My mother would have been 60 years old today, if she had lived.
She had just turned 58 about a month before she died.
I find myself at something of a loss as to how I should mark the occasion. After all, turning 60 is a huge milestone and should be marked.
However, all I can ask myself is, if she were alive, how would I celebrate her 60th?
By doing nothing at all – that is the infinitely sorrowful answer.
I was never able to have a relationship with my mother whilst she lived. She was a deeply disturbed and unhappy soul, who shared her darkness and misery with all within her boundaries.
She was a contradiction though. For her darkness emanated before her, like a swirling soot cloud, yet she was a generous and determined person. She would give you the clothes off her back. She trusted too readily.
I think she knew how to love, but not what to do with it. If she loved me, I never felt it. People assure me of her feelings and as her child, I can only cling on to that primitive need to be wanted and loved by my mother. Ergo – I hope those people who tell me she loved me are correct.
I won’t apologise for publicly speaking about my fraught-at-best relationship and lack thereof with my mother. This is my opinion and my experience of her, no one else’s. I am simply grown up enough now to realise that there was a reason she was like the way she was and also that it was not my fault.
I have the small hope that maybe these words will be read by someone else in a similar position as me and feel comforted in knowing that they are not alone.
I have to be selfish though, I have to be able to say that I am not okay when in a toxic relationship. My contact with my mother simply extended my ability to remain and suffer within an unhappy and unpleasant relationship. This has had horrible consequences for me.
I survived physical and mental abuse at the hands of a former partner when I was a young woman and also remained ‘friends’ with people who treated me abysmally. That knack of surviving in brutal conditions meant that I survived every time I was exposed to them and endured it, which was wrong. I was never able to walk away when I should have and needed to. I had always been told everything was my fault and that I should just get on with it instead of complaining (even as far as being told I was a ‘difficult child’ so therefore it was all my fault I was treated how I was. As a mother, that just profoundly angers and upsets me. No child deserves to hear they are worthless, unwanted and unloved and it is all their fault).
Of course, that ability to survive has always helped me. I have been exposed to even greater and more terrifying conditions than those with my mother (such as losing my children) and I have made it through – somehow. In a way, it has made me stronger, just in a very unhealthy way.
I have no idea if, where she is now in the world beyond, she has come to her senses and now realises the scope and scale of the damage she did others. I have no idea if she now looks in on my life and feels a fool for not doing everything in the world to want to be part of that. All I am sure of though, is that she is safe, calm, happy and will never know suffering or illness again.
That is all my heart could ever want for her, I just wish she had known it in life. I just wish she could have been a part of my life.
So, as I reflect on the 60 years of her being around in one way or another, I cannot help but feel sad. Sad that there will only be quiet reflection on such an important day. Sad that the baby Catherine and John Smyth welcomed into the world on a cold and rainy day in January 1957 didn’t live for as long as they did and ended up in an early grave.
As I am often want to say: if it didn’t hurt, then you didn’t care. So, I feel sad and hurt because, no matter what, she is my mother and I love her. I just could not have her in my life because she caused so much pain and damage.
I know my kid sister, 16 at the time of my mother’s death and my older brother, both closer to her than I was, will find today difficult too and in their own ways.
So, instead of the more commonplace birthday salutation, I will simply wish her a peaceful, calm and warm birthday.