Tuesday, July 27, 2010

anything but nothing...

I just finished the novel Iodine by Haven Kimmel.  I liked it very much and at one point toward the end of the book, Kimmel writes about the interesting differences in relationships between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters.  She writes, “At some point a father is expected to say to his son, Here is the key to the kingdom, and hand it over.  But mothers?  They say, Here is the key to your catastrophe, and they keep it on their key ring as a sign, nestled among the spare change, the linty gum, and the used Kleenex at the bottom of their decaying bags.”
This comment about the dynamic between mothers and daughters struck me probably more deeply this week than it would have in the past.  This week my mother was put into an assisted living facility.  She is 65 years old and has some sort of dementia.  No one seems all that sure of her diagnoses, but she is no longer able to care for herself in the ways deemed fit for independent living. 
I live nine hours away from my mother.  I don’t have a particularly good relationship with her to begin with.  This week has been difficult because I don’t know what to feel.  At all…not a clue.  Kimmel’s fascinating commentary on the peculiar relationship between mothers and daughters has left me numb.  Silent.  Pondering.  As much as my mother and I released our connection years and years ago – maybe even at my birth? I still can’t seem to let go of the nagging feeling that she is indeed the woman who birthed me, so, I should feel something more about this situation. Right? 
I do feel sad.  Sad for her loss of freedom that she no doubt feels in this situation.  Sad for her that she is likely 20 years younger than most of the other residents at the facility.  Sad that I don’t know the right thing to say.  Sad that I don’t know if there is a right thing to say.  I feel sad that my hands are her hands, my face and my mannerisms are hers…I see bits of her when I look into any mirror.  I hear her voice when I speak.  But I am not my mother.  And other than those eerie characteristics, I feel nothing. 
I remember literally digging to the bottom of my mother’s purse as a child.  I can still smell the lingering scent of cinnamon gum.  I can still see the dust from old Kleenex surrounding everything in that space. I know this is not really what Kimmel meant, but I understand the message she is trying to convey in her writing.  Mothers have a way of letting go, but not.  Of wanting their girls to become women, but also to not stray too far from the example they were given.  This week I feel like I have to break away from the example I was given in order to see more clearly and to feel…something.


  1. Kate...don't know why I feel so compelled to write something here today. But I'm moved by your situation. First of all, I'm sorry that things have to be so difficult...for you and for your Mom.

    Can I offer a brief possible explanation about your "non-feelings"? It's obvious to me (as I continue to navigate through some emotionally challenging days of my own), that you are feeling "grief". Even though it seems like "numbness" is more accurate. I'm finding that we can survive the difficult things that unexpectedly crash into our lives because our brains sort of "shut down" emotionally for a period, until we can begin to process things over time.

    In many ways, you are dealing with a "death" of sorts...the death of a dream...of how things could have, or should have been all these years...of how the future relationship might have been in days to come.

    Short answer...don't force any emotions right now. They are all there in your heart...submerged for the time being. They will float to the surface in their own time, in their own way. And, like waves, they'll play out, and be replaced with new, sometimes radically different feelings. You'll work through them, day by day.

    Know that you have made powerful choices in your own life, to BE the kind of Mom to your girls, that you wished you had had. That is HUGE! I'll be praying for you, as you make your way through these difficult days ahead.

  2. Warren, you have such great perspective on things. I've been meaning to respond to this and mostly I just wanted to say thank you. I know what you have been through recently was - and continues to be - so difficult. Your quiet wisdom about these details of life is really inspirational for me. Again, thank you so much for your kind words.