Monday, November 19, 2012

When it rains, it pours

by ccho via Flickr
"That secret that you know, but don't know how to tell / It fucks with your honor and it teases your head / But you know that it's good girl / 'Cause its running you with red"
-Bon Iver, "Blood Bank"

Hurricane Sandy was not only an awful storm for the east coast. It was the catalyst for me finally revealing my real childhood to my grandmother, a secret I have guarded tightly and intentionally from her for nearly two decades.

My family did not sustain any terrible damage from the storm, but my grandma did lose power for four days. My brother and sister in law contacted my grandmother and mother before the storm hit to let them know that they were available to help them if they needed it. They didn't hear from them and so they assumed everything was fine once the storm hit. My great aunt, my grandma's sister, contacted my sister in law over Facebook three days after the storm because she was concerned about my grandma since she hadn't heard from her since before the storm. My brother was able to get ahold of my mother that evening and found out the situation.

They had lost power shortly after the storm hit and my mother had only been able to charge her cell phone that evening my brother called because she went to a nearby church for a free meal. When my brother had related the news to me, my heart sank to my stomach and I instantly burned with anger. So many whys ran through my head: why wasn't her phone charged before the storm, why did it take her so long to find somewhere to charge it, why didn't she try to tell anyone that they didn't have power, why why why? I was concerned for my 92 year old grandma and her health. My fury sprouted from the fear that my mother was neglecting my grandmother's basic needs just like she had neglected mine when I lived with her.

My anger made me bold and I called my mother after I spoke to my brother. After I confirmed the details I had heard from my brother, I just went off. My mother, of course, did not take the criticism well and kept passing the phone to my grandmother in hopes of shutting me up. The conversation kept going in circles and I finally had enough. I told my mother that our relationship is now nothing more than us calling each other when a family member dies. Is that what she really wanted? I reminded her that the ball has been in her court for three years and she has done nothing to show me that she was genuinely sorry for what she put me through.

They wound up getting their power back the next day. Over a week passed. Then I got an email from my grandmother, chastising me for talking to my mother the way that I did. I have gotten flak from her before about the way I speak to my mother sometimes, but nothing like this. After nearly 20 years, I was sick of taking bullet after bullet for my mother. This hit was one that I was not going to take lying down. It was time for my grandmother to know the truth.

Hi Grandma,


Based on the things that you mentioned in your email, I have a feeling that Mom did not tell you the whole conversation that we had nor explained why I was so upset. In fact, over the years, you have been given a primarily one sided account of the relationship that Mom and I have and why it is the way it is. You no doubt have noticed that Mom's and my relationship has been strained for a long time and that it has continued to get worse instead of better. While it is unfortunate what happened because of Sandy, that was not the real reason I called Mom and spoke to her the way that I did. The real issue at hand is much, much more involved.

You have issues with the way that I speak to Mom. You’ve stated that plainly in the email and have said as much in the past. I think you know me well enough to know that the way I sometimes speak to and treat Mom is not indicative of my true personality and nature. I do not speak to or treat anyone else the way that I do with Mom.

I have never told you why I speak to and treat Mom that way and I have never told you why I am so upset with Mom. I never told you over the years because the truth is upsetting and I didn't want to upset you unnecessarily. When I was young, I also thought that it was my fault for the way things were and I was ashamed to tell anyone about it. I thought that Mom and I would move past this and I wouldn't have to say anything. It could simply be forgotten. I see now that that is not going to happen. You are clearly already upset about the situation and so you deserve to know the truth and I am no longer afraid to tell you.

Quite simply, I speak to and treat Mom the way that I do because no one else has treated me the way Mom has treated me. Mom is a hoarder. By hoarder, I do not mean that she simply has a messy, cluttered house. While it’s true that she has a tendency to collect clothing and food for the less fortunate, I am referring to a condition that is much more serious... The details are unpleasant, but you need to know in order to understand my distress... To put it plainly, if anyone really knew the conditions I was living in, I would have been taken away from her in a heartbeat and she would have been charged with child neglect.

As a child and then a teenager, growing up like this was incredibly upsetting. I did not understand why Mom was allowing our house to get worse and worse... I blamed myself for the way things were. I thought I did not deserve to live in a clean home and that’s why Mom did not throw things away or clean. I was sick all of the time because of all of the bacteria, mold, mildew, and feces around me (I've rarely been sick since I moved out of the house). I went through bouts of depression because I felt unworthy of everything and I thought that Mom simply did not love me. I became fearful that people would find out about our situation and so developed anxiety. The incredible hurt that I felt from our living situation would cause me, and continues to cause me, to lash out at her and speak to her and treat her the way that I did and do.

I didn’t fully understand the situation that I grew up in until I went away for college. By then, the damage was already done to my mental and emotional health as well as Mom’s and my relationship. It pains me to admit this to you, Grandma, but the intense anguish I felt drove me to the brink of suicide. I sought therapy and attempted to find peace with the situation. You might remember that a few years ago, Mom and I fought for over 3 hours on Christmas day. This was shortly after I hit my lowest low. We were talking about her hoarding and how it affected me. I confronted her about how damaging it was to me.

[My brother] knows about the past partially because he was there and partially because I’ve told him the details. He has talked to Mom multiple times about her hoarding and has tried to help her. He convinced her to apologize to me. When she apologized, I accepted her apology, but I told her that in order for any change to take place, I needed to see some action so that I knew she was genuine. I placed the ball in her court and I have seen no action. She has since distanced herself from [my brother] as well.

I have tried to talk to her and reason with her. I have tried to make her understand how hurt I was and continue to be. While I am still so hurt, that anger is going to come out and lash out at her. I am not proud of this and I would like nothing more than to change it, but I cannot change if Mom is not willing to help heal the wounds that she caused.

The reason I was so upset when I called after Sandy is because, over the last three years (since I asked to see action from her), I only get a call from Mom if someone in the family dies. She does not communicate things with me or with [my brother]. This is the part of the conversation I don’t think Mom told you about. While I understand that there were barriers in place, communication in these situations is necessary. More importantly though, the fact that Mom is assisting in your care touched a raw nerve with me. When I lived with her, Mom neglected my basic needs and did not seek help in our situation. I do not wish that or the hopeless feeling I felt then on anyone. I was concerned that you were also being neglected and not being helped. My trust in Mom has been broken for quite some time and I want you to be in capable hands.

No doubt, if she is confronted about this or if she reads this email, she will have excuses and will be in denial, but these things are facts and this is the way that I felt and continue to feel. These things are my past and she has not taken responsibility for what happened to me when I was a child. She was the parent and she let these things happen to me.

She might have issue with the term “hoarder” and she might want to continue to blame her thyroid disease on the situation despite there being zero medical evidence, but that does not change the fact that these things happened, that she did nothing to stop them, and that they affected me profoundly in physical, mental, and emotional ways.

I’m sorry if this email is upsetting and shocking to you. I hoped so much that this would blow over and be forgotten. Instead, it haunts me every day. I have many demons because of the conditions I grew up in and the relationship that I have with Mom. The way I speak to her is just one of these demons. I fight hard against it, but it will still rear its ugly head until I can find ultimate peace with this situation.

I love and care about you deeply, Grandma. Your house has always been a safe haven for me... I hope that Mom and I can one day get past this. Until she is fully on board though, I honestly doubt that is possible.

My grandma could have taken that email so many different ways. I was ready for her not to believe what I told her. I was prepared for my mother to call me in a fit of rage. I got a response from my grandma the day after I sent her the email telling me that she was disturbed by what I told her, but that she's not going to get involved. It's between my mother and me. My mother is a good daughter to her and I should try to be more considerate. She hopes I can put the past behind me and is deleting my email so that my mother won't see it.

In someways, I feel relieved for finally saying what needed to be said for years. In others, I feel as though I stuck my neck out only for it to be buried in the sand again by someone else. I can't blame my grandma for just wanting to pretend like she doesn't know and for not turning against her daughter, but, ultimately, she's only enabling my mother to continue her hurtful behavior.

In the end, all I really want is closure. Instead, the door keeps getting stuck hanging ajar.


  1. 1. I am glad to hear that grandma is ok! Also, I love that your great aunt is on FB.

    2. I know how hard this is, and I know you really didn't want to have to do this, but we can hope that this is finally the catalyst that we have ALL (me included!) been waiting for that will help your mother see the light. No guarantees, of course, but you've highlighted in your email the strength of a daughter's guilt--thinking it's your fault for the situation you're in, you didn't deserve a clean life, etc.--and perhaps your grandma will instill some of that in your mother. Your mother is, and always has been, a wild card of the worst kind, but hopefully the one constant in her life can be the impetus for real change and improvement.

    3. I'm very proud of you for send this email.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, darling :-)