I've had a bit of an epiphany tonight.
It arrived, wholly unbidden, right in the middle of a vintage Christmas movie that I was watching on TCM.
“Christmas in Connecticut” starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan.
Bubbling to the surface as a connection made while I continue to adjust to this new reality without the companionship and love of my beloved little dog, Annie.
I can remember thinking that the only way to protect my heart from this kind of anguish and grief will be to never allow myself to become attached to anything again. To just keep the softness of my spirit safely tucked away and barricaded behind an impenetrable fortress which will appear to all the world like socially acceptable behaviour.
Little will they ever know of my yearning for affection and connection.
I have only MYSELF to rely upon now and that's a known quantity.
As those recurrent thoughts were simmering in the back of my mind, I began to realize something for the first time in my life.
My mother had made the very same decision in her life, too, albeit at a much younger age.
Because of the severity of her father's chronic illness, she had been forced to face the possibility of his imminent death many, many times. She had to contort her developing personality to fit in around the edges of omnipresent anticipatory grief and it was from this crucible that I believe her obsession with power and control was born.
I believe that she also learned about the pain of attachment during these times. The route to her survival could only be found by clinging to power and making life decisions based upon cultural norms and expectations … norms and expectations which were free for the taking from Hollywood movies of the time and women's magazines. The templates for escape that they provided became a blueprint for her definition of success as an adult.
Marriage, the prerequisite children, the big house, the cottage, private schools, piano lessons … the list could be endless.
It was all pure facade, though … Fuelled by her quest for material possessions and fleshed out by their acquisition and strategic placement as scene-setting props on her life's stage.
Material possessions were safe, too. They couldn't get sick and they most certainly would not die.
As her firstborn, I also fell into this category. Born during the heyday of Jacqueline Kennedy, I was regularly kitted out in party dresses to go and play outside … admonished not to get dirty … and left with about as many options as a garden gnome.
I don't believe that my mother's decision to abjure attachment was in any way a conscious one.
It was just safer for her to keep us all at arm's length … Militaristically micromanaging every aspect of our lives in a misguided attempt to keep emotional pain at bay. Embracing rigid intellectualism ( also parroted and postured ) as a way to make sense of a world that threatened to betray at any moment.
It was only when I consciously found myself formulating this strategy for the rest of my life that I saw my mother's pattern begin to reveal itself.
And with this insight came profound compassion . . . for her and for me . . . and forgiveness.
I think I might actually have something here …
Could this be the personal growth that “they” speak of when one is working through the agony of grief ?