Updated: Aug 5
Several years ago, on Sunday, February 14, 2016, to be exact (Yes, Valentine’s Day!) I took a very special journey to see my ninety year old mother. She did not know I was coming. This was, indeed, a surprise visit...
I flew from Jacksonville, Florida (close to my home in St. Augustine) to Washington, DC. I chose that day not due to sentimental reasons but because, truthfully, it provided an inexpensive ticket and it worked with other logistical aspects. But, as it turns out, it represented a perfect symbol for what was to take place.
I was on a mission. And, my mother had no idea I was coming.
To provide some history, my mother-who I will always love-was not great in the mothering department. (That’s putting it miIdly!) I will always feel that she had a very injured, distorted part of her deep inside that she chose not to look at, and which led to her highly abusive behavior.
One time years ago, at a local bookstore, I found myself being guided-it felt like-over to the psychology section; a section I did not usually frequent. There was a book that suddenly leapt to my attention, and therefore into my hand forthwith. It was a tome that dealt with the four sub-types of the borderline personality mother. I opened the book up to the “Queen” sub type and found myself reading a very accurate description of what life had been like with my mother. It was eerie in its accurate detail.
Now, it need be understood that, as far as I know, my mother was never diagnosed with this. And, again, as far as I know, I don’t think she ever sought the services of a therapist.
Of course, it’s up to each of us to heal ourselves, to do the necessary so as not to inflict our unhealed trauma on others. Any attempt at this is a good idea. Again, my mother seemed to have largely skirted this effort, unfortunately.
So, here I was flying my way up to Washington,DC. Didier (my ex-husband. We were still married then.) gave me a ride to the airport and soon I was on my way.
I left a (fairly) warm NE Florida and landed in a freezing cold and very snowy nation’s Capitol. That was fine, as I ended up being largely indoors during this visit. But, my transit from the airport did involve stages on the metroliner, and one stop found me outside waiting for the next train. I had attempted to dress for the occasion but still it was very cold!
I finally emerged out of the metro station that was closest to my mother’s apartment and, though I had travelled this way before, it truly appeared to me like an alien, unrecognizable landscape! Snow covered most all the surfaces in view, and there was lots of it. Disoriented, I wasn’t sure how to find my way to her apartment.
I sallied forth into the snow, ostensibly alone. But another very important detail needs to be shared.
A very special friend of mine was with me every step of the way.
To explain, I have a very dear, close and extremely wise friend who, for months now, when we would get together, started spontaneously bringing up my relationship with my mother. This was a subject I avoided, almost desperately. It had been one of the most painful, if not the most, painful, relationship in my life. I had memories from a very young age, I mean a few months old, of abuse; of being exposed to extreme upset and violence.
For instance, during altercations with my father-which could turn violent-she would use me as a buffer. Literally. I have this clear memory of her picking me up and holding my infant-self facing out, so he would not hit her. I did, at one point, ask my mother if this had taken place, and she said that indeed it had; that she knew he would not hit her if she were holding me. And, she said this in a very matter-of-fact way, seemingly oblivious of the impact it might have had on said baby. (me!)
And, I sense this happened several times.
Another time, and this was when I was about six years old, I came home from school one day and made my way to the front door, as I was want to do. We were living in São Paulo at the time.
My fathers occupation had us living in various countries in Latin America, as well as Japan, where I got my start in life. I am, indeed, grateful to this rich international experience during my childhood (and which happily continued during my adulthood).
I approached the door and my mother opened it with a sudden movement and announced, without any preamble, that she had cancer and that she would die in six months. This was patently untrue as, thankfully, she lived well into old age.
I think I froze. I do remember that moment so vividly. And, they say that significant trauma bears this sort of imprint.
I don’t think my young self knew what to do with this sort of huge information. And, as children have a habit of doing, I probably was searching within myself to find out out how I might have contributed to her proclaimed eventual and very soon demise. It was awful.
A brother of mine must have been standing behind me. And in our later years, he remembered that day and laughed recalling that when he eventually did ask regarding her apparent robust health in the following months - a seemingly miraculous recovery - her given explanation was just that; that she had prayed and was granted a miraculous reprieve. Convenient.
And, no part of this was really at all humorous. His laughter was probably his way of coping with, and deflecting, a deeply troubling incident.
When queried about this behavior on that day much later, my mother did concede that she was doing this - making this untrue and shocking announcement - as a way to get attention from my father.
My dear and wise friend told me, in no uncertain terms, that I must take the opportunity to confront my mother about these extreme cases of abuse sooner rather than later, that this was imperative to my growth.
The problem was, and you might have already guessed it with the above recounting, that my mother had the habit - as we were growing up and as adults - of using her health as a means for manipulation. If we were to get upset with her, she had been known to exaggerate and even fake injury to her health - as again seen in the above example - to cause awful guilt and gain more control.
So, you can guess my predicament. My friend was insisting on the need to do this while my mother was still in human form. She explained it can be done when the person is no longer embodied but it’s more difficult and can be less effective.
My mother was ninety years old at the time, for goodness sake!. So, what happens if I do confront my mother and she gets sick and needs to be hospitalized? Or, even worse? This was a real fear of mine. But, my wise friend persisted. During casual conversation over time, she would bring up this imperative. She did not give up.
And then one day, I suddenly found myself looking for an airline ticket...At some point, something in me began to feel the requisite courage and I started moving in this direction...And, I also had a deep knowing sense that I need not actually be concerned over possibly harming her in this scenario, that this would be a blessed event. This knowing, which had grown over time, helped erode greatly the fear.
So, fast forward, and here I am in suburbia, Maryland (where my mother lived adjacent to DC) wandering around in the snow looking for my mother’s domicile. Somehow, I ended up in front of a Whole Foods and managed to hail down a taxi. The ride was literally around three minutes but it got me to her place.
It was Sunday morning around 10am and we pulled up to the first gate from where they would call in the visitor’s name and check with the resident to get permission to proceed. I remember them telling my mother’s caretaker on the phone that her daughter had arrived. It was all a bit (or a lot) surreal.
I got out of the cab at the entrance to her condominium complex and made my way in. The people at the front desk greeted me warmly. I think some of them even remembered me. I was “Mrs. Kiyonaga’s daughter.” She was well-liked by the staff there. They were very fond of her, and - by extension - her children. (I am one of five.) It was a sweet experience to be welcomed there, once again.
I made my way to the elevator and pressed the eleventh floor. Before I knew it, I was exiting the elevator and walking toward her door.
I remember it all so well. I knocked and the door was answered by one of her caretakers. She had around-the-clock help. She actually very much needed physical support, and she had also started exhibiting some dementia.
A small, lovely Latina woman called to my mother, in Spanish, that I had arrived. My mother, due to our lives overseas when my father was alive, could understand and speak some Spanish. I then walked the short hallway to my mother’s bedroom, feeling the cushion-y blue rug under my feet. We would customarily took off our shoes when entering.
My mother was sitting there, in her armchair fully dressed, as if she were expecting me, as if we had arranged an appointment to see each other. She greeted me and expressed surprise at my arrival. (Of course). I told her that I had come to tell her something.
It needs be explained that, actually, I had prepared for this meeting by writing a letter. My friend had suggested this. And, I felt this was an excellent idea. She also suggested I mention in the letter at least three situations of intense and significant abuse I had suffered at her hands. That was the minimum amount, needed, she recommended I certainly could have written more but I did keep it to three that had taken place at different ages.
So, letter in hand, I took a seat and proceeded to start reading. I was feeling a fair amount of emotion at first but managed to keep myself steady. A little into this process, she asked me to move closer as she couldn’t hear me very well. I did so and started reading the letter once again.
I read the letter through. It wasn’t long. It simply pointed out the abuse - the manipulation, ploys and deception - I had suffered, and how I was giving all this energy of abuse back to her. I did, in the letter, mention some positives, but the point was to address the suffering rendered by - and the damaging effects of - her behavior.
I must tell you, reader, that once I got into the reading of the letter, there was a sense of calm that arose and a trust in the whole process. It wasn’t about me excoriating my mother, about putting her in her place. That’s would not be healing. It was about shifting the abusive energy back to the perpetrator and taking my power back.
And, in all this, I knew that this was deeply healing for both of us. This was deeply beneficial for both of us. A few times, during the reading, she sighed and once said something about focusing on the good things. But, I explained, this all needed to be said. And, she understood. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she understood it all, and she acknowledged it all. She did not deny any of it.
I actually used hand movements to express that I was giving all this abusive energy back to her; repeating the phrase three times - each time with my hands motioning from myself to her.
During all this time, there was no feeling of anger. I felt centered and not a word in all this was gratuitous. There was a divine efficiency afoot.
I finished the letter and got up to go. And, as I peered down at my elderly mother sitting in her armchair, a beautiful rush of love arose inside of me. “I love you, Mom,” I said. That had not been in the script. And, then I explained that I was returning directly to the airport to fly back home.
My mother was astonished. “You aren’t going to see any of your family?!“ she asked. I have several family members living in this same area I responded that, no, I was returning directly.
I had already notified Didier not to answer the phone if family called because I knew calls would come fast and furious the minute I departed. And, sure enough, as soon as I left, both my and Didier’s phone started ringing as my mother had immediately started calling family members about my presence in Maryland. Didier stuck to this agreement, as did I.
Something shifted seismically that day. A lifelong schism had been healed. It was Valentine’s Day and, indeed, a pure and great love had been revealed and released. It felt like once the toxicity of abuse was addressed, it moved away the energetic boulders that had blocked this pure love.
My mother did mention later to one of my siblings that she had been expecting this sort of thing, this communication. I don’t think she mentioned from whom, but she apparently felt the approach of this energy.
My mother was a very intelligent woman, and could be quite intuitive. And, she was remarkable in her own way. This was the woman who had recited the rosary daily during her pregnancy with me as there was significant concern about its eventual success. And, she spent much of the pregnancy in bed with both myself and one of my other siblings as that was deemed necessary to maintain those pregnancies.
When I was born, my mother dedicated me to the blessed mother, Mother Mary. And my life has been extremely blessed. I’m sure this is a significant part of the equation.
Our rendezvous felt destined that day. It was something that needed to take place to help free both of us. It was filled with light.
I saw my mother after that, of course. Subsequent visits took place and that Valentine’s Day was never referenced. And I never felt any charge after that day. I just felt love. A bridge had been crossed.
She left this world on the full moon day of October 5, 2017. This is the same October full moon day of a great Indian saint who departed that month as well in 1982, and who has been a part of my life. I had felt she would leave on that day.
Thank you, Mom, for making this human life possible for me.
I love you.
February 9, 2021
The year following her passing, I found myself going to the downtown basilica on her September birthday. I wished to light a candle in her honor. As you probably inferred, my mother was very Catholic in this life and I felt she would appreciate this.
It had actually been a long day. I had been at work as well as elsewhere and going downtown and parking does involve some energy. But, I talked myself into it and made the effort.
I recall it was a beautiful early evening. The skies were blue with nary a cloud in sight. Interestingly, the church was actually closed but a group happened to be meeting there in the foyer and let me in.
I proceeded to light a candle for my mother and then, India-style as is my custom, waved it in a circular motion toward the altar. The main part of the church was locked but I could see the front altar through the glass in the doors separating the two areas. I also waved another candle for a friend whose mother, interestingly enough, shared the same birthdate. I happened to speak to her about my plans that afternoon and she requested I do this. As I was down on the floor looking for a few dollars in my bag to offer as a donation, suddenly all the lights went out in the church. It was startling because it was a beautiful evening with no sign of intemperate weather. The folks that were meeting in the back on the other side of the foyer all looked over me. And, then proceeded to laugh and said something like - Why are we looking at you, like you have something to do with this! Maybe ten seconds past and the lights came back on. We all agreed it was odd. As I was walking back to my car, it hit me like a ton of bricks suddenly. Without any doubt, I knew it was Mom. She was thanking me, and also telling me she was okay. I so appreciated this heavenly sign from her. Thank you, Mom.
Annie Kiyonaga, M.A., RYT200