Friday, May 8, 2009

Dear Mom...

Why do you hate me?

I once thought that question grew from that oppressed feeling a child-becoming-a-woman has for the most dominant and important woman in her world.

It did not. You really hate me.

I've asked many people that question over the last fifteen months. "Why do YOU think my mom hates me?"

J was the first to answer. I'm not sure I ever expected an answer, so when I got one, my world sort of imploded.

"I don't know why she hates you, Kari. If I had a daughter like you I would be SO happy. We would do all kinds of things together! I never understood your mom."

Even after that answer, I didn't stop asking that question. B had a different notion: "Kari, you are everything your mom could never be."

Know what I heard in both answers? Not the affirming things people said to me about the kind of person I have become, but the agreement with my original premise: I am a despised daughter.

Some people couldn't -- wouldn't? -- answer.

There were other graces though.

I was so sad the night Grandpa Stuart died. Most of my grandpa-grief was the pure kind; it's right to be sad when someone you love dies and you experience those but-I-really-want-him-HERE-with-me moments.

A tiny part of my grief was born of losing daily contact with the Dad's family. For the forty days of Grandpa's journey from life to death, I rested in the bosom of that loving tribe, no longer feeling like a daughter cast away.

The night Grandpa died, Auntie I encircled me with her arms. "I just want you to know," she said, "that I would be proud to be your mom." I wept as other Auntie arms rested around me. "I think we might fight over you," Auntie Z whispered in a broken voice.

At home that night I ironed my tears into the last shirt Grandpa will ever wear. I sought perfection in that shirt; not a single wrinkle would mar the fabric draped over Grandpa's body. No one would ever see it under his suit jacket and closed in the coffin. Yet it mattered to me that it be perfect.

It's always mattered to me to smooth out every wrinkle. I did it so often and so well that it is my nature.

I found a paper I wrote about Stoicism while studying Ethics with Dr. Anne Maloney circa 1989. Near the bottom of page four, a single paragraph captured my attention. It was about Joe's 1987 graduation from high school.

I have no recollection of his graduation, but I wrote about it in that assignment. When you returned from the bar that night, I asked why you weren't there. Do you remember me asking you? Do you remember screaming that you had a "RIGHT to CELEBRATE with FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!"? Do you remember using the telephone to hit me until I was curled in a ball at the top of the basement steps where our winter jackets spent the off-season? Did you know that I can't stand the slightly stale smell of no-longer-necessary winter jackets, but don't remember those blows on my body? My friend A was there that night and she remembers every blow. She remembers Grandma stopping you mid-blow. She remembers resting beside me and feeling my body tremble through that long night.

Grandma helped you many times when you were out of control. I remember calling her the night I found a butcher knife, a bottle of pills, and an empty bottle of wine. Can you hear my whispered plea to her: "Please. Help my mom, Grandma"? You were locked in your bedroom and wouldn't answer or open the door. Do you remember your rage when you stumbled out of your room to find Grandma there? If you could remember, would you understand why Grandma eventually wished for something so much better for Dad?

Dad suffered. Toward the end, before you disappeared, his skin was gray and he looked like an old man. He'd come to work in the morning with strange bruises and scrapes. One memorable morning he came with a fat lip. Do you remember how that happened? Do you remember him coming to get you from the bar and buckling you into your seatbelt? Do you remember sitting at the stoplights and him turning to check traffic to the left? Do you remember how you held your fist ready to hit him when he turned right? When you felt the contact with his face, were you satisfied?

When he called me from the Florida Keys during your last vacation together, I didn't know how to help. You were wandering the streets, playing hide-and-seek. You hid behind shrubbery and randomly appeared to scream at him. He called, asking me not to tell anyone else what was happening, but maybe just needing to hear a rational, sober voice. Do you remember your childish game? Do you remember the obscenities you screamed across the streets? Do you remember falling off the toilet in the bathroom and bruising your head so badly you had two black eyes for weeks? Do you remember telling me the truth and then telling your bar friends that Dad did it to you?

Other times it was different forms of... abuse, I guess. You'd lock him out of the house and I'd find him sleeping in the storage room at the office. I found notes taped to the windshield of his car or stabbed into the wood of the door with kitchen knives. One note you left on a folded sweater your friend gave you. The note said, "this is not mine" and was weighted to the sweater by another kitchen knife.

One night Dad and I returned from a meeting in the Cities and found you alone at a local bar with mounds of discarded pull tabs surrounding you. We brought you home where Joe would come get me. Dad and I sat watching the opening kick-off of Vikings pre-season.

Within minutes, I heard you slam your bedroom door. I heard muffled sounds of conversation and loud gasps. The door slammed open again and you stormed out to the living room, planting yourself in front of Dad. You were screaming and pulling your hair, your body bent and twisted with the force of your rage. You paced to your room and then repeated the scene a few times. You ran down the basement steps, throwing yourself into a tantrum worse than any I'd ever seen.

I asked Dad if we should do something and he shrugged.

"Is it like this often?" I asked.

"Every night."

You must have heard those mumbled words, the first I'd spoken. You flew up the steps and grabbed the chair cushion on both sides of my head and screamed, thick spit landing in gobs on my face. I have no idea what you said or why you were so angry. You went back in your room and locked the door again.

Noticing the score on the screen, I asked Dad what I missed.

He went away on business whenever he found a reason. One night he was getting a truck in Wisconsin and I stopped by your house to check on you. Eventually you let me in. You were ranting. You pushed me. I backed myself into the hall wall. The edge of your Precious Moments cupboard pressed against my cheek. I called my sister and you grabbed your cordless phone and started hitting yourself and screaming, "S, she's HURTING me! S, help me!" Remember looking at me with sly victory in your eyes, while I told my sister, "I'm nowhere near her..."?

I stopped letting my kids spend time at your house in the evening. One night Jake needed a place to stay while I played the piano, so Dad brought him to your house. I called Dad after performing at church. "Is Jake ready?" I asked.

"He's sleeping. Your mother called. Do you think you could pick her up at the American Legion on your way to get Jake?"

I did. Do you remember jumping out of the car at the stop sign and trying to race me home so you could get to Jakob first? Do you remember grabbing that poor, confused, half-asleep little boy and breathing your alcohol-laced breath on his face? Do you remember him wiping your saliva off his face after you slobbered wet kisses on him? Do you remember the look on his face?

You couldn't understand why I told my boys what was wrong with you: "I'm not keeping secrets. If you're doing something you don't want them to know, maybe you should stop."

You couldn't understand the boundaries I drew: "I don't want you calling my husband or I when you've been drinking. You can call if you need a ride, but we don't want to wake and listen to you ranting or screaming."

You couldn't understand why your disappearance a little more than a year ago didn't achieve the desired result or get you the attention you wanted.

I'm relieved to know Dad is free of the stress of his old life.

I'm thankful my boys still remember the "old grandma."

I'm free of constantly having to back away from your anger.

Your drunken rages still spill into my life. There are nights you call my boys in the middle of the night or during school to leave them drunken messages.

Other times you call me and whisper threats of some strange punishment waiting for me.

You lie about things I've done.

You lie about things I've not done.

You lie about the person I am.

And you know what?

I trust in the Word and hold fast to this promise: though a mother forsake her child, God will never, ever abandon me.

I give thanks every day for Joe and try to be the wife he deserves.

I mother my sons in every way you wouldn't mother me.

I cherish my friends and the depth of their love for me.

I encounter every person I meet with the belief that I have found a new friend.

I serve because I believe Jesus called us to be His hands and feet and not from any desire for praise or commendation.

I live in peace, free of the bitterness, envy, anger, and disappointment that fills your life.

I stand waiting with my arms outstretched, ready and willing to welcome you when you choose to be well.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.



  1. OMG Kari, I love you soooo much. It hurt when I read your letter to your Mom. I’ve known your Mom all of your life. Kari you are loved by her as much as she can right now and I believe that she doesn’t hate you, only that she sadly hates herself. She's like the old woman with Alzheimer’s who has forgotten who she and her children are. It hurts the adult child, but the woman is mentally ill. I can't imagine loosing a parent that way or the way you have. I too pray that God heals her and brings her back to you. Miracles do happen and God can do anything, but sometimes we humans, with our God given free will, mess it up. Even though she may resist any help, God can make good come out of it somehow. Keep praying and looking for the good to come out of her sad situation.

    You did learn some awesome things from your mom to become the awesome mom that you are! I knew your mom when we were teenagers and beyond. She had such a huge heart. She did tell of some mighty awful things that happened to her as a child, things about being abused and neglected. I studied the effects of neglect under author and instructor, Jean Illsley Clarke and learned about the 4 quadrants of the personality. Those who were neglected ended up in the “I’m not ok~you’re not ok” quadrant. They hate themselves and all others. They resist help or change. The other 3 quadrants are the ones others usually move around in…”I’m not ok~you’re ok” and “I’m ok~you’re not ok” to the healthy place of “I’m ok~You’re ok” and we try to stay there at least most of the time, but being co-dependent, we move around in the quadrants. We accept help, treatment, God, changes and we keep trying. Imagine an infant lying in a crib, crying because he’s hungry. No one feeds him. He’s neglected. He learns to not trust others and eventually that he’s not lovable. Someone comes up to him and starts hitting him. He learns to hate others and to hate himself. He’s not ok, others are not ok. He resists help, God, he becomes hateful & abusive.

    I wonder sometimes how God will judge those people that were less fortunate that us, mentally ill, brain damaged, born to abusive families, born in situations that forced them into hate and violence, born where they were ignorant to Christ, sick, died or killed before they were born again, any and all those things that caused them to deny or not to know Christ. I have to believe that God will be merciful to them. God is a loving and merciful God.

    I pray for your mom and that’s all that we can do right now. It’s all in God’s timing and when someone keeps resisting, I believe that God just keeps on trying until we make the right choices with our own free will.

    Kari, as I told you before, I would be proud to have you for my daughter. You are an amazing and an incredible woman, mother, daughter, niece, friend, and I could go on.
    I hope that you enjoy your Mother’s Day with your boys because you are a terrific MoM! IH

  2. Hey Kari,
    I just want you to know that everyone has a story to tell; when we peel back the outer layer. I am sure it was bitter/sweet to share on here, but I also know it is apart of your own maturing and healing process. I always knew that Gordy was a special man who suffered much in silence. I have always been able to see the loyalty you have given to him, and your committed love to Joe and your sons. I believe that every family has dysfunction, and the true maturing is how we learn to respond and take the wounds of yesterday and turn them into flaws that facilitate bettering ourselves and hopefully learn soon enough to make an impact on our own offspring. You were there as a beacon for my wife and relatives because of your own shedding of an outward physical layer. I will always be grateful to you for your presence and inspiration!!!! But even more than this you are losing baggage on the inside in telling and shedding the weight of your life in such a moment of telling. It tells alot about you and the great daughter,wife and mommy you have become.

    Joe has a great wifey who is the greatest trophy he has ever won and treasure.

    The greatest thing that you have done here is to reveal the reason of strength that keeps you alive and well and moving forward loving, living and laughing at His feet.... "...when I am weak,..than am I strong.." II cor

    Ted Happy mommy's day!!!!


  3. Thank you both for your comments. It was therapeutic to write it and I think healthy to share it. Alcoholism so often thrives because people keep secrets and hide behaviors. I wonder if someday someone will stumble across it who needs to read those words at that moment -- and then needs to read your thoughts and comments. I hope so.

    I AM loved by the most amazing and wonderful people, and I am so very thankful I am.

  4. Kari---I read this a couple of days ago and havne't been able to comment until now. Words will never express both the hurt and respect I feel for you.
    On the one hand, I am so sorry that this is your story, but on the other I now that it was pivitol in becoming the woman you are now.
    I cannot attempt to put into words what I feel for you, but I know that you know that God's love is with you always and will carry you through times like these if you let Him....

  5. I fell in LOVE with a song, "He Will Carry Me" by Mark Schultz.

    In the refrain he sings, "And even though I'm walkin' through the valley of the shadow, I will hold tight to the hand of Him whose love will comfort me. And when all hope is gone and I've been wounded in the battle, He is all the strength that I will ever need. He will carry me."

    Mr. Schultz says it so beautifully, doesn't he?