A Son Comes to Terms With a Mother’s Abuse
We all knew she didn’t have much time left on this earth. How could we not? My mom was in her nineties and had a terminal illness. Everyone mourned and cried at her funeral … except for me. Flying back to my hometown for the funeral on that early fall day, I thought of writing something about her. Who knows, I mused… maybe it would even get published.
I wrote about what a good a person she was (and she was!) and entitled it “This is easy to write.” Since when are things “easy to write” the day after one’s mother dies…? I never could fathom how I had arrived at the title, which had given me the chills even as I wrote it. That was probably why I had tossed it in the plane’s bathroom waste bin.
My mother was a stately looking woman who had great pride in her Hungarian ancestry and Jewish heritage, despite her regrettably limited exposure to it. She was always involved in chesed projects. To her credit, she was also a loving and dedicated mom to my sister and me in all the usual ways.
I recall a spring morning when I looked up at mom who was surrounded by heaps of laundry she was about to tackle. She met my gaze and I saw the sun from the window reflected in her eyes as she said softly, “Dovid, do you know how much I love you?” A warm and positive feeling washed over me and stayed with me for the rest of that day.
Then there was the usual mommy-type comment, like “That suit is perfect on you. See, I knew if you took your time you would find just the right color and style!”
But there were other things… like when her love bordered on the abusive variety, when she would love me in a selfish, narcissistic way. I hated being called the “baby” in the family. And this exchange…when I was four years old:
“You want Mrs. Jones as a mother. I know you don’t want me!” she would say.
“No, Mom, I love you. I only love you. I really do.”
“You don’t mean that!”
“No Mom. I mean that. I want you. I only want you,” I would reply, already knowing at that tender age that this exchange would be the source of turmoil later on in life.
From time to time there would be instances of improper touching, against my will. There was also her lack of modesty around me, and the silly pet names she had for me. Not extreme abuse, but abuse nonetheless.
Her love could be confusing, self-serving and selfish. Naturally, I was angry! But I was no saint either and deeply regret that to this day. I held on to my anger and often relished it the sense of power it lent me… who cares if I ever saw her again in the next world?!
Much later on I would learn that my mom’s abuse was of a mild variety, compared to the real abuse visited by some parents on their children. Still, the abuse I was subjected to made me feel uncomfortable, dirty, a bit violated — and unable to have natural feelings for women my equal. Yes, to some degree I felt unmanly. But would that be forever…for an eternity? If I saw my mother one day in shamayim and was told that I would go through my whole existence without her, would I want that kind of olam haba or even be able to enjoy it?
The thought lingered and lingered and hurt. It bothered me deeply. One Friday afternoon I decided to get a rav’s opinion and called on the prominent “Rav Smith” whom I was familiar with. It wasn’t easy to verbalize or phrase my thoughts…
“I have such anger towards my mom. She did lots of bad things that I am enraged at…” I managed.
“And what advantage is there to holding onto a grudge?” the Rav asked in reply.
“It’s just that if she did what she did and was the way she was… is she different now in shamayim?”
“If she went through a din ve’chesbon, she is certainly cleansed totally of that imperfection. Absolutely.”
I thanked Rav Smith and that was the end of the conversation.
I never really loved my mother, though in her later years I would call her and always enjoy speaking with her. We got along well. As I said, she did a lot for me and I felt I should remember her and say Kaddish for her on her yahrtzeit. But the hate for that awful stuff was still there. I was still enraged and could not shake the anger.
Here I was, several years after her passing, yet due to my mom’s abusive nature and selfish love I couldn’t break free of her toxic grasp. I had unwanted, uncomfortable emasculating feelings and knew quite clearly that she was the culprit. Because of her, I regarded women as strong, confident and fearless beings who exist to love, nurture, overpower, coddle — and seduce me, the baby in the family. My view of women was unhealthy, immature and troubling.
Then, low and behold, things changed. A breakthrough in therapy — a medication change that made me feel more alive and in touch with what really attracted me. I was overcome with the sheer will to sever those bonds of her selfish love.
There was self-examination and emotionally healing mind exercises. I started to see women differently and began to respect myself more. The desire to be babied and controlled by women would soon be over. I now viewed them as equals and not as mother figures. Finally, I had control of my desires and not vice-versa! Baruch Hashem! I felt like a marathon runner crossing the finish line, and it felt great.
Now I wanted to go to the next step… of forgiving her. But it was not easy to come by. First I needed to know if, at the end of her life, she had true remorse for all the harm she caused me. However, she was not abusive in the way other moms I’d heard about were. She had slaved, toiled and worried about me; she stood by me and cared so very deeply for me. And we had so many wonderful times together. She taught me so much in life and bestowed upon me the gift of a value system which I cherish every day. And she forgave me. I reasoned that I’d better work very, very hard to find it in my heart to forgive her.
In my mind it all hinged on whether she’d felt remorse. Then I reconsidered. I thought of what Rav Smith had said, of how people’s neshamos are cleansed after they are niftar. I appealed to my logical side. Like all those who pass away, I am sure she was cleansed and is pure and free of any blemish. That concept is very real and I believe it.
Rav Smith is right. Sometimes it is difficult to imagine that in shamayim she truly is sorry for the harm she caused me, but I know that it is so. And to believe it wholeheartedly is my challenge in life. Her neshama is pure. It is time to appreciate all the love she gave me. It is time to forgive. It is time to move on.