My husband and I recently celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary. It was a nice day involving flowers and an expensive dinner, like every year. But every year when our anniversary arrives, it's with a sadness I have tried to shake off for decades.
My family did not come to my wedding.
OK, I was living in London, a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles; it was my second marriage; my mom had never met my future husband; my cousin, her sister's daughter, was also getting married that weekend and my mom and sisters, and even my brother, had plane tickets and wedding clothes.
But no matter how hard I rationalize it, I cannot get over the fact that they chose my cousin over me. I was my parents' firstborn; my mom didn't even like that sister; there was not much difference in price between tickets to Toronto and London in those days, and I had offered to pay for everyone anyway.
But my family could have come and would have come if my mom, the matriarch, had given her blessing. A strong, manipulative woman, my mother's decision to not attend my wedding had nothing to do with prior commitments and everything to do with her loss of control. She was angry I'd moved to England. She wanted me home with her.
I was being punished.
You may wonder where my dad comes into this. A shy, reclusive guy—so shy, most people thought my mom was a widow—getting my dad on a plane to anywhere was not going to happen. My dog suddenly reciting French poetry would have surprised me less than picking my dad up at Heathrow Airport or any airport for that matter. My mom ran the show, and it was fine by him.
Now, 30 years later and every year since my wedding, I look for the smiling faces of my family in the group photo taken on the steps of the Chelsea Registry Office on King's Road that cool June day in 1988.
But they're not there.
I have forgiven my father, and my sisters—sort of—because I know what they were up against. But my mom—nope.
Is forgiveness all that it's cracked up to be?
The sheer volume of quotes on forgiveness and how important/healthy/saintly/brave/good it is would make your head explode:
To err is human; to forgive, divine. —Alexander Pope
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. —Nelson Mandela
If we really want love we must learn how to forgive. —Mother Theresa
I stopped trying to be perfect years ago after a decade of New Age activities: self-help books, meditation, Reiki healing, chanting, Rolfing, cloud busting. (You remember the '80s.) I've done my best to forgive and move on from most of my life's disappointments. And I've been pretty successful. I say no and mean it. I draw clear boundaries. But the emotional battles I had to wage with my mother just to be me, to live my own life, were epic.
After I divorced my first husband, an alcoholic narcissist, she didn't talk to me for two years. She took his side. He continued to manipulate her long after I fled to New York to escape the daily psychodrama she produced. My ex gave her extravagant gifts, took her to lunch, confided in her—and by "confiding," I mean he made up stories starring me as the bad guy. The divorce took six years. And my mother played a huge part in dragging it out.
When I brought my new English husband home for Thanksgiving later that year, my mother announced she'd invited my ex for lunch.
What do you do with someone like that?
A woman of phenomenal energy, my mom raised four kids pretty much on her own. She did everything: cleaning, chores, gardening, shopping, cooking, school recitals and fundraisers. She nursed us through colds, flu, broken bones, pneumonia and meningitis. When I was 8 and in the hospital with third-degree burns over my back and legs, she kept everything going at home, yet still managed to be at my hospital bed when I woke up in the morning. She was kind and warm. She loved to sing. I still miss the long talks we had late at night, flung on my bed, in our pajamas, shooting the breeze about school and boys and life.
She was the engine in our family—she kept us together and moving forward. She had to, as my dad worked 24/7. Someone had to drive.
I understand why she did all those things, but that doesn't mean we aren't still broken. —Veronica Roth
Trying to work it out, I'd steer our conversations to my wedding but she never backed down. She could not, or would not, understand why I was so hurt. And then she died.
Over the years, I've had imaginary conversations with her, trying to close the wound. In these conversations, she is open and receptive. She listens carefully with compassion and sensitivity. Nodding and smiling, she finally sees my point of view. And we hug. Then another anniversary rolls around, and I take out that wedding picture.
And she's not there.