Forgiving my mom without forgetting the past
For the better part of my 20 years on earth, I have been troubled by my relationship with my mom. I don’t know why it’s been on my mind so much lately, perhaps because she recently moved out-of-state.
It made me sad when I would hear my friends talk about their relationships with their moms and how close they were. I always had a much better relationship with my dad. I felt — and sometimes still do feel — like I was missing out on this wonderful experience.
Last weekend I was looking through old photographs from a simpler time — when all I knew about my parents was that they loved me and I was the only thing in their lives.
Even as I write this, I look around my room at family photographs. It’s weird to think we used to be those people since things are so different now. Why didn’t I get along with my mom in the way that my friends got along with theirs? Hell, why didn’t I get along with my mom in the way my brother did?
Maybe it was because she was an alcoholic. Maybe it was because I was stubborn. Maybe it was because our personalities clashed. Maybe I’ll never know.
What I do know however, is that our mother-daughter story has not been a linear one. There are times when I cry at night for her and there were times when I never wanted to see her again.
When looking through those photographs, a last glimpse into a pre-completely digital age, one could not see the hurt and aguish that awaits the next decade.
After I turned 10, the photos taken of a smiling mother and daughter became fewer and fewer. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why and when that changed.
My parents divorced when I was in sixth grade. At first it was hard — all of my friends’ parents were splitting up at the time and I remember being so happy that my family was different. But we weren’t. I was too young to notice the cracks in their marriage. At 20, I know it was for the best. In fact, it was a good thing and I think my parents are both happier because of it.
Middle school as a whole was an interesting period of change in my mom and I’s relationship. I was going through puberty, so emotions ran high on everything. I remember always being so angry at her, sometimes justified, sometimes not. I think some of it was just teenage angst, but I also know that my feelings at the time were valid and should have been listened to more.
To put it simply, we didn’t get along. It got to the point where I seriously considered cutting my mom out of my life. At 13 years old. It was a toxic time, but I didn’t really want to do it — I wanted to have the same mother-daughter relationship all of my friends had.
When it was my mom’s turn to take my brother and I on the weekends, I would stay at my grandparents’ house because I couldn’t stand to see her. I know that hurt her. It hurt me too, but I didn’t have the ability to tell her exactly what I was feeling at the time.
So here I was — 13, angry at my mom, and trying to navigate through middle school. Then the diagnosis came. My mom had cancer.
Everything I was feeling before went out the window. Now, all I felt was guilt. Like somehow, I did this to my mom.
She was diagnosed with Stage I ovarian cancer in the fall of 2012. In the grand scheme of cancers, she was lucky. Doctors caught the cancer early, she had a hysterectomy, and then began chemotherapy. She lost her hair. She was sober. It wasn’t a good time, but I feel like we became closer.
And just like that, it was over. She went into remission (months later, of course) and things resumed to normal. Even the drinking. It’s not something she denies. I know her journey through addiction has been much different than mine.
A year later, my father, brother and I moved to Humble, outside of Houston. My mom didn’t move with us. We were used to seeing her every week, so it was hard. She’d come up every other weekend and kept talking about how everything will be much better when we move back to Beaumont. But I didn’t want to move back.
At that point, I had moved four times all around Beaumont. I was sick of packing and thought it was cruel of her to try and convince us to move back. For other reasons, Humble didn’t work out, so we did move back.
Our relationship has been pretty similar since. There are months when we get along perfectly and talk for hours, and there are months when the anger consumes and depresses me. I feel that we get along better when we don’t live together — we can take each other in small doses that way.
She moved to Georgia in May. I miss her a lot. There’s so much negativity in the world, I don’t want it to invade my life. I decided that I’m going to forgive her for past mistakes. I know she’s sorry, even if she hasn’t explicitly told me.
It’s the point in life where your grandparents and older relatives start getting sick and dying. I’ve been to more funerals in the last year than in the past five. I don’t ever want to feel the guilt I felt when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I don’t want to be mad anymore. It wears me out.
“Forgive and forget.” It’s an age-old mantra given as advice on how to move past troubling life events whether it be a broken promise, a crime, or a betrayal from someone you thought you could trust. But I think you can forgive without forgetting.
It’s important to have boundaries. It’s also important to remember that just because you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean that what they did wasn’t wrong. It just means that you don’t have to feel the burden of it anymore. Alcoholism is a family disease, and it can be easy to blame the alcoholic for ruining everything, and sometimes they deserve it.
My mom is a strong person — she’s lived a tough life. I’m not going to tell her story, but I will say that I understand why she reacts to things the way she does. I honestly can’t say I wouldn’t do the same. That doesn’t make it right, but, like most things, it isn’t black and white. It’s all gray area.
Forgive people when you feel ready to. Forgive yourself. Lift the weight off your chest — if you spend your life waiting for that to happen, it’ll be wasted.
So, mom, when you read this (because I know you will), just know, I forgive you and I love you.
Olivia Malick, UP editor