Letters to my mother [1]

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has been keeping up with my blog. Your comments and feedback have been such an encouragement and I’m grateful for them. Keep them coming!

Today’s post is going to be a bit different.

One of the ways I have been trying to restore health and balance to my body is by coming to terms with the mental and emotional issues that have caused me to overeat in the past. This is probably the single most important part of my journey so far, so it seems only right that I share it with you.

My relationship with my mother is a complex one, and I’ve eluded to that fact in previous blogs. She died of pancreatic cancer back in 2013, so this whole process hasn’t exactly been easy.

I want to make it clear from the outset that I adore my mother. But she was by no means perfect, and writing this letter has been an altogether healing experience. I recommend it to anyone who has lost a loved one and still has some unresolved issues to work through.

I am still unsure whether or not to post it. As my husband pointed out, once it is out there, it is out there! If you’re reading this, then I took the plunge and hit ‘publish’. If there is one single person who is able to relate to part of my story and in doing so finds some of their own healing, then it will have been worth it.

[Trigger warning: this post contains references to child abuse, mental health disorders, bereavement, and a couple of narcissistic a***holes that some people might find upsetting]

Mãe (Mum)

You’ve been gone for over 7 years.  I can’t believe it has been that long.  My sons are twice the age that they were when you died. They are practically men now Mãe, and you’re missing it. 

I can’t believe you’re missing it. 

You would be proud of me right now.  Proud of what I am doing.  Proud of what I have become.  You’d be my biggest supporter.

That being said, you’d also be my harshest critic. 

Because things are never as simple as they are in fairytales.  Most of us are capable of being both the hero and the villain in our own story, and you were both of those to me.

You gave me life, you loved me, and you sacrificed almost everything for me.  You taught me to stand up for myself, to be strong and courageous. To fight back and to break the rules when the occasion called for it.  You were always honest with me and you taught me everything you knew.

But Mae, giving me life wasn’t enough.  You needed to be there for me emotionally as well as physically.  I am grateful for the way you provided and sacrificed for me, but that was kind of your job.  A home, food, clothes – there are all the absolute bare minimum a parent is expected to provide.  It didn’t excuse you from being there for me emotionally.  

You loved me Mãe 

You told me every day.  Sometimes more than once a day.  You used to hug me and squeeze me, and it would always be written all over your face.  But a mother’s love should be unconditional, and you didn’t understand what that meant let alone how to give it.

You taught me to stand up for myself and to fight back.  I guess you were determined not to raise a wallflower.  You wanted daughters who would stand up to the patriarchy and provide for themselves. 

But you went about it the wrong way.  You pushed me and picked on me.  You never took my side and you dismissed my feelings whenever they became too much to handle. 

I see now that you wanted to toughen me up.  But you didn’t make me strong Mãe, you broke me.  I had to pick up all the pieces and put myself back together again.  I made myself strong.

You never once lied to me

You taught me the importance of honesty and integrity.  To this day I cannot leave a restaurant if I have been undercharged.  I have to go back to the waitress and insist that she add the cost of the salad that she forgot to charge me for before I pay.  Who does that?

You taught me so much about life and how to be a good person.  You also taught me to always tell the truth, but you never taught me what to do when the truth hurts.  I had to learn that for myself. 

Because I know what it feels like to be told a painful truth by someone who loves you.  To be told that I will never be beautiful, but at least I’m intelligent.

[I know you thought you were complimenting me, but I’d rather no compliment than a backhanded one.]

You suffered so much in your own childhood

I don’t know how you survived.  Your own mother had her first psychotic break when you were so young.  Your father abandoned you.  You and your brothers were dumped in an orphanage.  At the age of 12 you were shipped off to a refugee camp and you became the sole carer to a mentally ill mother and two younger brothers.

You were bright but you never got a chance to finish you education.  You married young to escape your life, but your first husband abused you.  And yet you were brave enough to leave him and you found a way to rebuild your life. 

You were so brave Mãe. You were a rebel. A non-comformist. A rule-breaker. You taught me that I didn’t have to listen to what others told me to do, and I didn’t have to follow others either. That popularity was over-rated and that I needed to carve out my own path in life.

Look at how far you managed to come. I don’t know how you did it. By the time you moved to England you had a successful career.  You earned your own money.  You were able to buy your own place.

And then you met him

He was so very charming, wasn’t he Mãe?  He had all of under his spell for the longest time. That man charmed everyone he came in to contact with, as long as they served his purpose.  But that is what narcissists do, isn’t it?  And he was the king of narcissists.

After you died, he began to show his true colours.  He got nastier and nastier.  He was cold and cruel and terrifying.  It was only then that I realised that he had always been like that.  It was like the spell had been lifted and I could see things clearly for the first time in my life.

I look back and realise that it took you dying in order for me to wake up from a lifelong slumber. Maybe life is like a fairytale after all.

He was NOT a good man

I remember one time he was angry at me because I had eaten lots of junk food whilst you were away on holiday and we stayed at Mema’s house. He came to pick us up and weighed me straight away. I must have gained some weight over the holiday because I remember that he said something mean, and I stood up to him.

I regretted it. There was a moment when he had me on the floor and he was kicking me over and over again.  The door was locked and I was too small to defend myself, and the only thing I could do was cover my head and wait it out. I remember wondering if I was going to die in that moment.

A child should never have to worry about dying at the hand of their parent.

It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.  But it was definitely the scariest.  I am only beginning to understand why I was so devoted to him in spite of how he treated me. It’s complicated. I needed two years of counselling and I’m still only at the beginning.

Why did you adore him so much? 

Why did you tell us what a good father he was and how lucky we were to have him?   He was a terrible father.  He was cold and distant.  In spite of what others thought, he was not invested in either of us except when he wanted to be.  He was fickle and cruel, and we were terrified of him.

You should have walked away from him Mãe.  I wish you had walked away from him.  You came close on several occasions, but you didn’t do it. It was so unlike you. You were always so strong. At least I thought you were strong. I guess people are never quite what they seem on the outside.

You deserved someone better, Mãe. Someone who would love you and treasure you and help you to heal from all your old wounds.  Not someone who would manipulate you and use you as their scapegoat.

But I guess you didn’t know better, huh?

Because your father was a narcissist.  And your first husband was a narcissist.  And you didn’t understand that you deserved better. 

It’s the same old patterns repeating themselves over and over again.  A vicious cycle of low self-worth and emotional immaturity that gets passed down from mother to daughter throughout the generations.

But the cycle stopped with us

We learned how to love ourselves and the meaning of self-worth. It pains me to say it, but it took you dying to set us free. And you know what? I don’t think you’d have a problem with that. What mother wouldn’t choose to lay down their life for their child?

In spite of your failings, when all is said and done you were a good mother. And I have learned to be a good mother too. I am able to love my children unconditionally.  Our styles of parenting, however, are very very different. That is intentional on my part.

Whenever I am struggling with a particularly tricky situation with one of the kids, I ask myself ‘what would mum do?’ And then I do the opposite.

[See – the truth hurts sometimes doesn’t it?]

I married a good man

A wonderful man.  A man who has no issues at all whenever I step into the limelight and he is left in the shadows.  A man who loves me and respects me and who has helped me to heal from all my old wounds.  And I do the same for him too. We are a partnership. A team. We are best friends and we advocate for each other.

My daughter knows that she is beautiful AND intelligent.  She knows her self-worth.  I didn’t have to teach her either.  I had to role-model it to her.  You never really got to meet her Mãe, but man would you get a kick out of her.

Your grandchildren miss you

You weren’t always the best parent, but you were the best grandparent any kid could ask for.  I’m so sad that your time was cut short.  Every time I hear one of them play the piano, or we all get together for a family cuddle, my heart skips a beat for you. 

I know what you would be thinking if you were here right now.  How proud you would be.  How you would talk about it for hours and days afterwards to anyone who got within earshot.

God I miss you.  You may have played the part of the villain in my story from time-to-time but I would give anything to have you back in my life.  I’m sorry it has taken me so long to write.  I promise I will write again soon.


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9 thoughts on “Letters to my mother [1]”

  1. Fiona Redbridge

    What is it to be brave?

    Today this post has answered this question. You have always been open and honest about your journey and that is one of the things people love about your site and writing. Today you have gone further, stripped yourself bare, written about things that many experience but would never admit let alone publish on a public forum. This is the opposite of insta-fabulous and I love it. This is the sort of truth that brings healing and light to those that feel alone, crushed by their experiences and convinced they are alone. I hope it brought healing to your soul too!x

  2. This was such an emotional read. I salute you for writing and posting something so brave and beautiful. I know I am not the only one who can relate to these experiences you have shared and can become more aware of how our mental and physical health (and weight) has been affected by our past.

  3. I enjoyed reading your wonderfully honest and insightful writing. As doctors we are often privileged to hear our patients’ stories and I am humbled by what people go through. I was brought up in a loving household but children were definitely to be “seen and not heard” It’s frightening how easy it is to repeat the same mistakes in relationships- in doing that we are living in the role of victim. I was left wondering that if Childline had been around when you were being abused, would you have called?
    It’s vital to be heard

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this Claire and for reaching out and commenting. It means so much. I still cringe when I hear the word abused. Funny how we go to safeguarding training year after year and I have absolutely no issues recognising what is or is not abuse in others. But I still have a hard time relating any if it to myself. The honest answer is no, I wouldn’t have contacted childline. Because even though I knew at the time what was happening was wrong, it was all I ever knew. It was my normal. And there was no way I could even contemplate asking for help. I am still terrified of what he might do if he read my post and how he could hurt me. Ridiculous I know.
      I agree with you. It is vital to be heard. Thank you so much for listening.

  4. A very brave and thought provoking read, thank you for sharing more of your story. Certainly makes me reflect on my own childhood and parenting practice. Big hugs. x

    1. Thank you so much Lorna. Several people have reached out to me since reading it and told me how much they can relate. And it feels good to know I am not the only person out there with complex feelings towards a parent. I have no doubt that you are an excellent mother though. And you can quote me on that!

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