The Night of the Mother

The holiday of Yule and Christmas are both associated with motherhood and the birth of a sun, son or new year.

This holiday season is my first in several years without paying lip service to the idea that I still have a family. Last year, I went away to a ski resort with my spouse, mother and brother. I hated being trapped in one place with her, where I could not get away, but I stayed as short a time as possible and with my partner and brother there it was not so bad.

In the previous 5 or so years since she left my abuser, mom would tell me which of the days around the holiday she’d have off, normally a day and a half including Christmas eve and part of Christmas day. She would come to my city and eat dinner on one of the days with myself and my partner, at our house (where I can get away) stay overnight and then leave in the morning. After that short visit, I’d be tired, and possibly a bit irritated with her incessant neediness and demands for attention, but would still live solidly within my own skin.

I enjoy spending time with my younger brother, whose only flaw, from my perspective, is his enmeshment with my mother. My older brother seems to have a violent reaction to connection to my mother, like he feels that she had tried to colonize him emotionally in some way he had to fight off.

Me, I’ve been grieving. I’ve finally recognized that I have no mother. My mother was never my ally, never my saviour and likely will never be willing to face her own demon. Just because I was able to claw myself away from my father, both physically and psychically and become a strong, independent woman, doesn’t mean my mother will do it. She left him physically, finally, but she is still living within his shadow in many ways, by living a life filled so full of work and spending, sleep deprived and exhausted, so that she need not think about all the things she didn’t want to remember.

I almost walked into the trap again of waiting for her to be the heroine she has proven time and again that she will never be. When asked what it would take to be comfortable with having her in my life, I figured out that what I needed from her. I would ask her to go to therapy weekly, reduce her workload to a maximum of 40 hours per week, and save money for her retirement. If she could stick to that for a year, I’d be able to have an actual relationship with her.

I assumed that weekly therapy would also result in a confession of her involvement in covering up my abuse or at least telling me truthfully what she had observed. If she was in weekly therapy, she would have to be honest with herself, and hopefully, eventually, me. If she was working a reasonable work week, she’d have to look after her own life and body, and wouldn’t be so needy and exhausted when we were together. If she saves for her retirement, it would be a tangible sign that she was looking after herself, instead of blowing her money as fast as she earns it, looking to be rescued by someone else.

Then I realized this for the trap it is. It allows me to transfer the ball to her court – make her responsible for us being estranged because she would never be able to comply with my request.

So here I sit. I don’t want to be around my needy, in denial mother, a woman with whom I have very few shared interests. In grief, asking her to be a heroine in order to win my love is just bargaining with the inevitable. My mother must save herself. I can change only myself.

Buying the sword to dance on my abusers grave.

Why am I publishing such personal information on the web? My therapist thinks that my process might be of value to others, and I’m proud of defying the silence that supported my abuser and unfortunately still supports the abusers that are raping children today. If incest and rape is taboo to talk about, it reinforces the shame that survivors don’t deserve and helps no-one but the perpetrators.

I’ve spent about 20 years actively healing from being abused by my father, and now he’s dying. I don’t know how fast he’s dying. He’s got cancer, and this is his second bout of it, and he’s old. All of that says to me that he’s dying.

He’s a lifelong smoker and heavy drinker. It’s surprising to me that he hasn’t died yet. I’ve often wondered why the Gods would keep him alive. Surely he deserves to be dead. Now I think it’s because I hadn’t yet prepared for his death. When your mortal enemy dies, it is a rite of passage. When a pagan person’s ancestor dies, they normally become part of their community of dead, to be venerated and remembered yearly at Samhain. My father needs to have this right formally revoked. I have disowned him in life, and this ceremony will disown him in death. I am asking my grandmothers and maternal grandfather, who are all dead, to assist me in making this happen.

This past weekend I bought a sword to dance over. The sword will represent my strength. It will represent the watery emotional and psychic battle I have waged with him (the sword is a tai chi sword and feels watery, somehow). As a sword, in my Wiccan faith tradition it represents boundaries and intellect, another way I have fought with my father. The iron represents my inner iron, the crisp and sharp strength I have exercised throughout my life.

The sword dance was traditionally performed on the death of an enemy, on the battlefield. The warrior’s sword and that of the enemy are crossed, and a dance that faces the four directions is danced over the crossed swords. I think it was originally a dance of celebration, but also a dance of banishing an enemy spirit from following the warrior off the battlefield. Cancer can kill my father for me, but I will celebrate his death and bind and banish his ghost with this ceremony.

I will cross my sword with a wand representing my father’s strength that was used against me. The stick will be freshly cut, and a thickness slightly larger than my father’s thumb.

The common phrase “rule of thumb” refers to the regulation in British Common Law that controlled the diameter of the stick a man was allowed to beat his wife, his human property, with. If the diameter was larger than his thumb, beating his human chattel was illegal. It refers to what allowed and supported my father in raping me – our culture’s tacit granting of ownership of women’s bodies to the men they designate as their masters.

By this dance I renounce the custom of formal or informal ownership of women and children by men.

Now, people will say, that may have been true a century ago, but no man owns a child or woman. I say, you have not seen what I’ve seen. If a man can rape you and no-one steps in to help, because he has a specific legal relationship to you, because he’s your father or husband, then how is that different from ownership?

Then of course there are all the jokes equating one’s ‘big stick’ with the weapon my father used to torture me. It is an appropriate fit to represent his power.

After the dance, I will break his stick.

May we outlive them all, and dance upon their graves

The first time my father raped me I was about 5 years old. The last time, I’m not sure, maybe 13. He strangled me till I lost consciousness, possibly to stop me from screaming. I was so young that, not knowing what passing out from lack of air was,  I deduced from the pain and the unconsciousness that I’d actually died. My mother appeared to take no notice of what must have been the obvious signs of distress in her little girl. When we finally had a conversation about it, after I’d grown up and left the house forever, she said she believed me, but continued to live with my father for another 14 years. You would think raping your daughter, or any woman for that matter, is worth leaving your husband over. Apparently not.

My father is dying of cancer, hopefully quickly and painfully.

The Goddess Brigid
The Goddess Brigid

I’m planning to dance a sword dance on his grave.

I’ve started this blog to write about this, but now I find myself unable to write.

I found this picture of the Goddess Brigit with a sword that appeals to me. We women need to fight back, we survivors need to fight back against the silence and prejudice that keeps the abusers free and the survivors invisible.

The picture appeals to me because it represents the strength that is divine and female and cannot be silenced. The strength that is the iron core, the sword inside that we survivors use to fight for our lives and our happiness.