...so, we had a secret in our family. Well, lots of them, I guess, but one that I knew was touchy--iffy to talk about and really one of those events that happens in a family that once swept under the carpet, is not really talked about much.
My mother had four children. Only three are alive today.
Only three were ever really acknowledged; only three are thought of as her descendants. Even in a genealogy book my mother wrote, only three children are listed.
Before Matthew died, in honesty, that seemed pretty appropriate. I mean, she had three live births. She raised three of us as we lived and breathed. She took pictures of three of us. She reveled in the accomplishments of three of us. The three of us attended her funeral.
But there was a fourth. I am the oldest child and my sister is three years younger than I. When I was five, my mother went into labor at 39 and a half weeks. The baby she carried to full term died during delivery and my mother never got to see her or hold her. I don't really know the details of what happened, and as my mother is dead, I doubt I ever will. In asking my father, it's obvious that he's put on some kind of blinders to that whole time period--probably his way of dealing with his grief. My sister has told me that she had talked about what happened with my mom but it so greatly differs from what my dad 'remembers' that I'm just resigned to the fact that I'll never really know. I just know that my mom was devastated...HATED her doctor and often said her doctor killed her baby, and that it was some sort of cord incident (which is yet another reason I was always terrified about cord issues with Matthew) and she was never the same.
A lot of that, I believe, was because she was not allowed to grieve. At all. Angel was born still, and the doctor whisked her away from my mom and under direction from my dad and grandma (who felt it best my mother not see the baby), did not allow her to see or hold her daughter. Nor did my father or grandmother think it was in my mother's best interest to go to the funeral. I can recall one picture--with my dad looking anguished and aggravated by the camera in front of a casket.
In our family, Angel was more often known as 'that baby mom had who died.' Never talked about or acknowledged, and if so, always as 'that baby mom had who died.'
Yes, this obviously breaks my heart as I now realize what an unbelievably difficult situation my mother was in and with no help or support...and two little girls left living that needed to be raised.
Growing up, it was just accepted that we really didn't talk about her. Out of sight, out of mind. For my sister and me, and certainly for my brother, Angel wasn't even really real.
So, so, so not what my mother needed. I remember my mom taking my sister and me to the cemetery and taking pictures of us there in Babyland. I don't remember this happening more than once.
One of the very few conversations I remember having with my mom that involved Angel was so contentious and makes my heart just weep thinking about it right now.
As my mom was aware of the fact that she was dying, we one day were talking about her 'final wishes' and she told me that she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes spread over Angel's grave. This made me SO mad and I told her so...how could she DREAM of having her ashes spread over the grave of a dead baby when she had THREE living children...one of whom moved Heaven and Earth to try and please her and make her happy. How could she be SO disrespectful of us? Of me?
I'd give anything in the entire world to take those words back. I had no way of knowing how I was crushing her soul. She wanted that because her heart, still, 28 years later, grieved the loss of that precious baby--HER precious daughter and not *a* dead baby--and she FINALLY wanted to be able to be with her. It didn't mean she loved us any less...just showed how much she still loved her baby daughter.
I don't think my mother ever had any problems getting pregnant. Heck, NO one in my family ever had problems getting pregnant but me, and then in typical 'me' fashion, I have problems AND good. Two years after Angel was born still, my brother was born and I remember some of the mother I used to know coming back. She smiled more and laughed more and my mom and dad didn't argue as much.
Growing up, my brother was SPOILED ROTTEN. I'm talking REALLY spoiled...and it always drove me nuts. Not materialistically--but in treatment. He could do no wrong. Nothing was ever his fault. He was never, EVER made to take responsibility for anything and my mother hovered over him like nothing I've ever seen.
This childhood did not serve him well as an adult. Unfortunately, my brother has issues and demons that stem from not knowing what real consequences mean. To this day, he will still say stuff like, "It's not my fault my parents didn't raise me right." Many, many, MANY times did my sister and I have conversations with my mother about the need to show him 'tough love.'
She just couldn't do it.
The last words I had with my mother were angry. She had called me to ask me to borrow money. She said it was for her medicine (she was on a new type of chemo) but I knew the sound in her voice. It was yet.another.thing for my brother. After rifling through the details, the bottom line was that my brother's girlfriend had done something to land herself in jail and my mother needed to borrow the money to bail his girlfriend out because she was afraid HE'D do something crazy if his girlfriend had to stay in jail.
I had some hateful words. I've worked hard my entire life and could not believe that I was being asked to bail my punk brother's girlfriend out of jail. That she would try to use my love and concern for her to get money for HIM. WHEN WAS MY MOM GOING TO MAKE HIM TAKE RESPONSIBILITY AND LET THE REAL WORLD HAPPEN?
The conversation was heated, she started to slur her words and I told her I'd call her later when her medicine wasn't making it so hard to understand her.
She died that night.
My point in this story is that I never, ever could understand what drove her to let him get away with any and everything EVER, while I'd always had such stringent rules and responsibilities.
When Matthew died, I finally could.
My brother was her hope restored. Her miracle who lived. She could not FATHOM anything happening to him in any way, shape or fashion. She fought his battles like a mama bear and hovered over all of us in a way that the term 'helicopter parent' can't even come close to matching.
And while I still believe that my brother would have been far better off in his adult life if he'd ever had to have any real consequences growing up, I can completely and totally understand why my mother was like she was. Why she was "THAT" mom--the crazy one who would tear anyone apart if they threatened her children and fought every thing from the school system to various church groups to her own family members--including my dad.
Their relationship was never, ever the same after Angel died. I don't think her relationship with anyone was ever the same.
I understand so, so much more about my mother now. I am heartbroken that our family was not one where that sweet little baby sister was remembered and honored and counted as a 'true' family member. I feel like memories and stories I SHOULD have were stolen in the name of 'moving on' and 'not dwelling'.
My baby sister was a week and a half younger than her nephew was. Those lives MATTER. They count. And they are part of our family's story.
I of course am just devastated that it took something like what is my life right now for me to gain this perspective. I wish I had more compassion and understanding for my mother when she was alive--it was just not the way in our family. I can't tell you how often I long to have a conversation with her now...knowing she knows what my heart feels like and that we could grieve together.
And through this perspective, I have insight into what I do and don't want MY family story to be...Matthew will NEVER be 'that baby mom had who died' nor will his brother or sister be so smothered with my fear of danger or responsibility for him or her that he or she is not able to have failures in life and learn from them. I know myself well enough to know that I have the tendency to hover anyway, and those feelings are SO innate and strong right now with my sweet little one.
We learn so much from our parents. While I am just brokenhearted that my mother's suffering is so rich in lessons, I am grateful for the perspective.