Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Apple of Her Zeyde’s Eye

 

On the day her mother was going to give birth to her baby brother, Shirley’s father took her to visit her Bubbi and Zeyde. She adored her Zeyde and felt deeply loved by him as well. That day, however, turned into a nightmare. After they’d visited for a while, her Zeyde left the room; suddenly the bathroom door slammed open, her Zeyde screaming in pain. He had taken some kind of toxic substance to try to kill himself. It slowly did its work while he thrashed in agony. Shirley was stunned into silence, unable to respond. Her father ran to his father-in-law’s rescue, too late. It was all over in minutes.

Shirley was lost in the nightmare of confusion and pain. What did this all mean? What happened to Zeyde? What was she supposed to do?

Papa finally took her aside, bent down next to the four-year-old and began to explain through his sobs. Zeyde was gone. She must forget what she saw. She mustn’t tell anyone, not even her mother. She must promise. Shirley stared back at Papa, eyes wide and filled with tears. But Zeyde couldn’t be gone. She hadn’t seen him leave. Bubbi was over in the corner, quietly sobbing. Papa sat Shirley on the threadbare sofa and eventually took her home.

Mama came home with the new baby two days later and said she wanted to visit her parents to show off their new grandchild, but Papa kept coming up with excuses to delay the visit. Finally, in exasperation, Mama wrapped up the baby, took Shirley’s hand and they went to the bus stop, where they caught the bus to Mama’s parents’ house. Shirley only remembers that after they entered the apartment, there were only screams and tears.

Shirley never gave up her love for her grandfather. She refused to dwell on his suicide, remembering only his kindness and affection. She grew to be a lonely child, in spite of having three brothers and a sister. Even as a child, she masked her fear with a fearless attitude and kept her distance from others.

When she was a teenager she had a difficult time making friends until she met Trudy. One day Trudy asked her if she could treat Shirley to a soda. Shirley was thrilled since she could spend more time with her new friend and had no money to spend. As they sat at the small table at the soda shop, Shirley slowly sipped on her soda, not realizing she was at the bottom of the glass, and finished with one loud Slurp! Her friend looked at her in horror, as if she were insulted by this unimaginable lack of manners. She raised her voice, saying, “Shirley, if you want another soda, just say so!” Shirley looked down at her glass, mortified at the words and tone of her friend. They both got up and left the soda shop. Shirley never spoke to her friend again.

Shirley had other disappointments as she grew into adulthood, incidents that validated her cynicism about the world. She found her place in the business world doing many different jobs, mainly in sales. She was also hired as an office manager, a receptionist, and was thorough and dependable. When she married, she and her husband moved to California. They had big dreams. They had escaped the stultifying burden of family demands. Her first childbirth was a miscarriage; she waited years before deciding she still wanted children. Eventually, she had three children and stayed home to care for them until her oldest was able to babysit the others. Then she went back to work and even started her own business.

I was that oldest child.

In her personal life, Mom had few friends and often shared her criticisms of them with me. Much later, when Dad had passed away and Mom was alone, we talked about friendship. It was one of our most intimate discussions, loving and non-judgmental. She had often talked about how she preferred her own company to having friends. During this discussion, I asked her the reasons she felt that way. She explained that friends would only hurt you. They were a lot of trouble. It was easier to just be on her own. I had to agree: maintaining friendships was hard work and being hurt was always a risk. She said it wasn’t worth it.

* * *

I spent most of my adult life being angry at my mother. I felt she’d spent a lot of her energy being angry at me. But eventually, I reached the point that I didn’t want to be angry with her anymore. I didn’t know if we would ever be friends, but I knew if the relationship was to be mended, I would need to take the initiative.

So, I sent her a handwritten letter, telling her how I had regretted all that I had put her through over the years; how poorly I had treated her; and how I wanted to make amends. I said that I hoped she could forgive me, but I would understand if she refused. And I told her that after mailing the letter, I would give her a couple of days to absorb it, think about it, and I would call her. I was terrified to make that call.

I did call her, briefly reminding her of my purpose which was obvious, but needed to be said. I braced myself for a rant, tears, reproaches—whatever she needed to say to “pay me back” for all the years of tension and rejection. When I finished, she was silent for a moment, and in her straightforward way, simply said, “I figured you’d come around one day.” I laughed and cried. And our healing each other began.

* * *

I feel so blessed that I became friends with my mother. There were times when she still got on my nerves—she had advice for everything. But I would catch myself in the moment, thinking about whom she had become, in spite of a devastating childhood event, difficulties relating to people and assuming that life was something to be conquered rather than celebrated. She had become an Enrolled Agent, been married 60 years, was in pretty good health before she died from a urinary tract infection at 84, and had done a pretty good job of raising three independent children.

* * *

I visited her just before she died. When she was awake, she would smile peacefully. She had moments of lucidity, moments of confusion. As I tearfully prepared to go, knowing I wouldn’t see her alive again, I told her that it was time for me to leave. She smiled at me and said, “Don’t worry: we’ll always be together.”

I’m glad she was my mom, my hero and my friend.

There are 15 comments.

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  1. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this.

    • #1
    • June 26, 2019, at 10:52 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn: When she was a teenager, she had a difficult time making friends, until she met Trudy. One day Trudy asked her if she could treat Shirley to a soda. Shirley was thrilled, since she could spend more time with her new friend and had no money to spend. As they sat at the small table at the soda shop, Shirley slowly sipped on her soda, not realizing she was at the bottom of the glass, and finished with one loud Slurp! Her friend looked at her in horror, as if she were insulted by this unimaginable lack of manners. She raised her voice, saying, “Shirley, if you want another soda, just say so!” Shirley looked down at her glass, mortified at the words and tone of her friend. They both got up and left the soda shop. Shirley never spoke to her friend again.

    It never seems like it at the time, but it is best to identify the knuckleheads early on.

    • #2
    • June 26, 2019, at 11:42 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    iWe (View Comment):

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this.

    @she’s beautiful essay on her mother inspired me finally to write this down. Some of what I wrote surprised me.

    • #3
    • June 26, 2019, at 12:02 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. MarciN Member

    I think it is wonderful that you revived your relationship with your mom. I’m sure your mother appreciated your forgiveness.

    My oldest sister and my mother never reached that point. My sister just couldn’t comprehend mental illness, and my mother did not recall the hurtful things she had said to my sister.

    However, the estrangement between them was hollow and kind of a joke. Never a Christmas or birthday or holiday went by when each of them didn’t talk to me about the other, and surprisingly kindly. And my sister helped as much as she could with small gifts of money for our mother over the years. She always asked about our mother.

    Interesting end to the story: My mother had been a source of embarrassment to my sister, both in the town we grew up in and in my dad’s family where my sister understandably sought emotional refuge. My dad was more than sympathetic and understanding about his ex-wife’s illness. But his family never got there, sadly. They were a major influence on how my sister felt about our mother.

    At any rate, my mom was very active in a little Baptist church here on the Cape. Everyone in the church had seen her when she was obviously very ill, but over time she got better and better. Still, some things are never forgotten, and when she passed away, the minister was to give the sermon and eulogy. I had met with him earlier to help him frame his thoughts. He was preparing a sermon about her as a mentally ill person. I told him that my mother did not see herself that way and would be mortified at such a description. I described her many achievements and accomplishments. So that was the basis of his wonderful eulogy. My oldest sister came for the funeral and was in tears afterward. She said, “I didn’t know any of that. Those are the first nice things I’ve ever heard about Mother.” She had been ashamed of belonging to that crazy person.

    I think true family estrangement is often impossible. Immediate family members are never far away from one’s heart and mind. Might as well figure out how to make some type of relationship work. It’s better for everyone involved. In the end, it’s actually easier to get past things than to nurture hurts and slights indefinitely.

    • #4
    • June 26, 2019, at 12:02 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think true family estrangement is often impossible anyway. Immediate family members are never far away from one’s heart and mind. Might as well figure out how to make some type of relationship work. It’s better for everyone involved. In the end, it’s actually easier to get past things than to nurture hurts and slights indefinitely.

    What a beautiful, sad story, @marcin. I can identify with so much of it. Especially the part where your mother seemed to get better and better. Later in life, mom was more forgiving, developed a sense of humor and just seemed at peace. We would often tell stories on ourselves and scream with laughter together. What a joy! I realized through writing this post that I have finally allowed myself to truly love my mother, warts and all. That’s so wonderful. Thanks for your sharing.

    • #5
    • June 26, 2019, at 12:12 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. Sweezle Member

    Giving up your anger at your mother was a blessing for you & her. Bless you for sharing this story of forgiveness,

    • #6
    • June 26, 2019, at 6:04 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Sweezle (View Comment):

    Giving up your anger at your mother was a blessing for you & her. Bless you for sharing this story of forgiveness,

    You are so right, @sweezle. Thank you for seeing that and sharing your thoughts.

    • #7
    • June 26, 2019, at 6:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this.

    She’s beautiful essay on her mother inspired me finally to write this down. Some of what I wrote surprised me.

    Susan, that was just lovely, and thank you so much for your comment here.

    The mother/daughter relationship is so complex. I don’t think there are any two that are the same, and I always learn something when a daughter (or a mother) tells her story. What a tragic childhood your mother had, and what redemption at the end. You took such a chance by writing that letter, and you left yourself completely open and vulnerable to her reaction, whatever it might be. It was the right thing, a brave thing, that you did. And I’m so glad it led to a rapprochement and peace, and lovely memories. Good for you both. Your Mom must have been a very smart lady. I think it must run in the family.

    • #8
    • June 26, 2019, at 6:32 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you, Susan, for sharing all of that. The fondness and understanding with which you speak of your mother is lovely. I just can’t stop thinking, though: What a terrible, horrible thing to inflict on a small child. Poor, poor Shirley. It’s no wonder your mother had social difficulties and was isolated. It is fortunate, indeed, that you and she could have a good relationship in the later years. Another of her accomplishments was raising such a sensitive and talented eldest daughter. 

    • #9
    • June 26, 2019, at 7:14 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I don’t think my mother really ever had any reconciliation with her mother. My grandmother, so long as she was lucid enough to do so, continued to try to manipulate and control my mother, never quite giving her approval for anything my mother did. I remember once when she was supposed to come down to our house for Thanksgiving, after having to concede that hosting it at her house was no longer an option due to infirmity and the scattering of the family, she deliberately made my grandfather stop at a restaurant on the way day (the drive was 90 minutes, or 120 if she was backseat driving). There was no need to do that, but she made it clear that she wasn’t hungry when she arrived. It was pure calculated insult.

    Still, as my grandmother’s health failed, my mother and her sisters dutifully provided care and cleaning (my mother making that selfsame drive herself at least 2 weekends a month for several years running). My grandmother never once showed any gratitude.

    • #10
    • June 26, 2019, at 7:59 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. ShaunaHunt Coolidge

    Thank you so much for sharing this poignant article. I was just thinking about my own mom last night.

    • #11
    • June 26, 2019, at 10:16 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. The Great Adventure! Inactive
    The Great Adventure! Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MarciN (View Comment):

     

    I think true family estrangement is often impossible. Immediate family members are never far away from one’s heart and mind. Might as well figure out how to make some type of relationship work. It’s better for everyone involved. In the end, it’s actually easier to get past things than to nurture hurts and slights indefinitely.

    I’m not sure I agree with that. I was the youngest and only male of 3 children. Our father abused my oldest sister, something I didn’t find out about until after my own marriage. It was devastating news, but as I lived close to my parents and my 2 sisters lived quite far away, I pleaded with them to never make me pick sides – I could not turn my back on my mom. They understood and agreed, or at least I thought they did.

    16 years ago the middle sister engaged in an act that forced me to pick sides. Again, I could not turn my back on my mother, so the family quickly splintered into the 2 sisters on one side, my parents and I on the other. For a several years I nurtured a hope that once my father died all could be healed or at least repaired. He passed 14 years ago, but through multiple attempts on my part I’ve been made forcefully aware that the reconciliation is not going to happen – the rage from up North has been palpable.

    So while I would agree with your statement that “Immediate family members are never far away from one’s heart and mind”, I would suggest that estrangement is definitely possible if one or more sides possess sufficient determination to make it so. I am watching my mother deteriorate mentally and physically, for all intents and purposes as an only child. I yearn for the old relationships, think about the sisters on a very regular basis, but my hopes for restoration are gone. The only remaining struggle I see is whether or not I’ll even attempt to inform the sisters when Mom finally passes.

    • #12
    • June 27, 2019, at 3:24 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    Still, as my grandmother’s health failed, my mother and her sisters dutifully provided care and cleaning (my mother making that selfsame drive herself at least 2 weekends a month for several years running). My grandmother never once showed any gratitude.

    What a fine woman your mother and her sisters were. As much as my mother drove me crazy in my earlier years, she always praised and encouraged me, whether in school or when I wanted to start my own business or studying in Israel for a year. She was a woman of contradictions.

    • #13
    • June 27, 2019, at 5:12 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):
    So while I would agree with your statement that “Immediate family members are never far away from one’s heart and mind”, I would suggest that estrangement is definitely possible if one or more sides possess sufficient determination to make it so. I am watching my mother deteriorate mentally and physically, for all intents and purposes as an only child. I yearn for the old relationships, think about the sisters on a very regular basis, but my hopes for restoration are gone. The only remaining struggle I see is whether or not I’ll even attempt to inform the sisters when Mom finally passes.

    My heart goes out to you, @thegreatadventure. My sister and I are estranged. She’s just not interested in having a relationship. I can guess at the many reasons, including the early tensions with my mother (my sister got along with mom), but even when my mother and I mended our relationship, my sister wasn’t interested. (My brother isn’t either–no hostility, but no interest. I’ve suspected in recent years he may be on the Asperger’s spectrum.) The part that is always amazing to me is that when my mother passed away, the three of us worked very hard to settle my mom’s estate; it was modest, but many families will quibble about everything. We all went out of our way to take care of business. And then went back to our old ways. I could work harder at keeping in touch with my brother, but I find it hard to do that when he just doesn’t much care. So I hold him with fondness in my heart. My sister, I just feel sad. Not angry anymore (or feeling rejected), just sad. Thank goodness I have other wonderful people in my life who are loving and caring.

    • #14
    • June 27, 2019, at 5:20 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  15. MarciN Member

    The Great Adventure! (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

     

    I think true family estrangement is often impossible. Immediate family members are never far away from one’s heart and mind. Might as well figure out how to make some type of relationship work. It’s better for everyone involved. In the end, it’s actually easier to get past things than to nurture hurts and slights indefinitely.

    I’m not sure I agree with that. I was the youngest and only male of 3 children. Our father abused my oldest sister, something I didn’t find out about until after my own marriage. It was devastating news, but as I lived close to my parents and my 2 sisters lived quite far away, I pleaded with them to never make me pick sides – I could not turn my back on my mom. They understood and agreed, or at least I thought they did.

    16 years ago the middle sister engaged in an act that forced me to pick sides. Again, I could not turn my back on my mother, so the family quickly splintered into the 2 sisters on one side, my parents and I on the other. For a several years I nurtured a hope that once my father died all could be healed or at least repaired. He passed 14 years ago, but through multiple attempts on my part I’ve been made forcefully aware that the reconciliation is not going to happen – the rage from up North has been palpable.

    So while I would agree with your statement that “Immediate family members are never far away from one’s heart and mind”, I would suggest that estrangement is definitely possible if one or more sides possess sufficient determination to make it so. I am watching my mother deteriorate mentally and physically, for all intents and purposes as an only child. I yearn for the old relationships, think about the sisters on a very regular basis, but my hopes for restoration are gone. The only remaining struggle I see is whether or not I’ll even attempt to inform the sisters when Mom finally passes.

    I do agree with you. Sometimes it is impossible. 

    • #15
    • June 27, 2019, at 6:31 AM PDT
    • 2 likes

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