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My mother’s shadow still looms large in my life, even now. The pain in my heart from all that has transpired never leaves. And still I love her, as I always have. When I feel too sad, I remind myself of the things she said, and how she made me feel.

I love her, and I miss her, but I know that this cannot be fixed. I can never go back to that situation, but the ache in my heart never leaves.  I cared for her, as if she were my child the past 3 1/2 years, and it is impossible not to feel the loss of our togetherness. It’s almost like I lost a limb, and daily feel the phantom pain, of a part that is no longer with me. But I could no longer survive the heartache, pressure, or pain that came with loving her. And now, I grieve her absence like a death.

I wonder if my life would have been vastly different, if I had moved away from her many years ago, so that she could not influence my life in the ways that she  has. She moved away from me once, but not all that far. She and my step-dad journeyed to a small seaside town (where we still live), to try their hand at deep sea fishing, after a lifetime of  hard work  for both of them. They were not successful, because the fishermen were a tight knit group, and they greatly resented anyone honing in on their territory.  And it was much harder work than they had imagined. (But much like our venture with the Christian coffeehouse, it was something they wanted to do, and never regretted trying.)

I was married to Gary then, (my first husband), and times were rough for us. We were attempting to make a living at singing (our dream) but it was very difficult, and finances and jobs were tight. I had talked my husband into trying it, because he would come home every day from the gypsum factory, where he worked, covered in a white powdery substance, that couldn’t be good for his lungs. He was a fairly good guitar player, and loved to sing. I did also.  So we decided to give it a try. We were young, and anything was possible then.

Eventually, we made our way to my parents’ home, and for a very short while, lived with them, until we could afford a small, very “bare bones” apartment. We were not that difficult to please, and could make a home most anywhere. We were of the generation where material things were not the highest goal, and we were more of a mind to pursue our dreams.

But that is not my story tonight. I am just wondering what my life might have been like, had I not followed my mom here. But I think that it wouldn’t have made much difference, because Atlanta is not far away enough, to change the dynamics between us. And besides, if I had not moved here, I would never have met Rob, or married him.

 I became my mother’s shadow. For the longest time, I embraced her very thoughts. She did not look favorably on disagreeing with her opinions. They were not just her opinions–they were the right ones. I absorbed her take on things (like a sponge) for many years.

But as I grew older, I realized that I did not at all think  like she did. I was a very different person. I was much more conservative (eventually). (I think one has to mature into conservatisim.) I was much less confident, less rebellious, more sensitive, and much less daring.

As an adult, I can still remember being very concerned about what my mother would think about things. This influenced the way I would dress when I was around her, the way I wore my hair, and sometimes the things I did. (Not always.)

I think what I disliked the most, was her criticism. She was (and is) very vocal if she doesn’t like something, and she doesn’t seem to care if it’s none of her business, or if her comments will hurt. I therefore, seemed to always be trying to avoid her displeasure. I would always try to keep the peace. If she was mad about something, then I was too. I tried to come to her defense,  or to support her in her rage, but often I couldn’t understand why she would get so upset and hyper about some things.  She would often hold a grudge. I thought she was being childish, but I never said so. (As long as her disapproval was not directed at me, I was thankful.)

But I could never expect any such support from her. She could never seem to see my side of most any situation. I longed for her encouragement about some very troubling things that I was going through, but I never received it.  She was incapable of that kind of empathy.  So I felt very alone.  Always the encourager, but never encouraged.

Emotional abuse is a somewhat insidious thing. Sometimes it can be very blatant, but other times it is subtle and understated. Sometimes it was what I wasn’t getting from her that hurt the most. I don’t remember ever falling into her arms for comfort, or receiving understanding or compassion. Yet those were the things that I offered her continually.

So here I am, still in her shadow, but slowly making my own. It hurts to realize all that was missing, and wonder why it wasn’t there.  For so long, I thought it was some deficit in me, some unworthiness on my part,  but now I understand that  it was a deficit in her capacity to love me  like a mother should.

In these later, recent years, I would hold my true feelings in, until I thought I would burst. And then I would often go home in a horrible mood from being around her. (Rob noticed this often. I was either very angry or very depressed.) I had tried to be a “good girl” all my life, but her insensitivity to my feelings as an adult, drove me to the brink. If it was bad when I was younger, it was a thousand times worse when I was older. It was always about her, and only her.

Rarely would she ever seem to acknowledge the effect that she had on me, though I think she definitely knew, and sometimes enjoyed it. As an afterthought, she would sometimes thank me for things that I had done for her, and I would hang onto those words for days. I was so hungry for any sign of her appreciation or approval. She, on the other hand, worried constantly about my brother, and never wanted to inconvenience him (or my husband) with any of her errands or chores. But sometimes I could not physically endure all that there was to do, and would have to let my husband  (or one of his secretaries) run an errand now and then, but greatly fearing her disapproval.

Sometimes I would say to my husband, “She won’t like this.” (As if the world would crumble if everything didn’t just suit her.) But my world often would. She rarely (almost never) had any grace toward me, or seemed to care how tired or sick  I was, or that I wanted to be with my husband.

What is it about getting old that makes a person think one child can do everything? I was trying desperately to live two lives, and not doing a very good job of it. I was doing everything that needed to be done for her, but my life and health was falling apart. My house was disintegrating, I was becoming wildly disorganized (something I’m generally not) and I felt like I was going to have a mental and physical breakdown. But I could not stop. There was no one to do the things that I was doing. I was in this thing alone. I cried out to my cousin (who was like a brother to me) and to my uncle. They are really the only family we have left, for the most part. I didn’t feel like I could reach out to my brother (for more help than the groceries, or having lunch with my mom-his almost total contribution.) I felt overwhelmed every day of my life, since my dad died. What was I supposed to do? Keep on until I fell dead?  I could not continue on, and I knew it. But coupled with her mistreatment of me, it was beyond impossible. I not only desperately needed help, I needed a long break. And then one day the bow broke, and the cradle fell–Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, and the Dish ran away with the Spoon. I could not take it another day. She said things that hurt me deeply–called me names after all I had done for her. It was the end, and not a very pretty one.
Still her shadow lingers, and I cannot stop caring about her. I wonder if she ever thinks of me, with anything but anger?  Does she remember how much I loved her, how kindly I treated her, the times we laughed together, and how much I tried to please her?


  1. Sometimes, in our overwhelming desparate attempt for love and approval, we find ourselves caught up in a web of codependency. You could no more stop doing things for your mother (at those times that you talk about) than your mother could stop wanting you to do them. You weren’t focusing on your life, or what was inside of you. You were focusing on her and what her needs were. In turn, you felt that her needs WERE your needs – when, indeed they were not. It is a vicious cycle. Only the strong can break through it. I believe you have…

    I think that the shadow you speak about is the loss of the person you wanted your mother to be…and whom she will never be…

    As a child, we never stop looking for that love and acceptance from our parents. It is human nature.

    I don’t believe that truly narcissistic people “think” about what others feel so…she may think of you but not in the ways you think of her. I believe they are incapable of feeling true “love” and therefore, would not see the tasks you did as “love” but of her bidding.

    I think that YOU have to believe, inside of yourself, and make peace with yourself that you did all that you could do – the best you could do – and the best for her at the time. You have to believe you are important, special, kind, loving and thoughtful. God knows it. When will you? Only then, will you stop looking for the approval you are still seeking from someone who will never be able to give it to you.

    This is a journey – – a wonderful journey. One you are most definately able to travel. You will be a stronger person – stronger than you have ever known.

    You are worth it Sparkle; you live life to the fullest and put your all into the things you do. Believe in yourself!

    Ps. I do not have a blog – but hopefully some day, we can make contact and I would be more than happy to share anything you would like to hear more about…

    Take care of YOURSELF ((hugs))

    • serendipity hopeful
    • Posted January 17, 2009 at 6:15 am
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    • Reply


    I don’t know which part of the US you are from. I hope you are keeping yourself warm.

  2. Adopted Child wrote, “This is a journey – – a wonderful journey. One you are most definately able to travel. You will be a stronger person – stronger than you have ever known.”

    1. This is not a wonderful journey you are on.
    2. Yes you are able to travel, but when something is as intermingled with so much, it is one that is often quite long and quite hard to face.
    3 Yes if you keep going, struggling, you will be stronger

    Now that I said that, I see that you are in a repeating path, and I guess you need to be until you reach the day to tell yourself “Sparkle, knock it off–do not expect one thing, and do not look for it any more…..Over, done with, I don’t need that part of my life, I have my own loving family which is more important to me.”

    Sweetie, you are just experiencing the grief syndrome of continually returning to the haunt of your mother. Once you admit she ain’t gonna ever give, maybe then you can feel true anger and dump her.

    I feel for you immensely because it is not easy to extract memories from your heart, but maybe if you remember to ask if the memory is worth the pain, meaning when you think you miss her, ask yourself what you miss. That oughta do it for you. When you think about something else, ask ok sparkle is that your illusion, or did the woman do one damn thing in this memory, or was it also void of feeling. Keep asking those questions so you see how unmotherly and how destructive she was to you. oh yes, ask if you cave in for a day and go running to Momma, ask just what is it that you are gonna get except humiliation.

    Kid, you are too good to bother with her, but you gotta go through this very uncomfortable journey==it is far from wonderful!!!

    Okay i will shut up. I have missed your posts and then when you do, I don’ click on the blog surfer and almost miss your post.

    Please, remember the call from your daughter. That is what daughters do when Mommas are good like you. Relish in that feeling!!!
    Hugs to you Sparkle, Frank

  3. Sparkle,
    Your post about your mother’s narcissim has opened a flood gate of understanding for me. It isn’t between my mother who I had this difficulty with, but rather, my daughter in law.

    For someone who has done a fair amount of research and has been trained in Christian counseling, I was totally blinded by the signs and symptoms that were before me until you began writing about this. I deeply thank you.

    For the 13 years of my son’t marriage, I believed that the difficulties I found in my daugher in law were because her mother abandoned her at 12 years old and I saw my role as a mother substitue. And, that is what I became. But, I also absorbed all of the “barbed” comments. Most were aimed at Dan.

    I even distanced myself emotionally from my son because I believed that to keep in touch with him and my grandsons, I needed to keep the “waters calmed” and so it was. (My son and I were very close before he became involved with her and the Marine Corp widened the gap by the way they take a person apart and then put them back together in the fashion of the Corp. You already know this by your dealings with the owner of your shop)

    Even the week before Dan died, my DIL was mouthing off to Dan over something as silly as the placement of the privacy fense that we brought with us to the farm. Dan wanted to be able to sit in the yard and look down the road, but she said that she was tired of him always telling them what to do…He didn’t because we both learned early on that it was no use.

    Now, mind you, Dan and I helped my son and DIL a lot. She lived with us instead of her own father or sister while my son was in Boot Camp and when he received further training. We also moved her to Pensicola, FL and Camp Legune so that she could be with my son.

    Everthing that is said and done seems to go through a filter and when it comes out, it is her idea or it is her credit. It is always her statement that she is proud of herself and that all of her accomplishments are her own. She never understands that all children achieve things in life because they can stand on the shoulders of others (family or otherwise) who travel before her.

    The week after Dan died, I again was listening to the many complaints and they were aimed at Dan and his lack of maintaining equipment (this time it was the lawn tractor) and I lost my temper. I was not able to hear the usual rant about Dan or his children.

    I snapped. I said that I believed her and my son to have lost their ability for compassion and that they were very judgemental. I included my son because he has lost that part of him. I know it could be due to the Traumatic Head Injury, but I also know that the Marine Corp is not without culpability.

    This statement led to another conversation where she asked if I believed whether my son loved Dan or not. I answered honestly. I told her, “No, I believe that he resented Dan.” That is an honest statement. She asked and I answered.

    Even though she didn’t say it, I know that she was going through the list of things that she and my son had done for Dan. But, I also realized that they did these things for me more than for Dan. There are so many hurtful things that were done during and after Dan’s death that I can’t go into them. They all served as another instance where I began to look back and see the narcissism.

    I also know that there is a part of my son that did love Dan, but I also know by the things that my sister and sister in law told me that they both resented Dan.

    The weeks that followed were difficult. I was dealing with the pain of Dan’s death and my emotions were so raw that I didn’t hold back. In fact, I reflected to her the behavior that she displayed to me. This resulted in her saying that she and I had nothing in common and there was no reason for us to discuss anything anymore.

    I said to her, so because I don’t agree with your view point and I say what is on my mind like you do, then you are going to leave me alone at this time of my life. That is exactly what she has done. My son as well.

    Because of your postings and willingness to be transparent with your relationship with your mother, I was able to recognize what was so confusing to me….narcissim.

    Normally, in the past, I would take responsibility and apologize to her. By taking the blame and allowing her to believe that she was “right”, the daily phone calls would resume and life would go on as if nothing ever happened. I would still be hurt by the words, but I would continue to walk on egg shells until the next perceived offense occurred and the “dance” would resume.

    I don’t know if it is the grief or if I finally am not afraid of loosing my grandsons (I don’t see them as I did because I work and because they refuse to bring them to my house)I have not apologized and I still am loving to them, but they are “afraid” that I will get mad, but I feel a sad freedom.

    Yes, I would have liked to have someone call on a daily basis to see that I am alright, but I don’t. My son is dependent on his wife, as he should be to a degree, and he doesn’t want to “cross the line”.

    I know that they are hurt by what I said, but I also know that I cannot take the usual negative things that was said, especially about Dan.

    Yes, I know that they loved him, but it wasn’t very much. I know that they love me, but it isn’t a good thing for me to walk on egg shells and frankly, there is nothing they can do, including keeping my grandsons from me, that can cause me any more pain that I feel.

    This grief translates to my son that I loved Dan more than him. This is usual in children, adult or otherwise, of divorce. I am too tired to try to explain to them that I can love both Dan and them, but they want more than I have to give, so I stopped trying.

    It is so lonely without the daily conversations with my daughter in law and I am not aware of the things that my grandsons participate in school. It is part of my punishment. But, they can never know that my heart is already broken in a million pieces and that I cannot feel the intended pain that they want to inflict so that I will get back in line.

    Well, Sparkle, I just spilled my guts and wrote a book to you. But, it is the first time that I have written or spoken about this pain. I wouldn’t have understood without your blog. I am in your debt.

    Thank you for allowing me to say these things to you because I think that you understand this pain and I think that I understand yours. And, because my son did read my blog, I couldn’t write about this on mine…

    We are walking a path of grief together and we know that we don’t walk alone…Thank you for being a part of my journey and comfort as I walk this Valley of the Shadows…I hope to be the same to you, my friend.

  4. Adopted Child: “I think that the shadow you speak about is the loss of the person you wanted your mother to be…and whom she will never be…”

    Yes, I have come to the same conclusion.
    She was all “smoke and mirrors” in my mind. It’s just that I thought the problem was me, because she always made me feel like it was. Nothing could possibly EVER be wrong with her. I was too sensitive, I was jealous, I was high-strung, etc. Yes, she was an illusion to me. And of course, all children crave the love of their parents, and particularly need to feel loved and accepted by their mother.

    This is definitely a journey, and one with hills and valleys. I guess I can expect to have difficult days, because I am grieving the loss of my mother. I know that even children who have been physically abused (which I wasn’t) still love their parents, and feel like all the fault was with them, and that they deserved the mistreatment.

    I think the way she made me feel resulted in my lack of self-esteem, and self-confidence. I felt like I was damaged, because it surely couldn’t be her. Then one day, years ago, I was praying (in tongues) while I was walking in the neighborhood, and I felt God speak in my heart. He said, “I want to show you some things about your mother.” (I wasn’t even thinking about her at the time.) At first I said, “No Lord–I don’t want to know.” But He answered, “You have to see and accept some things if you want to get healed.” I relented and it came down to a beginning brief statement (which was all that I could take at the time.) He said, “Your mother did not always do things in your best interests.” That’s where He started revealing the truth, so many years ago. He knew that I could only take a little truth at a time. Many years later, the full truth is coming out. But because she made me feel like a “not okay” person, I kept wondering if it was my fault. I don’t wonder that any more. For some reason, this must be God’s timing to reveal the complete truth to me, as I can see more and more each day how incapable she was of loving anyone but herself. I had to grow up far too soon. I had to put her needs always before my own. And in recent years, I had to hold her up physically and emotionally, regardless of the effect on my mental or physical health. When it all came crashing down, it fell hard. I realized that I might not outlive her, and when it was all over, I would have lost my life with my husband, and my daughter. I also would have lost precious time finding peace and happiness for myself. There was never going to be any peace with her, because she was NEVER going to be satisfied or happy with anything. I AM beginning to understand that fully, and eventually I know I will believe it in my heart.

    You are so right–she will never give me the love and acceptance I want, and there is nothing to return to. There is however, plenty to look forward to, so I am thankful for those, like you, who remind me to keep pressing on. Thank so much for your counsel, Sparkle

  5. Frank: Thank you for a dose of reality. It was just what I needed to rehab my selective memory. LOL! You are so right, there is nothing to return to, except humiliation, and the first time she didn’t get everything she wanted, she would lash out at me again, and we would start this vicious cycle of hurt and pain. I know that there is nothing, and I think I am just grieving, because it is like a death. Perhaps when she is actually gone from this world, I will have done SOME of the grief work already, though I know her death will be painful. I choose not to go to her funeral, for there is nothing positive for me there. Just more hurt and humiliation.

    Life is so much better now, and my husband and I are enjoying each other so very much. He has noticed how much my general mood has improved without the daily stress that came with my mother’s impossible care. (I have heard from an anonymous source that my brother is having a little stress of his own. So be it. It is what he insisted on, and some things you have to find out the hard way, right?) She is far too sick to be cared for now at home, with the mental confusion, the incontinence, and her myriad of physical problems, particularly when he works odd hours, even if he HAS gotten help to come in during the day. He will soon see that what he referred to as “three years of once in awhile” (as he called my care of her) can seem like an eternity (that he would NEVER make it through, on his own, as I did.)

    I think the feelings that I am feeling are all part of the process of finding and accepting the truth. There is no other way, but through the sorrow. And when I have come out on the other side, I will accept the truth, and understand, as God reveals it to me.

    I am loving life these days, and treasuring every precious moment. My own family is meaning more and more to me every day, and I am understanding how to be a better wife and mother, as well as how to be good to myself.

    Thanks for your friendship, Frank. You truly understand, but you have the distance to see the truth much more clearly, at this part of the journey. As I go around every bend, I also am comprehending more and more. As Joan Lunden once said in a book title, “A bend in the road, is not the end of the road.” For this I am so grateful, because it gives me anticipation of each new tomorrow. I pray, though it is a late beginning, that it is truly the start of something new and meaningful. Thanks again for “getting it.”


  6. Shadowlands:
    Isn’t it amazing how many people in this world are pretty much totally self-centered? And if we don’t agree with them, then they make life hell for us, or write us off. How insensitive of your daughter-in-law to treat you in such a manner. And to be critical of Dan, when he was fighting for his very life, is beyond cruel. Apparently, her self-centeredness could not even halt during his terminal illness. No, because it had to still be all about HER. That’s the way narcissists are. And usually, all the conversations revolve around them, and never you, because they are too self-centered to care what YOU might be going through.

    Yes, I understand the Marine mentality, as my stepfather was an Ex-Marine (except with the Marines, you’re NEVER an EX, right?) My stepfather did mellow as he aged, and became a very caring, loving, and tender man, so there is much hope for your son as well. It is difficult to escape the clutches of a totally selfish, controlling wife, Marine or not.

    I am sure that you do miss the conversations about your grandchildren, and feeling a part of their daily lives, and it is so unfair of her to make news about them conditional on your behavior–(whether it suits her or not.) That is completely insensitive and cruel.

    I know that you want to keep the peace, but some things are worth fighting for, aren’t they? She and your son must learn to accept you, and treat you with the respect you deserve, and also with kindness and compassion, which seems to be lacking greatly.

    I am sure in time, that things will get better in this situation, and I will pray that it does. You are so precious, and they should be concerned about YOU right now, not themselves. Please take care of yourself, and know that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t always fix things, but thank the Lord that He can. He will give you peace in the midst of this uncomfortable situation, and He can also turn it around completely, if need be.

    You have taught me so much about grace, acceptance, and strength. You are so much stronger than you realize, but you don’t always have to be. You are an amazing lady, and a cherished friend. God bless you! Hugs-Sparkle

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