This is the second of three posts about being the daughter of a narcissistic mother. The first post is HERE.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A Play in Three Acts by Sarah O’Brien.
Act Two: The Bad
My mother died two years ago and she also died one month ago. It has been a very long and complicated goodbye because I had to do twice.
My mother died the first time due to vascular dementia. Although she didn’t really die, not for real. I suppose I mean that the mother I knew had died. My mom lost all recollection of me. She didn’t know who I was anymore and that’s kind of like dying.
Life Is Not Linear
Dementia is random, and I was at the mercy of what it left and what it took away. It was heart wrenching to witness pieces of her life get snuffed out. Every time I saw her, I tested her. Do you know your name? Where were you born? Do you know who I am? Eventually, the day came when she didn’t know me at all. I had to say goodbye to her, to us. What we had was gone. My mom died that day and in her place was a living effigy.
It took me a long time to accept that her memory loss was real and permanent. I struggled with letting it sink in because her vivacious lifestyle and subsequent memory loss didn’t make sense to me. She was so active physically and mentally and I wrongly assumed that there was a straight line between having an active brain and “keeping yer wits about ya.” It doesn’t always happen that way. Being mentally sharp does not mean that you get to stay mentally sharp until you die. The line was not straight, it was not linear at all. Dementia curved around and snuck up on us while we had our backs turned. And it surprised the Hell out of me.
The Unexpected Gifts
The relationship we had was gone, I was just a smiling person who looked like somebody that she used to know. Later, I came to view her dementia as a gift. She lost her memory of the past and her narcissistic personality disorder went with it. She couldn’t feel angry or insecure or depressed, because she couldn’t remember why. The verbal abuse stopped. A new personality emerged. This version of my Mom was sweet and charming. Version 2.0
I hired an agency that provided 24/7 care givers who would move into the house and take care of her. She lived a quiet and simple life and I felt good that all her meals were bringing prepared and served to her, she had help showering and getting dressed, and at the end of the night, she would get tucked into bed. Once a week, I would take her to lunch and we’d have outings at other times. She and I would watch The Great British Baking Show together. Sometimes we would be chatting about a recipe or laughing at the comedians on the show. For an instant I forgot that she didn’t know that it was me, her daughter sitting next to her. It felt good to have a moment that was sweet, because even though it wasn’t real, I held her hand and pretended it was. I pretended that she loved me. No matter how old you are, you can’t stop going back to that well of your mother’s love that you want to sip from. She was such a powerful force. Imagine what I could have been if she used her strength to lift me up instead of push me down.
One summer day, after the dementia had set in, my husband, Kerry, was mowing her lawn and she came outside to watch him from her deck. After a while she called out to him and she said “I don’t know who you are, but I know I am happy to see you.” Her brain didn’t connect who Kerry was, but her heart sure did. The heart knows even if the mind doesn’t. If you remember nothing else about this blog post, please remember that the heart knows.
Healing Is Not Linear
I knew it was coming. Despite all the turmoil and moments of absolutely vile parenting, I knew that her death would leave me conflicted. Even though she had Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it was something special to be along for the ride as we orbited the sun together. She made our life so interesting, because she was incredibly charismatic. My siblings and I got sucked up into her tornado and while there were many dark and twisty times, there were also many wonderful and magical times that she created for us. The healing is not linear. Every time that I think that I am okay, something happens. I hear a song on the car radio and I have to pull over and cry. Someone brings me flowers and I cry. Someone sends me a card that tells me that they understand me and I cry. Someone thanks me for sharing my story because they can relate to it and I cry.
When I feel myself slipping into the abyss of tears, I remember The Bad. Why am I crying for this woman? She is the one that sabotaged every single important day in my entire life. Any milestone that occurred in my life, and there are not that many, she purposely ruined. Every holiday, every special occasion, every success. It became predictable. It got so bad, that I started to plan around them. After one particularly horrible Mother’s Day which had me again in tears, I promised myself that I wouldn’t allow her to spoil them for me anymore. I also knew that not celebrating “her” would create havoc. So, I started planning a Mother’s Day celebration on the day before Mother’s Day. That way, I could have a beautiful Mother’s Day with my family without thinking about her at all. It worked brilliantly.
No matter how often I remember The Bad, The Good comes skipping along. There is a memory I have of my mother that keeps flashing in my head. We live in adjoining towns and every once in a while, we’d run into each other by coincidence. It didn’t happen that often. But on one warm and sunny day, I was driving along a road in her town and she drove by me in her car. It happened so quickly that I only got a glimpse of her before we passed each other. She never even noticed me. But that glimpse of her will stay with me. My mother was a beautiful woman and I think she was her most beautiful in her sixties and seventies. She was tall and slim, and her hair was cut into a stylish bob. As her hair became increasingly silver with age, it got silver in all the right places and it looked phenomenal. And you need to know that my mother never left her home without getting dressed. She was always put together, with a pretty ribbon in her hair and a swipe of lipstick of her lips. The fleeting vision that passed me that day was this absolute knock out of a woman, with her car windows down and the wind wafting her silver hair illuminated by the sun. But it was the expression on her face that is burned into my memory. She had a broad smile on her face and she must have been thinking about something good. She was driving and smiling to herself. She was in her own world at that moment, I like to think that she was thinking about her grandchildren.
She died the second time from smoking too many cigarettes for too many years. That time it was real. She died on April 9th, exactly one month ago. It felt unsettling that the one month anniversary of her death was on Mother’s Day. I thought about all her day. Yes, my friends, even in death she managed once again to ruin Mother’s Day for me. That was some wicked good planning Mom. Your coup de grâce. Well played.