Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Struggling Angel

My mother, a struggling angel, was born on the 12th February 1919.

She was the eldest of 4 children. Living and growing up on a small farm in civil-war torn, rural Ireland in the 1920's was far from idyllic. But she was a fighter, intelligent and ambitious, finished her education, qualified as a nurse and moved to the city. Eventually, marrying a handsome prince and settling down to grow a family.

Girl, boy, girl.

My brother's birth was difficult. "Oxygen-deprivation", they said. A "home" would be the best option for him, they said. She didn't agree. Thereby, sealing her own fate and releasing his spirit. Years of self-sacrifice, soul-scorching rituals, frustration and tiredness followed, taking their life-strangling toll. By the time I was 11 she had lost the battle. Given up the fight.

For 12 long years, she drank herself into oblivion. Trying to escape the mind-numbing pain and loneliness that seemed to engulf her. She hit rock bottom many times only to discover yet another greater, deeper abyss of despair.

Alone. Always. In her head. Without loving support.

My father, himself the product of an alcohol-soaked background, was little more than a shadow. The ostrich-syndrome reigned supreme. If he didn't talk about it, it didn't exist. He was a past master at sweeping unsavoury topics right under the carpet. I don't blame him, now, for his inaction. He did the best that he could. Big sister was grown and away at college, big brother was battling his way through adolescence, and I was 11 years old. Ill-equipped for anything other than rebellion.

My heart aches when I think of angel Annie. Aches for her pain, her struggling, her loneliness, her hopelessness. Aches for my own inability to understand for so many years.

Then, in 1977 she stopped drinking alcohol, forever.

This lovely, fine, sensitive, intelligent angel re-emerged. Changed, inevitably. A bit battered around the edges, but still recognisable. A delicate, refined articulate, unfathomable lady. An expert at playing Bridge. Surrounded by a small network of supportive, recovering friends. She became a leading light in the AA movement, a beacon for the lost and struggling, available anytime, day or night. A light in the darkness. She had regained her sense of self, she had chosen to fight her demons. She had chosen to live.

Unfortunately, even though our relationship was reborn, she was never willing or able to speak of the 12 lost years. The self-protecting barriers were still in place. Never to come down. I didn't dare to venture into that territory, uninvited. I wish, now, that I had been braver.

I think she was happy in the last 7 years of her life. I sat with her when she died in 1984. An angel going home.

Occasionally, I sense her presence around me. It makes me smile inside.

Happy Birthday Angel Annie.

photo credit: www.northstargallery.com


Barbara said...

Such a touching story. I'm glad your mother's life had a happy ending. It's too bad so many years were lost to both of you.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

A very beautiful post.

Happy Birthday to your Angel Mom.

Molly said...

I sat at the library, happy to have a block of time on an un-irritating computer. I clicked over to you and smiled happily to see that you had a new post up. Then I sat reading and rereading it while tears poured silently down my cheeks.
Happy Birthday OM. sorry I wasn't a more compassionate daughter. I'm so glad that at least you had Rise.....

sMC said...

life is full of.. if only I'd been braver moments..but then Life is Like learning to play the Violin in Public isn't it. hugs birdy

Sooziii said...

What a lovely tribute and honest portrait of your mother.

BTW - you have been tagged by me on my blog.

fifi said...

oh, God, that just made me cry.

Happy Birthday dear angel.
What courage you had. How hard life can be!

Pauline said...

this was beautifully put -

One loves though one does not always recognize love in return. Still, one loves. It is part of being human, I think.

meggie said...

Oh Rise, what a sad, but beautiful tribute to your Angel Mother. Happy Birthday to her shining spirit.

Isabelle said...

Goodness me. How very sad and yet maybe not entirely. And how beautifully written.

daysgoby said...

You are astounding, Rise, to be able to tell her story with such heart.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

what a moving tribute. I cried.

citizen of the world said...

Lovely post. It would be easy enough to be lost in bitterness,and yet you have written with great compassion about her. That has to be helaing.

Thimbleanna said...

Wow. You have sent us bloggers into pools of tears. Just Beautiful. It was so fascinating to read two different views of the same experience. What beautiful women you have become. Thank you for sharing your very touching story.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This is such a beautiful tribute to Angel Annie and to undying love.

None of us can ever know what is in another's heart, but I believe that her love for you and your siblings finally gave her the strength to stop drinking and even to love herself more.

Knowing who she was inside and honoring it is the only way to heal, and you have done so magnificently.

My husband's mother spent his entire childhood drunk and addicted to drugs while his father pretended that nothing was wrong. She never reclaimed herself or her family as your mother did, and all his memories of her are tinged with great pain.

Angel Annie's love finally proved stronger than her demons, and I'm glad that she had you with her during the last good years. I think that her birthdays are all happy because she brought two beautiful, smart and talented daughters with great hearts into the world as well as a son who did the best he could with what he had.

rdl said...

lovely, lovely post! Thanks for sharing.

Kapuananiokalaniakea said...

I am so glad that your angel was able to rise again and that you can sense her, still. How wonderful that she is watching you now in a way that she couldn't when you were a child. How wonderful that you have been able to get past your own pain to reach a place of reconciliation with your mum. This is a lovely tribute from a lovely woman.

Yolanda said...

This is a touching post and one that I can so identify with.

Ian Lidster said...

What a wonderful story. Truly touching and moving. What an amazing woman your mother was. Personally, I think that is a publishable tale and should be.

riseoutofme said...

Thank you all for your kind comments.

barbara ... yes, years lost but maybe that was what was needed for both of us?

whim ... thank you.

ah molly ... your bladder was always too close to your eyes!

smc ... learning to play the violin in public?? Good God woman ... do you think I'm TOTALLY nuts?

soozii ... over to see what delights you are dangling for me!

fifi ... yes, she was brave, very brave.

pauline ... how very true ... the human dilemma .. loving.

meggie ... she certainly had a shining spirit ...still has.

isabelle ... yes, her life is a sad story but I didn't write this in sadness.

daysgoby ... I am so very grateful to have the capacity to love her.

lgs ... her story must resonate with you to create such a response?

cs ... isn't compassion always healing?

thimbleanna ... hello! Yes, even we were a little non-plussed at the differences!

hearts ... your husband has a heavy burden to bear. Reconciliation, no matter how late it comes, brings such peace.

rdl ... hello and thank you.

puanani ... you have such a long name and me with the attention span of a goldfish ... thank you for your kind words.

yolanda ... hello and thank you. I think at some level, we can all resonate with each other through our experiences, don't you?

ian ... she WAS an amazing woman.

Stomper Girl said...

That was indeed a beautiful post. I think there are some issues for our parents that as their children we can't tackle and I think that is okay. I wouldn't place that burden on my own kids and I'm sure your mother would have felt the same.

Odat said...

I'm glad to hear she died sober...what a nice tribute to her.