experiences of being caught in the same webs of destruction.
The reason my mother failed so miserably is because life had failed her so miserably…failure was all that she knew. While she was “loved” by so many, no one loved her enough to step in and help. She did not choose alcohol or death over me because, by that point, she was so far gone that she had no other option…it was inevitable. Unfortunately, I only came to this realization by experiencing the same overwhelming sensation of these intricately woven webs of all consuming pain that I was left with no other option but to give up. So I did. I gave up on myself and I gave up on life. Little did I know, the remnants of this particular web were exactly what I needed for me to develop the deeply compassionate understanding I needed to accept her and where she stood in life…alone. I finally understood there is no way for you to move past the pain when you reach such a point of loneliness. You lack the ability to see anything good in life and any that you might see are not worthy reasons for you to continue. So mother was unaware that I watched it unfold, and if she was at all aware, she lacked the strength to use it as a reason to stay…I was not enough for her to stay…and that is okay…because I finally understand. I finally feel the pain she felt.
She taught me a lot about life…and she taught me equally as much about death. She forced me to learn to continue, to understand, and to love someone…more importantly, to recognize and love those who had never before been loved. Lastly, she taught me to forgive.
I can only be thankful that death’s web has brought her the peace that she so deserved in life and I wish her a happy Mother’s Day.