By Lara Pickford-Gordon
A true understanding of what love is comes in the trials of life, the willing vulnerability, expanding our hearts beyond our own imagining. Love does not leave us unchanged. We can look at the love celebrated on Valentine’s Day as one form but there are many others.
It was supposed to be a reconciliation after months of silence. Attempts to spend time with her mother for Christmas did not work out. “She didn’t want me to come. That really threw me,” said Hannah (not her real name). Telephone calls at Christmas went unanswered.
She took the initiative to pack a few things and visit. “I went there Old Year’s Night and I attempted to do a pleasant toast with her, and it was in that moment in the 12 o’clock she started shouting at me and embarrassing me” she said. Criticisms were hurled verbally, each blow hitting the vulnerable spots. “She told me I was going crazy…something was wrong with me.” Her mother’s rant alluded to a past reproach from Hannah about certain life choices.
“I wanted to make it special and here it was she was shouting at me loud enough for neighbours to hear and she was saying these things as I had just finished writing my resolutions down. My resolutions included not getting angry. I didn’t want to be angry. I wanted to try and be calmer and more honest, all the things that would make for a good relationship with her.”
Anger was met with anger and Hannah knows in the moment she too said hurtful things; her salvo aimed at her mother’s recent remission from cancer. Hannah said she waited until daylight, and on January 1 left the house not knowing where she would go next.
She stopped off at her former school and took a long walk while crying. Distraught and in a zone of “self-pity”, she bought fast-food and stayed away until late evening. Her mother refused to speak with her from then. Attempts to communicate via telephone proved futile. “That just broke my heart,” Hannah said.
This incident plunged her into deep depression. Negative thoughts assailed her mind about being alone, her career, projects that did not work out, health and other issues that would “bleed” her finances. She felt like a failure. It was not the first time.
Escaping the ties that bind
As a child Hannah was sent to live with grandparents. “She gave birth to me, but I was not with her; I was with her relatives in the east.” She spent weekends and holidays with her mother, then from 17 years resided full-time with her. Hannah has “quite a few memories” of physical abuse, the earliest when she was two years.
At 14 years her mother told her she was not pretty. Comments were made about not having “good hair” or fairer skin. Hannah has never known her father and this part of her history remains a mystery despite enquiries.
The volatile relationship with her mother has caused Hannah to separate from her mother to preserve her mental health. “I was constantly moving in and out of the house…”
She estimated between her 20’s and 30’s she has fled and returned four times. In her 20’s she rationalised that the treatment given was because of her mother’s “own insecurities and problems in her personal life”.
Someone Hannah considers a maternal figure has tried to help her come to terms with the relationship urging her as “a good Catholic” to forgive. “Even when my mother was not talking to me, she was there.”
Her need to escape prompted a marriage which was done without informing her mother or friends. “For me it was like I poured my whole world into one person for a short time, and I felt safe, I felt protected especially from mummy. I felt like he could protect me from a lot of things. Looking at it now, it was more of a father-daughter thing…to a great extent it is still like that.”
The marriage took her to another country for a time, but cohabitation did not last. “I still had all my insecurities; I was a mess.” She admits that her conduct was not good and there was a feeling of victimhood. She returned to Trinidad.
Hannah’s mother became extremely ill in 2017 and had to stop working. She was diagnosed with cancer, and it was life or death if she did not have immediate treatment. After surgery was performed Hannah, who runs her own business, became the full-time caregiver. She shuttled her mother to doctor’s appointments, for treatments, bought medications, supplements. She cleaned and clothed her when she was too weak. Verbal and physical abuse however resumed when she was stronger.
“Love and charity, are service, helping others, serving others. There are many people who spend their lives in this way, in the service of others. … When you forget yourself and think of others, this is love! And with the washing of the feet the Lord teaches us to be servants, and above all, servants as He was a servant to us, for every one of us.” —Pope Francis, March 12, 2016.