It is a rainy night. The clouds are a creamy grey. A calm has descended on the street. The road is swept clean by the rain, handwashed as if by a giant paintbrush.
The curtains move slightly on the bedroom window closest to the door. There is the tiniest of draughts there. Sometimes when the wind is fierce, the draught sweeps into the room like a witch’s finger, rattling the picture frames. It is startling at midnight.
Earlier on I saw two women walking with one umbrella, huddled like birds. The way they held their heads, placed graceful feet on the glistening footpath and brushed at the raindrops on their sleeves was so similar I knew they must be mother and daughter. There was an ease between them that filled my chest with tightness.
I thought of my own mother. A woman with whom I veer in and out of dysfunction. Much of the tension between us arises from my mother’s guilt about my sister, Millie. I know that, I know how hard it is for her, but it still hurts when she ascribes the blame for my sister’s downfall to me.
Years ago when we were children my sister, Millie, and I were very close. Some nights we used to talk for hours. But somehow along the way things changed, it was around the time she began having relationship after relationship with men who did not love her, who used her, who abused her. I felt myself, ever so slowly, stepping away from her. My mother believes that if we had retained our closeness things would be different. That Millie would be a whole person, not fractured.
Her blame compounds my own guilt until all I want to do is open the door and walk out into a night like this and hide amid the sombre lines and shadows.
Sometimes I pray beneath the moon, conjuring up shapeless images that speak more of anguish than piety. Hoping for something, anything, one thing to change.
I don’t like being the fall guy. It is a role I didn’t choose. It makes a hard furrow of my mother’s mouth. It makes me question my perceptions of myself. Can one person solely be to blame for the descent of another? Surely the person descending has a say in how far they will plummet?
In my mind, in my I-am-a-grown-up-now moments, I know my mother is clutching at straws. But in my heart, the part of it that is still a child, I wonder if my mother is right.
Thoughts like these do me no good. They will choke me if I let them. So I press my face against the glass and watch the way the rain falls on a world made of ebony. If I were to walk in the street now in my big black boots, I would look as if I belonged there. And that, for now, is enough.
What a haunting, heart-breaking story. I can relate to so much of what you are saying.Different circumstances but many of the same emotions come through.
Mother and daughter relationships are always complex. And after our mothers are gone we are left with so many memories to ponder. I am still trying to come to grips with many of mine. If you can openly talk about what’s bothering you, what hurts you…do it now.
Take care Selma. You are a kind, loving person. You’ve taken on many difficult roles as a sister and daughter. They are lucky that you have taken so much to bear on your shoulders. It can be totally overwhelming.
Hang in there….things will get better.
Oh Dear Selma,
Your sister has mental health issues that are NOT your fault, NOT your mother’s fault, not even her fault-the issues are just there and she needs professional help to deal with them. You and your mother can only support her efforts to get well and refuse to support or enable her destructive behaviors. This is the hardest part, but it’s the best thing you can do for her.
My sister is just a year younger than me and we were so inseparable everyone thought we were twins. We slowly grew apart after puberty, which was when she started showing signs of manic-depression. My parents were raised in a era where mental issues were not acknowledged because they were seen as a sign of weakness, so her problems were never discussed, much less addressed. Decades later she still struggles with everyday life and I struggle to control my knee-jerk reaction to rush in and take care of her every time she calls.
I’m so sorry your mother puts the blame for all this on you-I imagine she is deflecting her own feelings that she has failed as a parent. It is too easy for parents and siblings to feel responsible for a family member’s mental problems when there is really nothing they did to cause them. And loving without helping is very hard to do.
Please, please don’t blame yourself, or accept your mother’s blame. Take care of your own mental health-it’s the most loving thing you can do for yourself, your sister, your mother, and your own family. Take care of yourself!
I’m so sorry you’re having a rough time, dear friend. I wish there was something I could do to help you through this.
The fact that you are able to take the unwarrented blame to heart just shows that you love so deeply, you cannot help it. Even though you KNOW that you’re not at fault, it is impossible at times to believe it, accept it, and ignore it. And even though you’re awash in the ache and you know that one of these days it will pass, until it does, you live with it.
But, until it’s gone, ignoring what your aching heart keeps saying is difficult. Sometimes that pain just shouts so damn loud.
Sydney IS rain.
Family IS pain.
But thankfully in both, the sun does break through.
GERALDINE – I will admit to feeling a little overwhelmed right now. Not having a daughter, I don’t have a true appreciation of what the mother-daughter relationship is like from the mother’s perspective, although my friends tell me it it much more difficult to traverse their relationships with their daughters than it is with their sons. I just want us to be open and honest with one another but sometimes the wall comes up between us. I appreciate your kind comments. Thank you.
SAGACIOUS WOMAN – thank you so much for sharing your experiences. You are so right about the mental illness driving a wedge between my sister and I. I am sorry you went through the same thing. I know I’m not to blame deep down but it does hurt that my Mum is prepared to think so. She is also from that generation where mental illness was seen as a sign of weakness. It’s a shame because I think her lack of acceptance of my sister’s condition has exacerbated the problems my sister has dealing with it. I am so grateful for your wonderful words of wisdom. I am a bit teary about it. XXX
KAREN – writing this post helped. Who knew blogging could be so therapeutic? But the comments I have received have helped even more. I think of you and all the wonderful women you know often and know how fortunate I am to have met you all. It really is a comfort. Thank you, dear Karen.
BEAR – your poems are a balm, indeed. The sun always does break through. In fact, it has today. Thank you.
Well, remind the child within you that you and your sister were still close when she began having her destructive relationships. It could not have had anything to do with your pulling away from her because you did that after the fact.
Speaking about your sister now, we have all had difficulties in our lives, and we all make choices as to how we will conduct ourselves in the aftermath of those difficulties. I don’t know what in your sister’s experience led her to make the choices she has as far as her relationships, but I can guarantee you it wasn’t you. I’m certain – whether she can admit it to herself right now or not – that the close times she shared with you are the only links she has to what true bondedness really feels like.
Selma, you did what you had to do to care for yourself. Of course you love your sister, but you knew an unhealthy mindset when you witnessed it. It didn’t mesh with the core of who you are, so you walked away.
As far as your mom, I think the only thing you can really do is try to have compassion for her. She is of a different generation. Not to mention the fact that I’m sure she is far fuller of recrimination toward herself inside, than you – as you said about her guilt.
Gosh, I hope this didn’t come off as too preachy. I just really want you to realize that you have done nothing wrong. I think you do realize it, but the head and the heart sometimes work on different timeframes.
I have no words of wisdom. You know you’re not to blame. There is nothing you could have done. Your sister is her own self.
The relationship with our parents is difficult. It’s hard to see them age and change, even worse when you have to tack on the baggage of guilt and reproach. However, what we konw logically, is very different than what we feel.
(But my, you do have a way with words.)
“Much of the tension between us arises from my mother’s guilt about my sister, Millie. I know that, I know how hard it is for her, but it still hurts when she ascribes the blame for my sister’s downfall to me.”
That is so unfair. It is not your fault in any way.
A “truism” that has always helped me find perspective is that you can’t control any other person; you can only control yourself.
You cannot control what your sister does or doesn’t do. You, or anyone else, shouldn’t expect that you could have any influence over her. (You might well have some influence, but the expectation of influence is a dangerous thing.) At the same time, you have no control over the feelings that your mother might be having about your sister and your relationship with her, and any blame that she attaches to you. You can control how you respond to all of this, and how you live your own life. You can either choose to let it burden you, or you can try to take steps to set it aside as something out of your hands and enjoy the parts of both relationships that are healthy for you, however small those may be.
That’s my perspective, anyway. It’s easier said than done, too, but it can be really satisfying to “let go”.
Lovely words. Solid and engaging.
We have a mutual friend in Ms Banzai. Write more please…
EPIPHANY – not preachy at all, just concerned and caring. You are completely right and oh, so wise. Guilt is a peculiar emotion. It can often cloud one’s judgement. I am so grateful for the sense of empathy and compassion you always exhibit. Thank you. XXX
NAT – it’s the emotion that’s the killer, isn’t it? Seeing my parents age in some ways has been very hard for me. To me they seem frailer than they were before. I think that is why I have taken so much of this on – I’ve been trying to spare them the stress. However, in doing so, I guess I’ve caused myself more stress. Bad idea. Thanks for your kind words.
DAOINE – you are right. Letting go is definitely the answer and I definitely cannot control my sister’s actions. I know it is easier said than done but I must finally let go. You are a gem!!!!!!
SIMILAR SIMIAN – well anyone who is a friend of Ms B is welcome here anytime. I love that woman to bits. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment.
Selma…under NO circumstances are you to blame yourself for your sisters poor choices. She made her own mistakes. That is the path she chose. Please do not beat up on YOU over it.
Sadly there is a Fall Guy in every family. What’s more, different members see different Fall Guys. Yet always, those who label someone a Fall Guy are really thinking of their own reflection.
MELEAH – you are right. So right. I think I just needed to remind myself of that fact. Thank you, hon!
ANTHONY – well that’s just about the wisest thing I’ve ever heard. You have such a gift for summing up how things really are. Thank you.
i know how difficult it can be to accept that we are not responsible in any way for the actions of another person… maybe if you just repeat that to yourself it will eventually make sense.. i struggle with it often,, but i know in my heart,, i am not that powerful……
PAISLEY – you always put things into perspective for me. I certainly am not that powerful. It’s such a relief to acknowledge that.
“I felt myself, ever so slowly, stepping away from her.”
You had to step away then and now you need to step away from the feelings your mother has been forcing on you.
Take care, Selma. We all love you and know what kind of person you are.
I can relate. Even when my family is “close” and communicate well, I have not been physically near them for 22 years now. It was a choice I made not wanting to be in any way responsible for anything or anyone. Yes, I didn’t want to be the fall guy either. Ever. So, I guess you can say I’m guilty of a much graver sin and may have to pay at some point. Oh dear…
Oh dearest Selma, that is such a heavy burden to bear. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post called Contemplations? I would link it for you but I have no idea how to do it. Essentially what I was saying is that while we should always be aware of how our actions impact on others, we cannot be responsible for their happiness nor control the choices they make for themselves.
I am sorry your Mum somehow holds you at least partly to blame for how your sister’s life has turned out but if you were able to look deep inside your Mother’s heart you might be surprised at how much guilt and remorse she probably holds towards herself. The sad part is that neither of you are to blame. Millie undeniably has many problems but in the end Millie is responsible for her own outcomes as harsh as that may sound.
You mustn’t believe anything else Selma for if you do then you are also holding yourself to blame and I know you don’t really believe that. Try to let it go…it won’t help you, your Mum or Millie to hang on to all that pain. It won’t help anyone….
LINDA – now you’re going to make me cry. Thank you. XXX
CHRIS – I’m not sure if you’ll have to pay. I think that sometimes staying close just for the sake of it is the graver sin. It can be quite damaging. You have probably saved yourself a lot of anguish over the years. That has to be a good thing.
GYPSY – I remember that wonderful post. It helped me a lot. You are right. I feel that over the past few days I have started to let it go. It’s the only way.