St. Paddy’s Day to Some   1 comment

On this evening seventeen  years ago, I sat across the table from my husband at Pepito’s restaurant in South Minneapolis and raised my glass of Stroh’s beer. “Here’s to Mom!” I announced, clinking my glass against my husband’s bottle of Dos Equis. I grimaced as I swallowed the beer. Stroh’s beer is not something I would normally order for myself, but it seemed like the thing to do that evening. It was my mother’s favorite beer, and she had quaffed quite a few Stroh’s cans and bottles in her day. She had passed away around noontime that day at the age of 73.

A few days later, we had a memorial service for her at the nursing home where she had been a resident for some years. I’m not sure what possessed me, but I felt compelled to get up and speak a few words about my mother. It was the last thing I felt up to doing that day, but prior to going into the nursing home for the service, I scratched some notes on a piece of paper in the car and decided what I was going to say.

I got up in front of a roomful of residents who had turned out for the affair, some in wheelchairs, some barely aware of their surroundings since Wyant Woods was a care facility for mentally incapacitated adults. I glanced at the handful of relatives who had shown up: my husband, of course, my uncle  and his wife, my cousin and his wife, my mom’s cousin and his wife. That was it. My two older half-brothers from one of Mom’s previous marriages were conspicuously absent.

I compared my mother to a frail flower, beautiful and delicate, unable to withstand the harsh forces of the world. I thought then, and I still do, and this is an apt analogy.

The blunt, harsh truth is that my mother was an abusive, self-destructive woman. She was an alcoholic, and a mean drunk at that. In the course of her life, her reckless behaviors contributed to the demise of six marriages and alienated all three of her children. Her alcoholism was at the root of her neurological, Alzheimer’s-like problems which led to her institutionalization just after her 60th birthday. She never recovered her cognitive functioning and spent the last thirteen years of her life in a distorted mish-mash of the past.

I don’t have a lot of warm fuzzy feelings about my mom. I remember the early years of my life being pretty much okay. She was a stay-at-home mom in those days before I started school and made my meals. She did the laundry. I was read some bedtime stories and had everything my heart desired from a material standpoint. However, I also remember being two-years-old and standing terrified in the corner of their bedroom late one night after our return from an evening at some friends’ house where much drinking was taking place. I was too young to know what had happened — perhaps Ernie and Mom had gotten “flirtatious” during the evening. Those things tended to happen with other men when my mom had been drinking. My dad was in a rage and punching my drunk mother in the face. I was screaming. I still remember what dress I was wearing that night — the little blue polka-dot one. I remember that my dad hit my mother in the face so hard that her screw-back earrings flew off. For the rest of my life, I couldn’t see those earrings in her jewelry box without remembering that night.

There were many other episodes like that throughout the remainder of my childhood and early adolescence.
No, no warm, fuzzy feelings there about hearth, home, dear old mom, and apple pie! That’s probably why I’m not a :::huggles::: 🙂 snuggly cuddles 🙂 {{{smooches}}} kind of person.

I went with my dad when they split up for the final time during my junior year in high school. My relationship with my mom was hanging on by a slender thread at that point, and as much as I needed a mom and wanted a mom to love and care for me, I just wanted her to leave me alone. I wanted to take care of myself and heal.

Make no mistake about it, though, I loved my mother. I don’t even want to try to describe the pain I felt when I was fully confronted with the miserable outcome of her life during the last months of her terminal illness. It felt like someone was ripping out my heart and trying to pull it out through my throat.

I think that there was a very beautiful person inside that woman who was lost in the darkness of mental and emotional illness and couldn’t find her way out. She grew up in an era where there was virtually no hope for people with such illnesses as bipolar disorder, clinical depression, schizophrenia, other issues related to emotional suffering and abuse. During much of that time, the best the medical profession could do was prescribe electroshock therapy if the patient was bad enough to be hospitalized. Later, women in particular were prescribed Librium and Valium by the boatload as a way to cope with a multitude of problems. Of course, it didn’t help anything. And people just didn’t seek mental health counseling years ago. There was a social stigma attached to that. “Seeing a psychiatrist” meant you were crazy! It was a last resort when things were as bad as they could get, after years of suffering.

I wish that things could have been different for her, that she had lived in a future time when better therapies can treat mental illness with good results, where seeking the help you need isn’t something to be ashamed of but a sign of strength. I wish that the beautiful, loving lady who lived in the dark recesses of her soul could have journeyed to the light of a bright, beautiful day. I wish that the demons inside her could have been laid to rest.

The demons were finally laid to rest seventeen years ago today, but they took the beautiful lady with them. I wish I had known that beautiful lady. I always knew she was there somewhere, watching the world with a furtive glance.

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One response to “St. Paddy’s Day to Some

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  1. Dear Bonnie,

    I’m so sorry I’m just now seeing this post. I haven’t been as active online since I started working again, as you know.

    As you also know, I can relate to your life experiences in many ways. I know that mere words won’t ease the pain, but please know that I am always here for you and I love you very much. ::huggles:: (whether you like it or not 😉 )

    Your BFF,
    Lottie

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