Other Mothers Among Us…. (Healing For Mother’s Day)

When we were a family

When we were a family

Also featured on Huffington Post: http://huff.to/1czN6nc

Every year I’ve struggled with my emotions on Mother’s Day. My children have been fairly hit or miss in recognizing the day: from breakfasts in bed that, while not always edible, were priceless in their adorable orchestration, to thoughtful cards and gestures, to forgetting the day all together. As I get older, the misses mean much less, the hits so much more. But it hasn’t been in my role as mother that I’ve felt the lump in my throat and the knot in my gut; it’s in my role as a daughter. Until one month ago, I never knew why.

My mother has been dead for three years now. She died of Huntington’s Disease on New Year’s Eve 2011. At the time I was relieved to see her suffering end, but this Mother’s Day, I find myself grappling with much more complex feelings, and a sense of relief in knowing that I won’t have to celebrate this day with her. Perhaps that last line just shocked you? I can see how it might. But then, you probably have a mother you love. I’ve shocked you again.

One month ago, I learned the truth about my mother. I’m a 52-year-old woman and I feel like I’m just waking up. It hasn’t been easy; in fact the past few weeks have been truly brutal at times — but they have also been freeing. I have long acknowledged that much of my childhood was painful and challenging. My mother was a broken woman long before Huntington’s claimed her. I feel enormous compassion for the abuse she suffered as a child, and the hardships she faced throughout her life — even the ones she brought upon herself. Life is much harder when you start out with as many scars as she had. As her daughter and as another woman, I have always felt a great sadness for her. I did my best to forgive many things and before she died, I know she felt that. I loved her, in my own broken way.

However, she was not a good mother, and from that brokenness she inflicted many of the same hardships on me (I won’t speak for my siblings). I generally write honestly, without filters: I must filter this. The truth I learned serves no one else reading this, but my journey has lessons that are worth sharing.

I blocked the truth out, something that has been almost as dizzying as the truths I’m now digesting. As children, we do that sometimes when reality simply hurts too much. However, hearing the truth for the first time I felt both horror … and then a peace descend on me, knowing that all those years, that knot in my gut was there for a reason.

Mom loved being a Grammy

Mom loved being a Grammy

Mom struggled in her role as mother, and while I’m still grieving the loss of stories I clung to to make things less painful, I also feel a deep sense of relief in knowing that I wasn’t crazy all those times I felt lost and confused. The struggle wasn’t about me; I just believe that, because I was too young to know any better. My husband has gently pointed out that she did change later in life; she was a good grandmother; she did her best. I know he’s right. I’ve always understood that fact, but it feels bitter in my mouth right now. I reserve the right to feel what I feel right now, and work on forgiveness.

I was loved deeply by others, and that is the memory I’ve recovered.

It was there all along, but I was afraid to believe in it, because my mother’s stories never pointed me in that direction. I believed whatever story fit, to avoid feeling abandoned. While others cringe that a child who has been horribly assaulted would still want to be with the offending parent, I’ve always understood that desperate need to fix it and hope things get better. I clung too. *For the record: I was not assaulted by my parents, but the role of trauma in my childhood served the same end.

After my father died in car accident, when I was ten and a half, I had very little contact with his family: my grandmother, great-grandmother, two aunts (his sisters) and countless great aunts, cousins, etc. — all of whom had been an integral part of my early childhood, prior to my mother taking me and my siblings back east, without my father’s permission or knowledge. Our world was suddenly filled with new aunts and uncles, new relatives, who we hadn’t known before, having grown up far away. They loved us; there were happy times with there as well. Over the years I tried to bury the hurt I felt in losing my other family. I believed my father had let us go; I believed he didn’t really want us, and over time I came to believe that those aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, all found other children to love. I imagined they had moved on, and we were not worth the effort. I was not worth the effort.

My father loved us very much... and he lost us.

My father loved us very much… and he lost us.

The reality was very different, and after high school, my paternal aunts and great grandmother reached out to me, and sent me an airline ticket to visit them. By then, my father and grandmother were dead, and I’d grown up with another family who I loved. I saw my dad’s family as strangers who I wanted to know, but who I felt guarded with and unsure of. It was a wonderful summer, and we all made more effort over the years to reconnect — but in the back of my mind, my mother’s stories kept me from fully embracing their love; I remained wary and careful, protective of my mother, who had long told me reasons to feel that way. I remained a scared kid, afraid to anger or push her away, by embracing this other family. I stayed in touch with them, but there was always the invisible wall I’d built, that kept me from being closer to them.

When we moved to Washington State, 15 years ago, I began to forge a stronger relationship with my father’s sister, my aunt Cokie — who lives only two hours from us. By then my mother was ill with Huntington’s and we were all careful in what we said about the past, building new ties and bonds. I thrived in my aunt’s affection; my children adored her, often telling me that she was like another grandmother — one who took them hunting for beach treasures, made cookies with them, and beamed every time they were with her. I have loved her for all the same reasons, but my child’s heart held just a bit of that old wariness and fear that I’d betray my mother, or alienate my aunt. Having grown up with fear and anxiety — always afraid I’d alienate my mother; I assumed that’s how it worked with everyone.

My aunt, however, has taught me that love doesn’t hurt.

Over and over she has shown me that no matter what I do, whether she agrees with me or doesn’t, one thing is constant: she loves me. In learning a painful truth, a month ago, I also learned that that her love and the love of all those relatives who lost us, was always there. They held it in a safe place, just been waiting for me to let my guard down and fully accept it. When the wall came down, I felt free to finally acknowledge my mother’s love was something that held me back. It came with conditions and toxic edges. I exhaled deeply when I realized that somewhere inside, I’d always known there was another love … and that I was deserving of it.

IMG_9791My aunt Cokie has become the matriarch of our family. She will blush when she reads that. I make her laugh with bold assertions and my unfiltered way of saying things. I love her laughter; I bask in its glow. She is a doting grandmother to her five grandchildren; she adores them. She is close with both of her children, my cousins. We all have our issues with our parents, nothing is perfect — but from a distance, I always knew that my cousins were very lucky. My aunt has also embraced me and my kids, my sister and her daughter, and my brother’s children. She and her sister, my aunt Pat, have been a vital connection to my father. My aunt has let us know that we are loved, with no strings and no judgment. She is the kind of mother I wish I was and wish I had, but I’m grateful she’s my aunt. I aspire to be that kind of aunt to my nieces and nephews.

In my darkest time, five years ago, when I believed I couldn’t cope anymore, she was the one who pulled me up, and told me: “You are from strong stock.” Those words have made all the difference. They are my daily mantra. They are the words I want my own children to know.

I am from strong stock; we are from strong stock

Not everyone grows up with the kind of mother that Hallmark celebrates. I have spent a lifetime struggling to pick out the right card — knowing it doesn’t really exist. There are countless people who have struggled with these same feelings, many having had much harder lives than me. But if we are open, there are other mothers among us. They come in the form of friends, in the form of grandmothers, sisters … and aunts. A month ago, my aunts Cokie and Pat, circled the wagons and finally freed my scarred and wary heart. They let me know that I am and always have been loved. They reminded me that for all the loss and pain they are still here, and we are from strong stock.

To Aunt Pat and Aunt Cokie, who I love very much, Happy Mother’s Day

DSC_0496.JPG - Version 2

 Who do you love? Are you close with your mother, or are there other women who you honor on this day, as well? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Make me smile; HELP ME REACH MY GOAL:  I’d love to see the Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 700 likes in 2015. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I’mforced to be brief.  Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think. Honest, positive or constructive feedback is always welcome. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  ©2015  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Death of parent, Grief, Healing, Love, Mother's Day, Motherhood, Mothers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Other Mothers Among Us…. (Healing For Mother’s Day)

  1. Shivangi says:

    Beautiful post…so touching.


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  3. Happy Mother’s Day. My family also doesn’t do much for it- always calling it a Hallmark holiday– and really everyday is Mother’s day. Anyway, glad you’re sorting through all these emotions and finding clarity and comfort too. hugs.


    • Thanks so much Lisa. I’m not sure my family has gotten the “everyday is Mother’s Day” part, but I don’t care as much anymore. 😉 Happy Mother’s Day to you, too, friend. xo


  4. ME says:

    Happy Mother’s Day! I can totally relate. Strange how we can be “grownups” yet still have to outgrow warped thinking molded by our supposedly adult parents. Lots of love!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a heartfelt post and certainly a post that honors your family that you were taken away from. I think it is so wonderful you have all reconnected and those ties that were so disconnected are healed now and have blossomed into beautiful relationships!


  6. Happy Mother’s Day, Dawn. That’s a lovely story. You have some great relatives. My mother and I were close because I was the baby and born when she was almost 40. Her last years were stolen from both of us as she had Alzheimer’s. I’m sure she knew we were family through right up to the end. She died when she was almost 93. I like to remember the good years. She was thrilled when both my kids were born. She was not as hampered by the condition as yet not to appreciate and love them for which i’m especially thankful. After my dad died, she lived with us for seven years until I had to get her the care she needed by finding a good nursing home for her. 🙂


  7. 143coaching says:

    Dawn–so many thoughts on this.

    1. Thanks for always digging to the fullness of the human experience. Also, I am so happy for you and for all of us given the gift your writing is to us that somehow the lens you look through always pulls toward the goodness of humanity. Yay!

    2. Inspired by my commitment to my own 10 year old daughter, I have taken on dealing with my relationship with my own mother (also deceased) at a new and deeper level. The discrepancies in the details of our lives notwithstanding–I can absolutely relate to aspects of your experience as a daughter. And while I certainly wouldn’t wish the painful pieces on anyone, there is something so comforting about hearing you share about your process and the background sisterhood that it implies.

    3. I find the experience of things not being as I’ve always understood them to be so unsettling–one of the hardest things to integrate. Maybe I suck at it more than most–not sure. But given my experience with that I am especially glad that this time, for you, this new reality allowed you to embrace and validate a lifelong pit in your stomach. More evidence that the wisdom of your gut is eternal and invaluable. I do mean your gut personally, but I also mean a human being’s gut.

    4. I am so happy that you had the time and space to walk and walk and walk this through in a beautiful place.

    5. I am relieved that this world is not as it seems moment that you shared about a month ago was about your mom–I feared it was about something in the family you created.

    I said so many thoughts–I guess it was actually five. 🙂



    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue, wish we lived closer; a good long coffee (or 10) might be in order! If you ever want to see this incredibly beautiful part of the world, let me know! Thanks so much for these thoughtful points– they mean a great deal to me.

      I agree, the dissecting what I thought I knew versus what was true has been as dizzying and disruptive as the knowing… painful in so many ways. I feel like I’m coming out of the darkest bits, but as a wise therapy friends said to me: THIS will take a LONG time! I’m sorry that you are going through it too, but I appreciate how important it is, in healing ourselves, to move forward in a much healthier way with our own children. That, my friend, is always my greatest goal.

      Again, thanks for these very compassionate and meaningful thoughts. xox d


      • 143coaching says:

        Wow Dawn, I am just now seeing this. I wonder how I missed it. Thank you for responding. I knew you usually reply to everyone and figured you were just dealing with all of this then busy and all of that. Anyway, yes to living closer!!!

        I’ll come out there sometime. We are on vacation right now on the Cape. I was just thinking about the photo of you and Lyn in NY and how I wished I were with you both there! Our Sophie is 10 so I’m still so focused in that direction and find it harder to get away on my own. Anyway–hopefully next time you come through. Sophie and I were in Scituate right before you and I couldn’t work out swinging back. Boy I love it there.

        Thanks so much and keep up the good work girl!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • What a huge bummer to know that we were right next door to each other… Cape Cod and Scituate… and missed spending time. Yes, let’s plan it another time. That said, we have a fabulous guest room and the PNW is THE greatest place to bring a 10 yr old on vacation. She may never want to go home. 😉 xoxo


  8. Cathy Ulrich says:

    I’m so glad you have two wonderful aunts in your life, Dawn, to help you heal. I have one like that, who has helped me sort through the morass that was my family. It takes time, give yourself that. And keep writing. It helps you and those of us who read your wonderful words.


    • Thanks so much Cathy. I think the role of Aunts is too often under-appreciated… it can be such a meaningful and important role. A tie to parents, but uniquely different. I appreciate it so much… both as an aunt, and for the ones I have! xo


  9. erinleary says:

    Blessings to you for sharing so much. It isn’t easy to do – but you did so with grace and hope. I’ve shared this with my dearest friend in the world who struggles with many of the same feelings in regard to her mother. This could help free her as well.

    I was lucky. My mom was the best. She taught me just about all I know about life and love and hope. I never take that for granted and I miss her every single day. But especially on Mother’s Day.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Erin. I can think of no better honor than to have my work shared, thanks for those kind words and the gesture. I have always been jealous– in a childlike way, of my friends and acquaintances who have had those close, healthy relationships with their mothers. I hope my own kids will say the same one day… the prism of our experiences is so different through various views. Thanks for sharing!


  10. anita ibeakanma says:

    Reblogged this on Anita.com.


  11. Carrie Rubin says:

    I don’t really have much to say after reading this powerful post other than to thank you for letting us share in your thoughts and insights. I’m sure in one way or another many people can relate. Life is as complex as it is painful and wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. El Guapo says:

    And a happy mothers day to you, for all you’ve done for your kids, including introducing them to their wonderful extended family.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nissa says:

    Much love and many hugs to you. Although fortunately I have not had to deal with this myself, I have witnessed the devastation of similar feelings among family members of mine and see how many generations can be impacted as a result. It is so rough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Nissa. It’s amazing to me how generations can be impacted by a cycle of dysfunction and abuse. While I feel sad for what my mother dealt with, as a child, I am determined to break the cycle. My kids are strong people, from strong stock. 🙂 I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, Nissa!


  14. Valery says:

    Tears… and hugs to you, Dawn.
    I am so glad that you were able to connect with your “strong stock” over the years. It’s so true that pain sometimes prevents people from fully accepting true, healing love. A patina’d coat of armour can serve you well even as it tries to isolate you. Amazing aunts you have. I love that you celebrate the other-mothers here!
    I think you caught a glimpse of my relationship with my mother, back in the day. Not many saw that, but you saw through a sharper lens. She absolutely adored you, by the way – still asks about you! Things have changed, as I’ve grown. It all looks so different from an adult perspective. Wish we lived closer – there’s so much to catch up on, and your sage words are golden. 143 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • 143 to you as well, dear friend. I did see… I think I saw a lot of things that other kids missed. I think I hid a lot. I knew I was getting off a sinking ship, at a very early age, but it took me a long time to realize that there was a safe haven, a good place to land. I am working through this right now, but for the first time, I know that there is hope for real healing. I love you Val… for always being there. Thank you so much for that. xox


  15. Mike Lince says:

    Your story evoked a lot of emotions in me. I don’t know if it helps to say this, but you are not alone. I know how you feel sometimes, about mothers. I never experienced a mother’s love, and my children were afraid of my mother. Rightfully so, I think. She was a brilliant scientist, and I think that is the extent of what she excelled at. My father fulfilled his duty, seeing that I finished high school, and then he left. I can understand why, even though it felt crappy at the time. Gratefully, I received something like maternal love from a doting paternal grandmother.

    I think back and I believe what I missed out on most was a good model for how to build healthy relationships. I learned by making many mistakes before I figured out how to love and be loved. I also missed out on getting to know some wonderful cousins, most of whom I have recently reconnected with on Facebook, but I have not seen in decades.

    As you can see, your story touched me. I feel like we both turned out okay. Happy Mother’s Day, Dawn! – Mike

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike, thanks so much for sharing your story. I think there are are a lot of people who have had a rough time of it… I grew up thinking everyone had a normal family, and I didn’t. Now I realize that there were lots of us struggling, in silence. I knew how to make it look normal… and getting support was a tough thing. I’m sorry for what you had to go through, but grateful we both made it to the other side… it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Thanks so much for sharing your story here. I so appreciate the connection we’ve forged, in writing and then in person. xo


  16. What a stunningly beautiful tribute to your aunts! Brings tears to my eyes. Tears of happiness for you with a tinge of envy. I think you already know from reading my blog that my mother’s mental illness made it a challenge to have a great relationship. I blocked out most of my childhood, and bits and pieces have come back through hypnotherapy sessions. Fortunately, in using this sort of healing work, I have been able to go back through time to heal that little girl who still lives in me. There has been no family member or elder friend that has been able to help me because quite honestly, no one knows the extent to which my mother’s vicious tongue would cut me (and only me- not my brothers). I’ve rescued me, and will be writing more about it since I’m back to doing a short series of hypnotherapy sessions again.

    I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for the healing of your heart that is happening. I now know and see first hand how and why abuse gets passed on and on and on. I totally get it and am so proud of you for taking steps towards your own healing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Susan. I do know that you have really had to overcome a lot to get where you are, as a parent, and as a person. All we can do is our best… it’s all a journey. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts and your compassion. Thank you so much for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. sara says:

    Ah Dawn. Your story filled me with such sadness and sympathy. To be a mother after being poorly mothered is so difficult. You have done very well, I think, and to have this knowledge about your family in time to enjoy it is a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel very grateful for a lot of things, Sara. I certainly wish I’d known some things earlier, it might have made a lot of difference… but the path we take is what gets us where we are, and I suppose that means something… hmm, trying to figure out what! 😉 Thanks for your kind support and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Katalina4 says:

    Ooof – so poignant.
    After all the sadness and hurt, it is beautiful how you have been able to focus on good love, and have become such a splendid, loving mother yourself. Amazing.
    I too have a long and unhappy mother story, and the more I focus on where there is open, uncomplicated, healthy love, the better I feel.
    Happy Mother’s Day, dear friend.


    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Kat. I’m fortunate to have connected with you through writing! I think there’s a lot of growth that comes from looking at things honestly and then moving forward. I don’t believe in “let it go,” but “moving through” is a good place to be. Thank for your very kind words of support. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  19. mamaheidi60 says:

    I too celebrate the other mothers. My mom was a pathological liar. She never once said, “I love you.” Even in her last years, when I would phone and I would say, “I love you.” I wouldn’t hear it back. My niece once told me that as she left mom’s room one night toward the end, that my mom called out “I love you!” That was crushing to me, but then, I wondered, was it true? I’ll never know. I was scared during my pregnancy that I would have a daughter and I wouldn’t have a clue how to have a relationship with her. Thankfully, in my childhood I did have women who parented me.Especially my girlfriend’s mom whom I called my Blue Eyed Mom. And after my daughter was born, I had a circle of women friends as well as a sister and sister-in-law who gave me little nudges to do this and that. What I often wonder, is how did no one in my life see what was going on? Our youth minister was influential in giving me self-confidence. I’ll never know if he had any idea what my home life was like or if he just saw me so clearly. He changed my world. If he had not seen me, I don’t know what life would have been like. I don’t think my Dad saw it because my mom would be very sweet and nice when he was home. So, Mother’s Day was a pain for years, trying to just do the right thing. This is my second year without Mom and it’s a relief not to have to try to do the right thing. My husband’s mom on the other hand was the model of unconditional love! And my husband is as well. So, in the end, I was able to give that to our daughter. I appreciate that you wrote about your experience and the influence of your Aunt. Aren’t our stories complicated? We just never know what another is carrying around!!! Thanks for your honesty to go deep!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heidi, thank you so much for sharing your own story… full of such pain and challenge, as well as healing and growth. I too have wondered about the people who knew what my life was life and said nothing… it was a very important babysitting customer who told me: “This is not how it should be; you need to get out.” My junior year of hs, I did. It was really hard, but one of the best things I ever did.

      I worked really hard to do be loving with my mother and we did share some very loving times… she was able to say I love you, and did love me. She was a broken woman, and her love was complicated, but there were many times when I knew she really cared. That does not change the hurt inflicted, but I tried very hard– throughout my life with her, and before her death, to understand the limits there were.

      Love you, friend. Thank you for sharing, and Happy Mother’s Day! xox


  20. hbksloss says:

    Such hard pain to not feel loved and safe and secure by our mothers. It is a horrible club to belong to. I have found comfort over the years in the company of other women who have similar stories and have found healthy ways to move on. My mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis is helping heal our relationship but the decades of sorrow, anger, disappointment and longing will never go away. It is awful to feel unlovable and only another woman, longing for a mother’s love, understands that pain. But healing happens. Good luck. You are brave to blog about this subject. I can’t yet.

    By the way, I go to a yearly woman’s retreat in northern California, and this is frequently an issue that many of the attendees work with. Let me know if you are interested in learning more about what the leader affectionately calls, Summer Goddess Camp.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. You really do have an extraordinary way of writing Dawn. You make me wrestle with my own thoughts and emotions…..


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