In A Pickle  

Making peace with the past

Complicated relationships

The frail elderly woman trembled with excitement and asked, “Are you here to see me?”

Her hands quivered as she reached out. Sarah gently took her bony little hands in her own.

“Yes, Mom, do you know my name?” There was no response, but when Sarah told her “I’m your baby hellion!” she giggled and replied, “Oh Sarah, is it really you?”

Hellion was an understatement, Sarah reminisced. As the youngest of eight children, she sported a fiery temper and a foul mouth. She didn’t learn profanity from her mom, but got a kick out of her today. Her mother would say something and add the expletive “shit” to it, and then would cackle and cover her lips with her fingers. “I said a bad word, didn’t I?” she chortled. “You have a potty mouth”, Sarah told her, pretending to be shocked.

Her mother had dementia for a decade now. In this state, she was happy-go-lucky, and entertained herself in the nursing home. She suddenly burst into song, “Ka Ka Ka Katy, my beautiful da-darling, you’re the only ga-ga-ga-girl that I adore.” Sarah erupted into a chorus with the next stanza, and they both laughed. Sarah's husband Brent appeared uncomfortable, and her mom noticed and commented that he looked as though he was ready to bolt. Sarah played the clown and ran on the spot.

Brent, meanwhile, had an epiphany regarding their similarities. Sarah also noticed their mother-daughter traits, such as her devious snicker when she said something politically incorrect, unfiltered, or scandalous. Sarah suffered from foot-in-mouth syndrome too.

However, there was a dark side to her parent which Sarah remembered all too well. She was her mom’s scape-goat, the child whom she took out all her frustrations on. When Sarah and her sister Maureen got into fights, their mommy would grab a weapon and use it on Sarah alone. Maureen could do no wrong, and Mom always asked why Sarah couldn’t be more like Maureen. Their mom once armed herself with an outdoor extension cord and whipped Sarah with the metal prong end, leaving large welts on the youngster’s legs. She found it hard to walk for days.

Another intrusive flashback came to mind when she pinned Sarah to the ground and cut her fingernails. “Declawing the cat,” she’d bellowed. By cutting her nails, she left Sarah, a tiny eight-year-old girl defenseless against her inebriated teenage brothers. Sarah felt humiliated and undeserving of her mother's care.

Tears poured down her cheeks like rain while she spoke of this.

They had a tumultuous relationship, forever at war with each other. Sarah had her side of the story, while her mother had her own and would gaslight the kid.

Sarah could’ve gotten along better had she toed the line, but she didn’t understand her mother’s system, didn’t like her ways, and refused to comply. She crossed that blurred and nonsensical line that often shifted was distorted, and mostly invisible. It was as though her mom drew it in the sand, and in a windstorm of drama inevitably blew the mark away.

For years, Sarah was enraged, sought retribution, and eventually morphed into her mother.

Confucius said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” It took a long time for Sarah to learn that and stop retaliating. Proverbs 23:22 reads: Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. That Bible verse spoke volumes, and Sarah repented in 2008. Shortly thereafter, Sarah sought her mother out after years of no contact.

Sarah showed up at her care facility and when her parent opened the door, it looked as though she’d seen a ghost. Gingerly, Sarah requested to come in and asked for her mother’s forgiveness, and they verbally forgave each other.

A sense of peace, love, and sadness washed over Sarah as she visited her aged momma in 2020. She couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the last time she’d see her. Sarah gave her a kiss on the forehead and her Mom grabbed her face and kissed her cheek. As she clenched Sarah's hand, she said, “Good bye dear, it was nice seeing you.” “Good bye Mom, it was good to see you too.” Sarah walked out the door and down the long hallway with a lump in her throat.

Sarah reconciled herself with the past, with one foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, and one memory at a time, choosing to cling to and cherish this wonderful visit instead of the past.

Her mother passed away in 2021 with her golden child, Maureen by her side.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel writes about the humour in every-day life, and gets much of her inspiration from the late Erma Bombeck’s writing style. 

Doreen also has a serious side, shares her views on current events, human-interest stories and sometimes the downright bizarre. 

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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