Sorry To Dissapoint You, But I Am Not My Mother!

“There is just one life for each of us:

Our own.”

[Euripides]

One of my stored away feelings in one of the many boxes hit home again last night: the feeling of freedom.

One of the things I have always considered both a grace of god and a curse is the striking similarity in looks between my mother and me.

We both have heart-shaped faces with soft brown eyes, brigitte-bardot-lips and thick, jet-black, silky, wavy hair (although I have recently started colouring mine a darker honey-shade blonde – which actually goes quite well with my fair skin).

Beyond the apparent similarity in features we also have (or so I have been told) similar mannerisms. I have a tendency of tilting my head slightly to the left in pictures (so does she), I have done ludicrous things to help others (her life was about being reckless for the sake of others), we have the same insecure half-smile when we are nervous and we treasure harmony more than anything else in the world.

Weirdly enough we also made some very identical choices in our lives and had some not-so-great things happen to us, that would probably happen to almost everybody making the choices we made, but still don’t happen to the average person.

I always treasured that. It felt like all those little tiny pieces came together as a singular stream of connection between me and the woman who gave birth to me and nourished me and raised me and who I still for the life of me can not remember.

Over the years, her friends have gotten in touch with me over Facebook, e-mails, via my father and my grandparents in the US. This too, I treasured. They were my rearview mirror that could show me images of the past I am not able to see with my own eyes. They could paint pictures of my mother that went beyond her life with my father and me, back to her childhood and youth and somehow that was comforting, making her more real to me.

I loved when people said how much I favoured her. It made me feel like my purpose was to keep her alive through me – not just as a memory or a genetic trait, but to actually relive and continue her life for her.

The last couple of days or maybe weeks, before my 30th birthday all this grace slowly started to turn sour. It started to feel less like a gift and more like a curse.

Her life ended after thirty years, how could mine continue? Where was I to go from here, without my steady compass of “This-is-the-road-she-travelled-before-me”? It felt like her steady ghost would abandon me at last and I would finally be left all alone.

This scared me. I wasn’t ready to face the world completely motherless. You see in my mind she was still always there, by my side watching me retread her steps.

I wasn’t sure, if I was capable of living my own life without her almost symbiotic presence. Which way should I turn when the path before me faltered and stopped?

The weird thing is the first thing I felt when I opened my eyes on october the 10th was not fear or loneliness or worries. It was the feeling of freedom. I felt like, for the first time since I could remember, I was breathing fresh air and filling my lunges with endless possibilities of my very own life. I wasn’t aware that I had waited for this moment for so long and that now, finally, it had arrived.

Nothing I would do and will do from this moment forward will have any connection to the life she lived, because her life simply didn’t go on beyond this point.

In all honesty, I will have to admit that this feeling of freedom did not remain pure and untinged for all too long. It was soon mixed with guilt about me feeling this way and a sense of disloyality towards the woman who had cared for me and loved me until the end.

I would like to say it helped that her friends got in touch with me that day and I suppose in a way it did, but not in the immediate way one would expect.

The general sentiment that was conveyed to me that day was that I should celebrate my birthday like no other and never falter because my mother could live on through me.

I understand that this was said to comfort me.

All it did, however, was make me furious!

I had given her thirty years of my life. Thirty years of living in her shadow. Thirty years of copying her. Thirty years of searching for as much of her as I could find, so that I could strive to become her.

Enough is enough.

I understand that losing my mother to her friends was a tragedy. She was charming, caring, witty, beautiful, creative and lovely. I understand that life without her will always lack the luster of her wild spirit and pearling laugh.

I also understand that she didn’t leave on october 10th 2011 when I decided to finally live my own life.

All of what she was ended on April 20th 1984. Her 30th birthday, not mine.

So, I’m sorry if this hurts you, but I just have to let you know:

“I am not my mother! I came from her and through her, but she doesn’t live on inside of me. All of what is inside of me is 100% me – don’t be fooled by appearances!”

From My Mother’s Lips

“Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”

[Unknown]

As the 10th of October draws closer with every day and with it my 30th birthday, I have experienced a turmoil of mixed emotions: Pain, sadness, grief, anger, confusion and helplessness. I can’t help but believe, that the passing of this day will mark the passing of these feelings.

Until then, as I am at loss for words, I feel it is only appropriate to let my mother speak. The following passage is taken from her diary, which she commenced in anticipation of my arrival.

May 31 1981

I’m sitting here in the midst of wild flowers, tall grass, surrounded by a deep forest, overhead a blue and white speckled sky.

I left your Daddy and our home for today with a most definite intention of being alone with you. I feel you inside me off and on all day long, and as you beat your hands and feet against me in outrage and protest begging for more room – breathing space, my stomach extends itself evermore in sympathy with you.

Anyways, this morning, after consuming a copious breakfast, the two of us left your dear father to play soccer and bounced of down the road looking for a utopic resting ground. All for the noise from the traffic below it is ideal – don’t you agree? And already two young deer danced before our eyes. Sometimes I’m amazed at how beautiful life can be. Your life to me is wonderful. Your father marvels at the beauty of you and tenderly caresses and kisses you. Do you feel him through all those protective layers?

I don’t know if you realize, that this is the first and the last time, that the two of us will so intimately be as one.

The field wherein we lie is full of multi-colored wild flowers and we lie here in all our blissful nakedness, so innocent, none would dare breath a discouraging word.

“Conditio Sine Qua Non” Or The Difference Between “Fault” And “Causality”

“It is not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”

[Douglas Adams]

Conditio sine qua non” roughly translates to “Condition without which the outcome would be different”. It’s the fundamental instrument in law to distinguish between the factual responsibility of a person and his legal responsibility.

Example:

  • Giving birth to a murderer makes you factually responsible for the murders he committed, because if you hadn’t given him life he would not have been able to take the life of another human being.= Causality
  • However giving life to a murderer does not make you legally responsible for his actions in the same way you would be if you had dropped a loaded gun into his hands, turned him to face the victim and told him to pull the trigger. = Fault

To distinguish between these two parts in a chain of cause and effect is essential, not just in front of a judge and jury in a courtroom, but especially in life.

The example I used to illustrate the difference is easy. Everybody regardless of their academic training would immediately agree the mother of a murderer can not be held responsible for the deeds of her child merely on account of her giving birth to him. Tragically, in life, the situations we are faced with are not always that clear and the distinction is not always that easy.

My mother died from drowning, suffocating. The water filled her lungs preventing the oxygen to enter. Failure of oxygen to pass through her blood caused her heart to stop beating. When your heart stops beating you die. It’s very simple. Cause and effect.

Now the reason my mother drowned was because she hit her head whilst taking a bath and became unconscious causing her head to sink below the water mark. Again very logical.

The reason for her to hit her head was that she had an epileptic seizure. No questions or hesitations here either.

All of the above are facts.

Another fact is, that my mother should have taken the subscribed medication to avoid seizures. Yet she didn’t. Also she had been known to have seizures mostly when she was in contact with water and she knew that. Furthermore the autopsy report stated that when I found my mother in the bathtub, dead, at the age of 2 1/2 and the paramedics were alerted she had already been dead for several hours.

This last bit is a rather new piece of information I acquired only recently, since the subject of my mother is one not lightly breached in our household and especially with my father. It’s not that he refuses to talk about her, it is simply that he doesn’t volunteer any information on his own and freezes out the conversation until it is changed. My father, too, is a lawyer. We are both trained in the art of answering without divulging information. The difference is he is more experienced and excellent in his profession. I am unfairly matched.

All of this aside, just looking at the facts, makes it so hard to distinguish between “fault” and “causality“. So why try? Maybe because I feel safe labeling situations. I am highly organized (some people have called me “monkish”) and I like defining and sorting emotions and storing them away in little boxes to open separately. Looking at certain things with your head instead of with your heart is a strong measure of protection. It avoids having to deal with an avalanche of emotions. It avoids relenting control to an unknown.

So I decipher my mother’s fatal day, her 30th birthday, logically and analytically, as I have been trained to do. That’s what I have been doing all my life. It’s easy for me to do that.

It’s easy for me to ask: “Why was my mother in a bathtub unsupervised for several hours when it was common knowledge that she was prone to seizures in the proximity of water?” ,when I know that the answer is: “Because she would allow no one to interfere with her decisions. Because she was headstrong to a fault. Because she hated being reminded of her condition.” Causality, not fault. You see, I have just exonerated everybody still living from the (main) responsibility.

This relieves of having to confront anger and emotions towards my father to the sort of “Why didn’t you take better care of your wife, my mother? Why didn’t you check on her earlier? Why didn’t you force her to have someone present when she showered or bathed? Why couldn’t you stop this from happening?” Fault not causality.

Also, asking why my mother chose not to take her medication vital to her survival without consulting a neurologist is easy because there too I know the answer. She did it because at that point in time the medication prescribed to her drugged her to a point where she was not able to focus on an active toddler. She did it to be able to be a mother for me every moment of the day. Again causality not fault.

This answer allows me to stray from questions like “Why didn’t you find a different solution? Why wouldn’t you consult your doctor first? Why didn’t you take better care of yourself so I could have a mother for more than the first 2 1/2 years of my life? Why didn’t you do everything you could to prevent abandoning me?” Fault not causality.

This approach has worked for me for the last 20 something years to a great extent. It has kept me functioning. It has kept me focused. It has enabled me to put my emotions in labeled boxes to store away in the darker corners on my mind.

Unfortunately, this only works so far and I have come to end of my rope. I realize now, that I have to ask question that won’t heed answers easily boxed away.

I won’t be able to distinguish between “fault” and “causality” that easily anymore. It is time for me to stop calming the logical adult in me with pre-labeled answers and start comforting the 2 1/2-year-old in me who does not understand logical analysis.

I feel it’s time to come to another step in this approach: to the raw emotional one. It’s time to start acknowledging the lost little girl inside me who desperately misses her mother. Who is angry at everybody for losing her. Who feels deprived of the experience of unconditional motherly love. Who is sad and lonely and confused.

I am not entirely sure how well this approach will work for me. I know the greatest challenge will be to not fall back onto my safety blanket of logic and analysis but actually allow the full range of emotions. This thought to me isn’t scary, it’s terrifying.

The one thing I have to remind myself that it’s going to be okay, is that there isn’t just the difference between “fault” and “causality”, but also between “owning a fault” and “being legally responsible”.

Maybe my father is responsible for what happened to some extent (my mother’s death and the impact it had on my further life)? Maybe he did make mistakes? Maybe he could have and should have done better? Maybe my mother was irresponsible? Maybe she could have prevented all of this? Maybe having my mother there would have made my life easier?

Even if the answer to all of this is “Yes”, that does not mean that they have committed a crime against me. I don’t have to ask logical questions to protect them from an unfavourable judgement from the little girl inside of me. They might be responsible, but they are not at fault.

Maybe they just made mistakes. Mistakes that lead to tragic accidents. The greatest of which being my mother’s untimely end. We are all human and accidents happen.

But it still sucks!