This letter is very personal, but to achieve some kind of closure I’m publishing it to the wide web. I need it to be known that my mother was not what she appeared to be. It may come across as nasty, something you just don’t do. You don’t speak ill of the dead. This is not for her benefit, it is for mine. I also hope that it may wake someone up out there that is following a similar course as my mother.
I cannot physically tell you how I feel anymore as you are no longer here. Even if you were; you probably wouldn’t be able to understand what I was saying considering how much brain damage you had, just before the end.
You made a lot of decisions in your life that greatly affected my life and I need you to know the consequences of your actions. You chose to marry a man that was an abusive alcoholic – you knew what he was like before you married him; the abusive relationship had begun before the marriage. You got on with him perfectly because you too were drinking every day. Even though he denied I was his child, you still demanded that he marry you. He finally did, and so continued your party life; going to bars, drinking and smoking while pregnant. You once got kicked in the stomach because you got dragged into a brawl outside a bar.
I was born one month premature, painfully small. I had to be airlifted by helicopter to the Johannesburg General Hospital as they had better neonatal facilities in order to save my life. My first month of life I was in an incubator, I wasn’t held by you until I was discharged.
At first you weren’t working, and since my father didn’t work either my care was in jeopardy. Child Welfare got involved and checked up on you until you got a job. You resented having to work, and you complained about it a great deal years later. “I worked for you for sixteen years!”
I’ll skip through the first few years of life with you – there was a great deal of my father beating you into a bloody pulp, a lot of screaming, fear, and broken furniture. I unfortunately can remember a great deal of it very clearly. My heart still races when I think about some of things that happened, and I still feel the fear of that little girl unable to defend herself or stop the horrors happening in front of her eyes. I was extremely shy, quiet to the point of uneasiness in other people. I only developed some social skills after I left high school; I had spent my childhood years copying other children because I didn’t know how to interact properly. My self-esteem was lower than zero,
The next part was high school, those years you tried at least three or four times to divorce my father and at the last moment would stop the proceedings. When I was 16 years old you did it again, it was a shock to me as you had told me ‘faithfully’ it was the very last time. Your promises didn’t mean anything, you still took him back. It was not as if you were dependent on him financially, you were the breadwinner.
That was when I drew the line, I assured you that as soon as I turned 18 I would leave home, and not return as I refused to continue living a life filled with fear and violence because of your choices. That declaration shook you and you went through with the divorce. To the last you held me responsible for it.
You treated me as adult sometimes and a needy child at others. I was your confidant, your ‘other’ spouse. You asked me for advice; I had to give you comfort, encouragement and strength after the beatings. I was too young to understand the distorted emotional dependence you had with him, the so-called ‘love’ that you professed for each other.
Somehow in your mind you decided that I wasn’t affected by the beatings you suffered or the fear in the house, the lack of basic necessities because most of your income was spent on alcohol. Even with the very clear evidence that drinking caused so many problems, you still enjoyed drinking. You and my father had a strange symbiotic relationship, feeding on each other. My existence was a cramp in your side, a reminder that you actually did have to show a semblance of responsibility to the outside world.
Much later I told you that while you were at work; my father gave me more hidings than were ever necessary for a little girl who played quietly by herself because she was virtually incapable of making friends. You professed complete ignorance of all these beatings, even though I remember you were there for some of them. Something I didn’t tell you was that my father took a few other liberties too, simply because he could, and I was too young to even realize what he was doing until I was much older.
When you were diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I dropped all my dreams and goals for my life and took care of you until the very last. I only arranged frail care for you when I physically could no longer lift you on to a toilet.
You were violently angry with me for placing you in frail care. No matter how much I tried to explain, you refused to understand. “You are leaving me here to rot and die” “You are just doing this so you can get married, you’re selfish!!” In your mind I had completely and utterly betrayed you. Funny I believe now that you betrayed me.
There wasn’t even a boyfriend on the horizon. So no - my reasons were not because I wanted to get married. My reasons were survival; I could no longer care for you as you needed, and I desperately needed to save myself.
Your last years were difficult and trying. You took every opportunity to remind me of the horror you were living through in frail care, despite the fact it was a really good place. I had done everything I possibly could to make you happy, to get your approval, to ‘earn’ your love, but the moment I put myself first I was selfish, ugly and nasty.
Since your death I have gone through a whirlwind of emotions, I have felt the loss of the mother I never had. I still struggle with my anger towards you, for the times you put yourself ahead of my own welfare. Did you simply not care about me? I wish this question didn’t haunt me, but it does, I desperately need to know.
Two years after you entered frail care I did get married, and instead of being happy for me, you were desperately upset that my attention would be taken away from you. You cried for three days when I told you I was engaged. My happy news just died in my mouth hearing your tearful response.
Since your death I have had a child, a beautiful and healthy baby boy. For the first time I understand the bond between mother and child. This understanding has opened my eyes to my relationship with you; I finally understand that all the arguments and beatings were not my fault. That if you really cared for me you would’ve moved heaven and earth to protect me, and since you didn’t, I have the answer to my question. You didn’t genuinely care for me. Your pain and your cares were more important than your own child.
For the first time, I’m okay with that. It’s good to be honest after all this time.
I was my mother’s primary caregiver for 8 years, starting at the age of 18.
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