I Wish My Mother Would Die So I Can Get On With My Grieving
6 min read | Aug 2022
Gen X / Moderate / Studio Director

I Wish My Mother Would Die So I Can Get On With My Grieving

Her bouts with violence and alcoholism and her empty promises have continued to traumatize me.

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“Look at how cute you were!” The text from my mother was accompanied by a photo of me at around 8 years old, when I was a flower girl at a relative’s wedding. The bride and I wore white dresses; we each held a bouquet of roses and baby’s breath. My smile was naive, milk teeth showing. I was missing one in the front. I’d seen the photo before but not for years. A rock formed in my stomach; I knew it was me, but I didn’t recognize myself as that little girl. I tapped the screen to close the text app. I wept. 

My parents divorced when I was 5. At 7, we moved in with my mother’s old flame. He drank. He’d soon turn violent, and my mother would follow suit on both counts. We didn’t know that when the photo was taken. 

I was a precocious child and a voracious reader. I knew big words but not always what they meant. I was probably also a little sassy, a combination that didn’t bode well around grown-ups who liked to drink and sometimes got violent when the empty beer cans began to pile up. My childhood had scores of fill-in-the-blank details regarding alcoholism and domestic violence. However, this story is not about those years. 

My Mother Turned Me Over to Foster Care

The violence and alcoholism escalated. I lashed out. In homes like mine, this often happens. Someone becomes known as the black sheep, and the family pins their issues on them. I was that sheep. My mother gave up custody when I reached 13 and turned me over to the family court system. Over the years, my placements ranged from juvenile detention to residential programs to group homes. 

The goal of the foster care system is to reunite children with their families, if possible. My social worker was kind and saw a bright something in me that she knew the system would crush. When I was 14, she helped my mother make plans to move to Arizona near our closest relatives. This was a beacon of hope, a carrot on a stick; once my mother moved away from her boyfriend, I’d be able to go home. I talked about the move with my counselors and the other kids. That summer, I had a hard time thinking about other things. Moving to Arizona was a mantra I couldn’t get out of my head. 

“You’ll go home as soon as we can get your mother on her feet,” my social worker said. I studied her dark ponytail and glasses. She was younger than my mother. She’d never lied to me. It was easy to believe what she said. 

“How soon?” I asked. “When will I get to go to a new school?” I weighed the possibility of moving right away and starting my first day of high school in Arizona rather than another placement.

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A teenage girl mourns her childhood gone too soon because of her violent, alcoholic mother.

Escaping Foster Care Proved to Be an Endless Waiting Game

“When are we moving, Mama?” I asked. I was on a day pass. On Saturdays, I was allowed out for a few hours. We went for Italian food at a strip mall restaurant every week, then we’d run her errands. I pushed spaghetti around on my plate. I’d always order water and the cheapest item on the menu so my mother could save up for the move.

“Soon. I just need to get some things in order.” 

My mother dragged a piece of bread through the sauce on her plate. It was always a similar answer: “I need more time.” “Soon.” “Be patient.” It took me a long time to realize she was only ever saying, “We’ll see.” Later, she’d drop me off at the residential center and go home to her boyfriend. 

Summer came and went. I started high school in the same center. I spent holidays there when some of the other kids got to visit home. Home was still unsafe for me with my mother’s boyfriend there. I trusted my social worker and my mother. I believed she was moving. Someone would have told me otherwise, but there were delays. I didn’t know what they were, but it was easy to convince myself that I was at fault. 

I considered the delay often, wondering what I’d done to make her mad. I needed to be better: better behaved, better grades, better daughter. I obsessed over this but never arrived at the correct answer. “Good enough” fit. I vowed to make myself good enough that she’d finally move and let me come home. 

Fast-forward through my teenage years. I bounced around from placement to placement. Moving to Arizona lost its form as language. It was as much a part of me as my hair color or the shape of my hands. My mother was moving. All I needed to do to get her there was to be good enough.

I Blamed Myself for My Mother’s Lack of Love

We never moved to Arizona. I believed I wasn’t good enough. I turned 18 and aged out of the system. 

Fast-forward through my 20s. I was angry but lashing out only at myself. There was nobody around to tell me certain things weren’t a good idea. There were drugs, some worse than others. I took my clothes off for money. I pierced and tattooed myself in regrettable ways. I went to jail. Twice. I was not good enough, and I was hell-bent on proving that to myself and everyone else. 

Fast-forward a bit more, because I got my shit together in an exceptional way. “Good enough” and “moving to Arizona” had been there since I was a teenager and they’d never left. It was the only way I could relate to my mother. Thus, without realizing what I was doing, I spent many years demonstrating that I was good enough. I got an education and a good corporate job. I have initials behind my last name. I married well. I spent lavishly on my mother; I had no idea how else to demonstrate “good enough.” 

I had anxiety. I had mood swings. I had insomnia. I had medication to dull everything to a perfectly flat line. However, regardless of my achievements, I never stopped trying to be good enough. Sometimes, anxiety paralyzed me when I’d leave my mother’s house. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t need to. I had a pill for that. 

Circle back to my cell phone, the text message, “Look at how cute you were!” and the photo of me as a flower girl. 

“That little girl had no idea,” I sobbed to my husband, referring to my photo in third person. It was an ugly cry. I was red-faced and shaking. I wiped my nose on my sleeve. He wrapped me in his arms, unsure of what to say. My tears dampened his shirt. He knew every inch of my history. “She might as well have been following a bouncy ball toward the edge of a cliff.” The child in the photo had never been hit, kicked or slapped by a grown man. She’d never let strangers pay to touch her. 

For people who experienced trauma as children, it is important to grieve for their child selves.

I’m Ready to Mourn My Mother and Grieve the Childhood I Never Had

What is the opposite of a damaged human? The answer is that photo. I was shattering in my husband’s arms, remembering what I’d been through: physical violence, abandonment, longing for my mother to love me enough to move to Arizona and all the ways I laid down in the gutter in anger at myself. I pulled away from my husband. 

“Look at how cute you were,” I repeated my mother’s text message between sobs. “You did this to me,” I spat at her, sobbing, even though she was many miles away. I collapsed into my husband again. “You never moved. That little girl had no idea what was coming.”

I had a powerful moment of clarity: I’d spent decades trying to be good enough when it was no longer feasible for me to “come home.” Our entire relationship was based on what moving to Arizona meant to my teenage self. 

I haven’t spoken to my mother in a few years. You’re not supposed to say this out loud: I wish she would die. I’ll mourn, not for the loss of her as she is but for the loss of the mother I never had. I’d like to get it over with. I want to grieve for that little girl, begin to heal myself and finally move on. It won’t break me, because I’ve built a solid support system in my life. However, I know it will try. 

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