Claire Went There

And wound up here

This is Where I Start

I have a story that I don’t know how to tell.  I can relay the facts and some of the feelings, but there is no appropriate way that I know of to get started.  So, I’ll just begin.

On March 9 of this year, I Googled my mother’s name.  Sometimes I do this, because I haven’t seen or spoken to her in many years – ever since she called my then-9-year-old daughter a “bitch” at my sister’s wedding.  I knew the town where she lived, and had a pretty good idea of her mental state.  I would look her up periodically, just to see if I could find any information.  Was she working?  Was she on or even Facebook?  As much as I knew that I had to stay away from her for my own sake and for that of my family, it’s not easy to be estranged from a parent.  Sometimes, I just wanted to know where she was.

Only on March 9 when I Googled her name, her obituary showed up.  She had been dead for 4 months by then, since November 1, 2012.  No one called or wrote to me or my sister.  There was no deathbed plea to see her daughters, no brief extension of maternal love sent our way, no sad call from my Aunt or cousins, no “you may want to come down for this.”  Nothing.  I even looked back at my calendar to see what I was doing that day  — to see if maybe I could remember feeling something.

This is some hard shit to wrap my brain around, but I’ve gotten very good at living without a mom.  I knew she was in the throes of some kind of mental illness, and I knew that I’d never have a relationship with her, and I knew that she was telling her sister and my cousins that her kids were the most horrible children on the planet.  Still, it hurts.

And then I received her Will in the mail, but only because I harassed the county probate clerk for a week.  My sister and I are not in it, as she left all of her property to my Aunt, and the remainder to 2 churches.  And this hurts, too.

Parental estrangement is a nasty bed of thorns.  In my case my mother and I never quite got along, although she was brilliantly social and friendly to our neighbors and family friends.  My own friends remember her as beautiful  and engaging.  But living with her was a lesson in capriciousness, narcissism, and full-blown hysteria.  There was ALWAYS something not-quite-right with her, which later on became a real, bona fide mental illness.  And not a bumbling, forgetful kind of mental illness, but a mean one.  Some of the mom stories I tell my family and close friends are quite hilarious. There was one that made a therapist’s jaw drop open, but I tell it with a full appreciation of its ridiculous humor, and have never taken it too seriously.


That’s her, on the right, younger and happy.

In fact, that’s how I manage to stay relatively sane – humor.  I think almost everything that happens to me or around me is slightly or outright amusing.  And I think it’s humorous in a really bizarre way that I found out my mother died through Google.  I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s strange and sad, which is enough for me to have a periodic laugh or two at my own expense.  I have a healthy appreciation for the absurd, and this is definitely absurd.

Only, this one is hard.  I keep trying to process that my mother died hating me.  Our estrangement was mutual – I never heard from her, either.  Is this my fault? Was I a terrible daughter forever, or only once I knew she had a full-blown mental illness?  Was it her fault?  I can’t help comparing my own experience as a mom and knowing without question that my kids would NEVER be able to keep me away from them, no matter how hard they tried.  Why didn’t she try?  Why didn’t anyone let us know she had died? I would have gone to her funeral and I probably would have cried. I would have gone.

I’m almost 50 and I feel like I’m 8.   I have more stories to tell, but I had to start here.

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10 thoughts on “This is Where I Start

  1. leesa hawthorne on said:

    Dearest Claire,
    I have tears streaming down my face after reading your candid words of experience. I too remember your mother as charming and soft and smelling of gardenias. I have so many feelings I would like to share with you. I really, really want to see you and meet your precious family. I live in Johns Creek and will happily travel wherever to come an
    Wednesday evenings. Please send me your address and a good time. It’s funny but I don’t want to talk with you on the phone, I just want to hug you, and look at you, and laugh and share with you.
    Love. love, Lees

  2. wow, Claire…
    I’ve read it over and over and am still overwhelmed by your story and by the beautiful way in which you choose to live your own life despite the hand that was dealt you. I have always marveled in your amazing ability to see humor (and biting sarcasm) in the everyday things…I was thrilled to see you were starting a blog so I could have a bigger dose of my Clairisms for the day…
    and then I read this. Thank you for baring your soul and sharing your story. I look forward to anything else you will write, funny or not!

  3. :*( ❤

  4. Cindy Orr Durden on said:

    Oh to learn how to find humor during and especially after pain. I tend to write during my most trying of times and find such peace when throwing up on a page. Although my writing tend to be more gibberish then poetic. Oh well….Thank you so much for sharing your true gift! Love – Cindy

  5. Claire, I don’t know you and have come across this blog as a result of my friend (xoxoles) comment on FB. I get the part about absurd (and i get absurd humor!!) as I’m coming through to the other side (and good) from a really bad relationship with one of my daughters…. As our family navigated through the really horrible parts, I realized that my own sanity meant I had to be transparent about our problem. You have a real gift of communicating your absurdity and, as tears fall, I’m sorry that your mother’s mental illness attacked you and yours. Your transparency will help others more than you’ll know.
    Friend of xoxoles

  6. Kathleen on said:

    I’m so proud of my big, brave, hilarious sister right now. This works almost as well as the funeral would have for me. I’m so glad I have you, just how you are, and therefore I’m actually grateful to her for all of it. It made us. By design or default, it made us. Bless it all.

  7. Thank you so much for including me ..I can remember her as so pretty, so kind (remember the flasher) I will never forget how she comforted me. Mental illness makes me so sad .. How to help them and how to love them ? Their insanity is so hard for their loved ones .. And yet they too are dying inside. Truly a tragedy . I have learned (as you have) to laugh at the insanity of life -it is what makes it bearable sometimes.. It makes dysfunction “workable”!
    It must have been shocking for you as a mom yourself to find out she was dead ? The questions you must have that will never be answered ? Just sad for every family member .. And that is mental illness. So sorry -because I know you still loved her – the bond of mother/daughter is never broken. She gave you life and an awesome sister .. That is something to be grateful for -that is something to laugh about 😜 rest in peace Laurie
    Big hug and giant glass of Pinot 😉

  8. Laura on said:

    Claire, your blog about your mother’s death and the difficult relationship you had with her hits home on so many levels. Here I am at age 49 still i cannot figure out how to have a fulfilling relationship with my own mother. My sister struggles with it, as well. I burst into tears after reading your blog. All the same, my fiancé found out his own father died – and he’d become estranged from him since the day he graduated high school back in 1982 – just this past September. Bobby’s brother found his obituary online. Like you, no deathbed summons. Nothing. It was just so bizarre and it left both sons feeling all the more lost and empty. Thanks for sharing. It was very well-written.

  9. Wow – an empty word here cause it fails to capture my feelings and my desire to respond with tenderness and strangely appreciation. I think your sister said it best. What a great perspective to take on the matter. I hate that your mom forfeited such a blessing of being a part of your life. All the more reason to love on those kids! I too say thanks for sharing.

  10. Claire…… mental illness sux. This brought tears to my eyes & my heart. Thanks for sharing as I’m sure it wasn’t easy. You probably know people will try to judge you. Sad but true. Ignore them & continue to be the strong woman you are.

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