Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I dreamed about my mother last night.  I think I have only dreamed about her one other time since she died six years ago.  At least that I remember.

I didn’t like my mother much.  Not at first though.  At first I loved her, wanted her love, like any other kid wants their mother to love them.  Not that she didn’t love me.  She did as much as she was capable of but that wasn’t enough for me.  I was a needy child.  Somewhere in my teens, I shifted my speech from Mom to the more formal Mother.  And she stayed Mother til she died.

When I, ultimately the middle child, was born, she refused to let the nurse bring her newborn into the room.  It couldn’t possibly be her child because I had dark hair (my mother was blonde).  The distraught nurse had to call my father, a pathologist there at the hospital, to come and assure his wife that I was, indeed, their daughter.  My mother used to tell this story as if it was a joke.  She thought it was funny.

My mother was herself a child of late life.  Her father spoiled her rotten to the resentment of her two older (by a decade) sisters and the dismay of her mother and then he died when she was 15.  My father pretty much picked up where her father left off.

She doted on my younger brother, the only boy, the baby and the heir of the family name; he became the preferred child.  On my older, blonde, pretty sister fell the expectations and attention of the first born.  I think in retrospect, the middle was the best place as I probably had more leeway and less criticism although there was plenty of that.  In the end, the first born and the male heir left, both eventually moving out of state.  

My mother was a born actress.  Her life was the play.  She had several roles that she played and later in my life I could see her shift from one to the next to get what she wanted or to fulfill whatever expectations had been placed on her by society or some of her own crazy fantasies.  We were part of her role as ‘doctor’s wife’.  She liked the idea of children but she didn’t really care for the day to day reality of children.  She was a selfish and self centered woman.  Imperious is usually the word I use to describe her.

The irony is that when she began to fail several years after my father died, the only child she could call for, or rather demand of, aid was me, the one who was probably the most emotionally distant.  She was stuck with the ‘mean one’.  It was a trying time for both of us because she refused to cooperate and move closer in and make it easier for me while her condition required me to be there often and we lived over an hour away.  Eventually she moved out of state to live with my brother who put her in a family home because she really needed someone there 24/7.  Our mother suffered from TIAs and the resultant dementia.

When she finally died I was unexpectedly affected.  I cried where my two siblings did not.  At least not around me.  It took me awhile to understand where this grief came from.  I wasn’t mourning my mother so much as the loss of the possibility of having the kind of mother I wanted.  

In my dream, which was actually just a small part of a much longer dream, she hugged me, a tight and long hug.  One from which, after a moment, I was trying to disentangle myself while she clung, and finally I stepped back.  I woke shortly after that as if that whole scene was shock enough to rouse me.  You see, my mother did not like to be touched.  She shooed her children away from her when they snuggled up on the couch.  She didn’t like hugs or physical expressions of emotion even as she needed to be the center of attention.  And as an old woman she hated having someone hold her arm to steady her.  She could be quite ugly about it.

So I’m wondering what that was about.


  1. Ouch! This must be a hard thing to think about, who your mother was, how she was, what she meant for you. It must have tough to write too. You had a revelation in the second paragraph:

    "Not that she didn't love me. She did as much as she was capable of..."
    When we don't get enough love, we seem to have this need, which feels a bit shameful, as though we shouldn't be needing. Your mother was who she was. Many women are like that.

  2. For all the conflict with your mother, the same line stuck with me as with lakeviewer. "She did as much as she was capable of." You are wise in your understanding of the woman. What intricate yet strong connections we form within families, staying with us, visiting our thoughts and memories.

  3. You've made me think .. and it's not even 8 am.

    While petting Riley and drinking my coffee, I thought my own Mother. We had a love hate relationship. Only after having my own wild children did I relate to her more.

    I do wish your Mom had been more capable of showing her love to you.

    I know when my Mother past away she was saying all sorts of things to her neighbors about her terrible daughters. (one neighbor even told us how bad we were)

    I try to remember the good things about Mom although when my sister & I talk, those ugly things Mother did and said, do come back and join the conversation.

    It takes time to forgive, or in my case realize that she was just a person and the world wasn't perfect and neither was she.

    And, I'll send my bill in the mail to you this week LOL

    Love You and keep on going ...

  4. Lovely, beautiful and very sad. It made me think hard about what I have, and what I should accept I will never have.

  5. Thank you for sharing that. Such a beautiful heart you have.....and that brilliant brain is just gonna yank you through. I'm sending hugs and kisses, like good mom's have 'a dime a dozen' of. Like you. I do too love your wicked-fun mind.

  6. Well, I'd like to think that the dream was your subconscious being your mother & giving you the affection you missed - but I'm not really a dream interpreter.

    I had (& have) many dreams about my mom since she died 4 1/2 years ago. I remember one that made me laugh when I woke up, although it was actually very poignant. Mom had "come back" from wherever she was & expected to move back in with Daddy. Except he had remarried. So my brother & I were looking for an apartment for her. She was having none of it! I don't know that she would have said out loud that she didn't want daddy to remarry after she was gone - but I know that she would have considered it a betrayal. So in my dream she fully intended to live with both of them. What a mess!

  7. Very sad post. I've been blessed with a mum I couldn't ask more of, this made me very thankful but also quite sad. But awareness is powerful, we can learn a great deal from our parents' weaknesses (or sins, or whatever) and stand on their shoulders (so to speak!).

  8. "You see, my mother did not like to be touched. She shooed her children away from her when they snuggled up on the couch. She didn't like hugs or physical expressions of emotion ..."

    I guess I just don't understand parents who can't (or won't) allow themselves to be close to their children. I mean, I try to understand them, and I accept the fact that people are who they are and that's just the way it is, but I just don't understand them. I pity them. How can they go through life never knowing or appreciating the joy of a hug from their child, which, to me, is the single most amazing and wonderful of all human experiences?

    So maybe your dream was your mind's way of acknowledging what was missing from your childhood. A sort of closure, perhaps?

    Or not...what do I know about psychology and dream interpretation? I'm just a physics teacher....:)

  9. I can really relate to your story as it is so similar to my own. In particular this jumped out at me "I wasn’t mourning my mother so much as the loss of the possibility of having the kind of mother I wanted."......so true.

  10. Oh man, did I relate to this story. My mother was so complicated. I was the middle child. She also didn't care to be hugged. I reminded her of my father and that didn't sit well with her.

    You told your story so well. Sometimes I think we work things out in our dreams. I had a dream about a year after my mother died, (she died peacefully in her chair Bible in her lap), in my dream she was treading water in the ocean, in a small churning pool surrounded by craggy rocks, (Mom didn't swim, never saw her in water). We were all there, my kids, my brother and sister. I looked at her and I said, "Mom, what are you doing here. You died." She looked at me and said, "I forgot. I better go." Then she sunk into the water and was gone.

  11. The only difference between your mother and my mother is mine ain't dead yet.

    Holy hell Ellen... you just wrote nearly verbatim the story of the lifelong relationship my siblings and I have with our own mother. Unfreakingbelievable.

    I'm going to email them with a link to this post. Their mouths are going to hang open!

    I so related to this. Was touched, moved, and recognized my own life in your words. Incredible writing.

    And not to freak you out or anything... but was it a dream or a supernatural visit?

  12. I too could relate to so much of what you wrote. That's a big part of why I started my Objets D'art blog, so that I could rip on the stuff that hurt me so much. It always amazes me when anyone thinks that character is me. It's mostly my mother. The only way I've been able to take the sting out of her stock phrases is having learned to laugh at them. I read once that no comedienne ever thought she was beautiful as a child. I think it may be true.

  13. ". . .the loss of the possibility of having the kind of mother I wanted . . ." - that's it spot on. I thought that thought consciously when both my parents passed.

  14. Oh man. What a story.

    I, too, am the middle child in a family in which the youngest, the only boy, was the golden child. My mother just didn't get me, and frankly - I didn't get her either.

    So I was completely wrapped up in your story on a number of levels. Wow.

    The dream? Interesting in many ways. The clinging seems related to what you said about needing her to love you more than she did, and the stepping back, away from the embrace, like the shift from Mom to Mother.

    It does feel healing to me, reading your dream snip. Would be interesting to know more about the rest of the dream to put that scene in context.

    Not everyone is meant to be a mother. That's why I had my tubes tied in my mid-20's. I'm not a bad person, just not built for the job. During the generation before ours, people had no choice.

    Sending love and admiration, Ellen. I think you are so cool.

  15. I am touched by all your replies. thank you.

  16. Ellen, I can't tell you how much I relate to this post. I can completely relate, so I understand why you cried when she died. I cried about that -- about she and my father, the parents they would never be --while both were alive because they made it so clear there would never be one of those "talks" -- now I'm older and I get it or they are older and wiser and realize the dynamics and were just doing their best, etc... When they both fell ill for long periods of time, my father could still communicate his dissatisfaction even though he could not speak or open his eyes. Taking care of mother so intimately when we had none of that previously was a head trip indeed.

    I bet you woke up from the shock of the hug. I wish I could offer something more, but all I've got is: I think it speaks volumes for you that you would show up to take care of her under the circumstances. Perhaps it was meant to be for some profound yet hidden growth of your own that this happened this way. Our mothers are the most profound relationship we human beings can have in our lives... to not get the nurturing and attention, the cookie baking and dressmaking or the advice on boys or your cycle, to not have that rock behind you to turn to always (pick one, or all, or add more) is a particular kind of heartbreak that stays tender forever I think. At the same time, it can ripen some into incredible women who go forth and do much good in their lives. I think you are one of those.

  17. A sad post, really. I'm sorry that anybody has to remember their mother this way, It also makes me wonder what kind of a mother she had. Did you know her? Sometimes people just don't have anything to pass on to their hildren because they got nothing from the parents.

  18. Hi Ellen

    thank you for being courageous enough to share that story.

    You have many needs that were not met by your mother...I suggest you brainstorm all of the elements of the dream...and let the ideas float up from your unconscious even if they at first seem daft, write them down...

    then after mulling that over I suggest you go through all the parts again but this time being each part...

    for example:

    I (Ellen) am the woman being hugged... write down how that feels

    I am the mother doing the hugging...

    I am the setting (?) where the dream took place

    ...and so on including all the elements that appeared in the dream...

    In addition to viewing a dream at face value, each of the contents of our dreams can be seen as manifestations of different parts of ourselves.

    Good luck

    and if you don't latch on to anything that's Ok too, the unconscious will bring it back in another dream...

    Happy days

  19. Minka's thought is an interesting one. My grandmother rocked, but I think she was too "country" for my mother, who saw herself as gentrified.

  20. I would say, although I really know nothing, that you are healing from the mother wounds.

    I, too, had a distant mother but was the baby of three girls. We never seemed to do any thing good enough...it always could have been better.

    As a result, we are three over achieving workaholics with underlying guilt and lack of self esteem.

    I think this dream is telling you it's okay, she did love you and is finally giving you the hug you truly need.

  21. Though I don't feel strongly about this, I sometimes wonder if those who die are later given some chance to understand their limitations and failures in life. I do believe that my efforts to send blessings to the dead are worthwhile, though I don't know much about the cosmic economy behind that belief. If there is such a chance, may your mother now come to know what a wonderful person she had as a daughter, and may this lighten her heart.

  22. I feel for you. My father was pretty distant and not affectionate at all. It took me years to quit mourning for the father that I wished I had had and love the father that I was blessed with. Because, even though we didn't always get along and I can't even say that we always liked each other, I was blessed to be his daughter. Just not always blessed in the same way that some of my siblings were or the blessings that I necessarily wanted.


I opened my big mouth, now it's your turn.