I have been listening to The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu and it is opening me up to forgiveness. For many years I have known that I need to forgive, if only for myself but I have not known how. I discovered that I don’t even really know what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary definition does not seem to cover it.
None of that feels possible for me. None of it seems right. I just didn’t understand why that was what I needed to do to be free. Not doing all of those things is exactly what woke me up and got me out. The opposite of what it is to forgive, it seemed, was the power I used to stand up, say NO and break the chains of abuse that have run through my family for generations.
Prayer Before the Prayer
I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it me not yet but soon
- The Book of Forgiving
I can see that my mother was once a baby. That it is not possible to be born bad. It is ironic that the very person who taught me that such things are possible, that my sister was born bad, is the very person who needs to have that knowledge turned around, read backwards, to be forgiven. It is in moments such as this that I have to remind myself, to once again break my own heart, to once again feel the flood of shame - I have reached out to my mother. I have asked her to give me and my sisters a chance to forgive her and she rejected it (me). I wrote her a letter:
I hope you know how unutterably painful it is for me to live with the decision I made to cut you out of my life. It is not a decision that I made lightly. I revisit my decision almost every day, to make sure it still feels right, to make sure I won't ever have to live with regret.
I called you in a moment of powerful instinct - to move forward. I had written you an email to an old email address a week or so before which was returned. The email said pretty much exactly the same as I said to you when I called.
I made contact with you because I want to save myself from the unfathomable regret I felt when my father died. I will always regret not having given myself a chance to give him one more chance. I still hope that had I given him one last chance he would have said or done something, or looked at me some way that would have helped me feel that he loved me. For better or worse, he was our father. You never really got that in any compassionate way did you?
Nothing can change the fact that you are my mother. When I called you I was sure that I wanted to see you again. For myself. I wanted to give myself the chance to give you a chance.
Your responses on the telephone and your email have changed my mind and my instinct for now.
In your email you asked me to help you prepare by telling you what I want to hold you accountable for. Surely you can't be so delusional, so selfish, self absorbed and utterly disrespectful that you can't think of anything you could own up to, take responsability for? Be and say sorry for?
I was disappointed. I had hoped that missing me and your love for me would have compelled you to look inside yourself to seek to find answers as to why I had cut you out. I had hoped that your love for me was so strong that it would have driven you to face the truth at least somewhat.
You wrote in your email that you are concerned for me. You should be concerned for yourself and your eternal soul. You have inflicted so much pain, suffering and sorrow in your life time. You broke your own children. You hurt, manipulated, rejected, humiliated, degraded, mentally and physically, consistantly and insidiously abused us every day.. All behind the facade of the good, patient, kind, martyr, hardworking, loving amazing single mum that you showed to the rest of the world..
I implore you to pull yourself together, be the 60 something adult that you are and not allow yourself to resort to your "go to" response when you read this eg. impending heart attack, heart wrenching sobbing, falling apart mentally. I implore you to gather all that is good in you and use that strength to stop you from hurting my sisters with your shinanigans.
Find a therapist. Maybe he or she could help you find peace. Maybe he or she could help you get to a place where it would be possible to see me again. I hope you love me enough to want that with unrelenting tenacity and determination. I will always hope but honestly, I know that your fear of even remembering, let alone taking responsibility for what you did to me and my sisters is far greater than your love for me.
I had always remembered your explosive temper, your violence etc. but I forgave you because it was normal for us, I didn't know any different and because I understood that you had a bloody hard, stressful and frustrating life, bringing up 4 girls on your own.
I started to feel rising anger towards you when I was pregnant and I didn't know why.
When my daughter was born I felt overwhelming fear of you for myself and for my baby and an insistent knowledge that I had to protect her from you. I didn't know why?
All through this time, when I called you for motherly advice and support you told me that everything I was doing was wrong. The wake up call for me was when you told me that I wasn't up for it and that I should bring my baby to you.
I was already seeing a therapist by then, thank God that I had her objective, professional perspective on what you were doing. We had planned a trip to come and visit you and it felt like planning for war. My therapist helped me understand that it was okay to cancel the trip.
When I called you and told you that we would not be coming, that I was going through a difficult time and the trip felt too much for me. You were cold and pissed off. You again said that I should give my baby to you. When I reassured you that I had the help of our nanny you said, with a cold, angry and nasty voice "lucky her".
You never asked me what was going on with me. You didn't call to ask how I was. You didn't offer me any love or support. You just kept knitting woolen cardigans and hats that my baby was allergic to. And same old Maureen, you didn't believe me about that either.
My therapist suggested that I write my thoughts and feelings in a journal. So to give the intense, confusing and overwhelming feelings and memories an outlet. One sunny Saturday afternoon, while my baby was sleeping, I wrote - It was Mum.
You molested me Eileen. You disguised it as play. It was only when I became a mother myself that I realized that what you did to me, what you taught me was normal, was wrong. The first memories I have of you molesting me are foggy and disgusting. The last time you did it I remember clearly. I was in the 4th grade, 9 years old. It was summer and I had a rash between my legs from my chubby thighs rubbing together. You were home very early from work that day and none of my sisters were home yet. You asked me why I was walking strangely and I told you about the rash. You told me that I was fat, stupid, lazy and disgusting and that was why I had the rash. You told me to take my underpants off and lay down on my bed while you got the cream. When you came back with the cream I told you I could do it myself. You told me "oh shut up". You made me put my legs up, you put the cream on the rash and then you put your fingers into my vagina. I clenched my legs closed and told you to stop, you said "oh shut up you stupid little bitch". From that day on, I was no longer your little girl, no longer your baby, from that day on you treated me with the same disdain as you treated Iona and Jessi with.
You whipped my sisters with the buckle end of your belt over chocolate chips. You laid into Iona so hard that her back bled. The wounds you inflicted on her wept through her shirt at school the next day. Her teacher demanded that she show him what you had done and she begged him not to report you.
Do you remember when those boys drove past our house night after night yelling out Groana? They did that because that was the sound Iona made when they gang raped her. Your first born child was gang raped and you were too self absorbed to even come to think of helping her. You were angry with her, blamed her for "bringing it on".
Jessi was raped at the Church dance when she was 12 years old. The rapist was one of Mary's ex-boyfriends. He bragged about having fucked Jessi and Mary reported it back to you. You called Jessi a slut. You were angry with her. She was 12 years old. You never asked her about the circumstances of how it happened. You never asked her how she felt. You just labeled her a slut and treated her with more disrespect, anger, rejection, devoid of love, nurture and care than you already always had.
Mary had to live with the guilt of being the only child you ever wanted.
Look at us.
Look at your four daughters.
Look at what you have done to us.
You physically, emotionally and mentally abused my sisters and I insidiously and consistantly.
It is my deepest hope that you will not allow the effects that reading this letter will have on you to hurt my sisters.
I have not written any of this with the intention to hurt you.
I sent this letter to my therapist too. My therapist is an educated, certified, experienced professional. She knows what you did to me and my sisters and she believes me.
I am also sending this to Mairead.
I can't see us meeting again in the future. I hope and pray that this letter will touch you enough to tell my sisters that you are sorry and show them the infinite mother love, encouragement, belief, respect and support that every child deserves.
Wishing you strength, courage and love,
I deleted her reply. It was too painful. In it she wrote “I can not help you with your issues”.
In The Book of Forgiving we learn that our stories are important. The telling of them helps us to fully integrate what has happened to us. It helps us to heal. It helps us to forgive.
I am telling my story. I am so grateful to have the need I feel, the compulsion I have felt to tell it validated by people so wise and so experienced in the power of forgiveness.