It’s an odd time in our history, and I’ve spent the past four months trying to put into words my own experience, but have found myself suffering from writer’s block. Every time I’ve sat down to write something, I’ve found myself unable to string sentences together.
I mentioned my mental gridlock to my dear friend Kelly, and she suggested something new: that I interview her about her own, much more tragic, current struggle. She thought it might help her to put her thoughts down, and it would give me the impetus to throw myself back into writing.
Our interview is not my typical spirituality-based discourse: instead, we are focused on grief. I have written about my own grief before, and perhaps grief is another facet of our soul’s experience, so I don’t believe it’s too far outside the realm of this blog. I have some other interviews that get back to my typical subject matter in the pipeline, but this interview really did get me back into the swing of things—I’m grateful to Kelly for that.
I’m grateful to Kelly for a lot of things. She’s the kind of friend that everyone needs but few have: a force of nature, fiercely loyal, and unflaggingly honest. She can be intimidating at times—she seems so put together and sure of herself that she must live on a different plane of existence—but she is the truest friend. She let me live with her for a month when I moved to Denver, and we had only met in person a few times—and this was after she connected me with her employer, revamped my resume, and provided me with information about how to move across the country. Kelly is funny, brilliant, and overall incredibly caring. She’s one of the few people who notices when I’m struggling with my own demons, and she’ll check in on me and invite me over when she can tell I need the company.
That’s why it’s been so hard to watch as she’s had her own dark period—you never want to watch someone you love experience a loss, especially when the loss is that of someone who chose to part with your friend. I’ve been with friends through breakups (and imagine at some point I will be with them through divorces, but I’ll hope not), and through the death of parents, but I’ve never had to watch a friend’s parent choose to exit their lives. As someone who is perhaps overly close with my own parents, I can’t imagine the pain this would bring. Even the strongest of us (as Kelly is) would break under this kind of suffering. So I’m glad we had a chance to talk about it and check in, and I’m glad to know Kelly is working on taking care of herself in a healthy way. But I’ll defer to her words to explain any further.
Interview 14: Kelly
“Sometimes it just strikes me, ‘Oh my gosh, my mom is not going to be at my wedding.'”
Me: Would you give me a thirty-second overview of what’s going on with you right now?
Kelly: So…I guess it really all started when I moved to Denver three years ago. My mom and I had been very very close my whole life. She was arguably my best friend, but moving to Denver was the first crack in our relationship, and I think she interpreted it as a betrayal that I would leave her. And so things had been tense for a while, and long story short we considered entering an investment property situation that just fell through, and it really all culminated in my mom ending our relationship. For several months over the summer I tried to repair it, and it all came to a head when I went home in September for my mom’s birthday, whereupon she announced that she would not be attending my wedding. And that was the last time I saw her. So now I’m in this weird limbo where I don’t have a relationship with my mom; my mom has, in short, rejected me, and it’s a really really weird place to be.
Me: Thank you. It’s definitely been hard to watch, as a friend, to see that, and I’m sure I still don’t even know everything you’re going through, so….let’s go over that. I’d like to know how you’ve been coping with going through this loss, when, as you’ve said, it’s a loss where the person is still alive. What have you personally been doing to try to get through it?
Kelly: I think—the first thing I did is I recognized that I needed to talk to someone professional. And so I did go to therapy, which at least affirmed that I was feeling grief in the right way; it affirmed that I was not wrong. I doubted myself through a lot of this. So that was helpful. I’ve also just sort of allowed myself to go through the stages of grief. There was denial, there was anger…I’m sort of approaching acceptance, I don’t know. And I’ve also leaned heavily on Will, my friends, and tried to be very open about it. You know, I don’t blast it on Facebook, but I try to let myself talk about it among my friends, and to talk about how I feel, or even joke about it, is sometimes an easy way to accept that it’s just a part of my life, and it’s not something I need to hide. I don’t bottle it up. But some days it catches up with me. I still have nightmares about confronting my mom or my mom confronting me. I have nightmares about friends or neighbors of my mom telling me I’m a bad daughter. So there’s definitely feelings of guilt still there. I still struggle with it.
Me: Do you find that you’re at all reflecting on your past and you’re rethinking the memories that you have? Or is it painful to look into your past? Or is it almost better?
Kelly: Maybe a little bit of all of that. Knowing what I know now about my mom and the true nature of what our relationship was, that it was not at all what I thought it was, definitely colors all my memories in a different way. I think the biggest thing was all the horses. I did competitive horseback riding and that was a huge thing that Mom and I did together, and I sort of see now that I don’t think it was even about me, I think it was about my mom wanting to do horses, and luckily I also enjoyed it too, and I wonder how that would have played out if I had not had an interest in horseback riding. And a lot of the things that she had done for me that maybe were more self-serving at the time—I don’t know, it definitely, yes, colors my memories in a different light. I do feel bitter about some things. It’s sometimes painful to look back and see what a fool I was, but…for lack of a better platitude, it is what it is.
“It’s something we take for granted that a mother loves her children unconditionally, that a child wouldn’t lose their mother this way…. Most people can’t fathom this kind of parent.”
Me: Well you can’t blame yourself, it’s your mom, and I think that’s a lot harder to go through this when it is your mom. I know that losing a parent in life is hard, and I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s a loss that’s a choice on someone’s part. How has your life changed? I’m sure your perspective has changed and maybe your activities have changed—what has that been like?
Kelly: I think the day-to-day rhythm of my life hasn’t changed at all, I’ve been pretty much independent here in Denver for a while. The things that have changed are the little things that I took for granted, especially going into my wedding in September. My mom’s not going to be there. A lot of the things we take for granted that a mom should do, Will’s mom or my stepmom have stepped in to help me with. And it’s a small wedding, it’s not a big deal, but it is kind of weird, and sometimes it just strikes me, “Oh my gosh, my mom is not going to be at my wedding.” Holidays—Christmas was hard, because that was our holiday. It really does at times feel like I have lost a parent. I mean, I have. Maybe the best way to describe it is—you know, [our mutual friend] lost her father around the same time that my mom ended our relationship. She lost her father, it was just this totally unexpected random horrible thing that happened, and her father passed. And she grieved her father deeply, just as I grieve my mother. But there is no way I would go to her and ask her, “Can we talk about our grief?” Even if I meant it to be sincere, it’s just not the same, to her. But it feels the same, to me. I have cried a lot. There have been many, many sad nights. Sometimes when I’m out about the town, I see something that strikes me and it feels like grief of loss. But there’s this cognitive dissonance of: she’s still alive, and there’s no way someone whose parent is not alive anymore—I couldn’t talk to that person about this.
Me: Yeah, I can see that. It’s not fair, necessarily, because there isn’t really a societal basis for grieving a parent that you’ve cut out of your life. That doesn’t exist. It’s almost not spoken about. It’s still a little bit taboo even.
Kelly: The taboo thing is interesting. It’s something we take for granted that a mother loves her children unconditionally, that a child wouldn’t lose their mother this way. I don’t talk about my mom with everybody, obviously, because one, it makes people uncomfortable, but two, most people can’t relate to this, when I try to describe it to them. Or they think that maybe it’s just my side of the story or maybe I’m not being 100% honest. Most people can’t fathom this kind of parent. So yeah, it’s a little taboo.
Me: To get into a bit of the emotional side—what have you been going through? I know you’ve had dark nights, but I think you’re really good at keeping it together, and so we don’t really see that. So, how are you doing? Really, how are you doing?
Kelly: Right now I’m doing pretty well. There have been some positive things that have come out of this: improved relationships with the rest of my family now that I no longer have this deeply controlling force in my relationship with my mom. And my friends—it’s a little bit liberating to look back and recognize what was going on. Obviously that’s a very thin silver lining. Most of what I feel is grief, grief at having lost a parent. There are also some more complex aspects to how I feel about it. The deep frustration over our unresolved conflict. My mom essentially walked away from an argument and left all of this in the air and it’s a little bit like losing someone with no closure. As someone who likes to solve problems, it’s very frustrating to me to have this ridiculous thing hanging in the air. There’s also this deep, deep well of sadness, seeing the path my mom is headed down. She has chosen this path that will not end well, and I feel very sad and helpless that there’s nothing I can do. I tend to be kind of a nurturing person and I want to fix things, and it drives me crazy to see this happening. So yeah, there’s a lot of complex emotions going on of grief and frustration and just hopelessness. It’s just a day-to-day process. I’ll go a couple of days and be fine, and then suddenly at night I’m drinking a hot cocoa and it hits into me and I start crying. Every day is a little bit better. Like you said, I tend to be a pretty level person, but I have to admit, sometimes it’s overwhelming.
Me: I think the tough thing for me, doing this interview, as your friend, is I hate hearing that, for you. But I’m also glad you have a support base.
Kelly: I do. I do.
Me: What does your picture of the future look like? How do you think you’ll handle everything?
Kelly: I think the immediate future, especially going into the wedding, I’m leaning heavily on my other family and Will’s family—especially to have Will’s family to fall into, because they are a remarkable unit, and they’re good people, and I have opened up about this to Will’s mom. Even if she doesn’t maybe understand all of it, she listens and that’s wonderful. Further down the road, it worries me. Eventually my mom will need help, and I don’t know who’s going to do it. I haven’t really addressed it yet, but at some point I’m going to have to figure out what I’m going to do if and when that happens. I don’t know. It’s just one of these bizarre things where—my mom could walk back into my life at any moment. I don’t think she will, I regard this as very permanent, and I’ve been trying very hard to let go of that hope, but that’s always lingering. At some point, I’m gonna have to deal with my mom. The whole thing’s very weird. There’s permanence to it, and there’s also uncertainty. The next year is fairly easy to deal with because I see how things are going to pan out, but looking further down the road I have no idea.
Me: Have there been any big takeaways, or big things that you’ve learned about yourself? Any things that have shifted in your perspective, because it is pretty monumental?
Kelly: Definitely. I think the realization that I—I don’t want to call myself a pawn or a tool—but I was not free for a very long time. And I think I knew it, on some level. My friend Stephanie once told me, she said, “Kelly, you enable your mom.” And that was years ago, that she said that. And I wasn’t mad at the time, because I knew she was right, but I don’t think I understood the full depth of it. So it’s been really eye-opening to me to understand that—how do I even describe it? I was maybe not my own person. I was trying to please someone who was never going to be fully pleased. I’ve learned that family is important, loyalty is important, but to a point. I need to do a better job of recognizing when something is toxic and finding the strength and the will to walk away. I don’t know that I would have ever walked away from my mom if she hadn’t made the decision for me. I ‘m still trying to learn about myself with my life separate from my mom. She was such a huge part of it. Many of the decisions that I made involved her. The move to Denver was monumental because it was the first thing I think I had ever really truly 100% done for myself. And there are going to be many more decisions like that in the future and I have a hard time with those. I guess it’s just that if there’s anything I’ve learned about myself it’s that this is probably the first time in my life where I am free to be myself and reject those things in my life that are hurtful to me. I haven’t got it figured out yet. (laughs) I’m only just beginning to understand it.
Me: It’s really hard when you’re in that kind of position to separate yourself from that relationship, but I think, you know, no better time than now to figure out who you are without it. So I think it’ll be good for you, in the long run.
Kelly: I think it’ll be good in the long run too. It’s still hard to see that, but I just have nothing but positivity in my future, and I have all these wonderful people in my life—my friends, all this other family—that I didn’t have the emotional energy to invest in because I was so loyal to someone else. I have a lot more freedom than I had before. It’s very very sad that this is what it took, but… we’ll see.