It’s tough recognizing when you are being manipulated and having the frame of mind to resist it.
I am the oldest of three daughters and my mom and I have never really gotten along very well. There are various possible explanations for this, none of which have much, if any bearing on the story. I also was always on the chubby side, not exactly fat per se, but definitely a few kilos overweight. Unfortunately, my mom’s constant nagging “you’d be so pretty if you just lost some weight” combined with the fact that every single thing she said sounded like an accusation, led to me withdrawing more and more and spending less time with the family which resulted in mom kicking me out of the house shortly after I had started my first job (I was 22 at the time and had planned to save up a bit of my salary before moving out, but, oh well). I don’t pretend that I was the perfect daughter, but I do believe in talking to the person you have a problem with before the problem becomes bigger than it needs to be and not in getting second, third and fourth opinions from friends and family to back up what a horrible human being I am and then blowing up big time with all the “evidence” or “back-up” from random people. The kicking out happened 14 years ago and I have since forgiven her, mostly, because holding that grudge made me feel physically ill in the long run. I’ve let it go and just make a point in a) not trusting her with personal information/problems/anything, because I know that she will share those with anyone and everyone and b) only going there for Christmas and other big family things and, if possible, sleep somewhere else like my partner’s parents’ house or a hotel.
Probably at least partly due to the weird relationship with my mom I have never felt qualified to be a mom myself, but my younger sisters both have children. Last year in June, when my story starts, my youngest sister D was a couple of days past her due date with her third boy and my middle sister K was about 8 weeks away from having her second child.
For me, it all started with a call to K. It was my niece’s birthday and I wanted to say hi and happy birthday and ask if my presents had arrived and if my niece liked them, only to be greeted by K, basically sobbing into the phone that something was wrong with D’s baby and that everyone was waiting for news from the hospital. So, I called my parents who live in the same house as D and got the information that my sister had gone for her check-up (she had to go every other day since the baby was already a week overdue) and the baby’s heartbeat was gone. My sister was still at the hospital, having the stillbirth induced, my parents had driven BIL there after he got the news and were taking care of the older boys. (I don’t know about anywhere else, but in Germany, procedure seems to be to not induce a birth until the baby is 2 weeks overdue unless it’s medically indicated during check-ups.)
I didn’t know if I would reach D by phone with her in the hospital and possibly giving birth and wanted to send her a message she could read later instead. Then I noticed that the last things she had messaged me were a picture of her sons and one of her giant belly, I so did not want her to open her messages when she got one from me and see those pictures in that moment. However, I did not have to wait long for her to send me a message with the information that my parents had already told me, so I sent the message I had already typed out that I was thinking of her and that I’d be there for her in any way I could.
Once the baby was born, cause of death was immediately obvious: there was a knot in the umbilical cord, not visible on ultrasound, and it had tightened during the night (D said she had felt the baby kick the evening before), the only saving grace of this being that no autopsy was necessary on top of all the trauma and that neither the doctor nor my sister nor anyone could have done anything to prevent this, it was just nature being a b*tch. So, I talked to my sister, I cried while my partner held me, I live 700 km away from them, so just going there to hug D and cry with her was not really an option. D had said she would let me know the funeral arrangements once they were made and I planned on talking to my co-workers and boss to take a day or two off later that month once I knew the arrangements. (I had a lot of stress at work during that time, we had just switched to a different inventory management system and were not supposed to take time off until about a week before the start of this story and of course, the time-off requests were already piling up). K had asked D if she could come visit and if D would be okay with seeing K’s own pregnant belly and D had gladly accepted the support, mom and dad live there anyway and I was completely prepared for long phone conversations and then a few days’ visit a couple of weeks later.
Enter my mom. She calls me on my cellphone on Monday (all this happened over the weekend) while I’m at work. I’m still a mess from the news and I’ve told my co-workers what happened, so they’d know why I might act weird and that I was going to ask for time off once I knew when I needed it. Mom proceeds to turn me into a blubbering mess right there in the office where I’m trying to hold it together. She proceeds to tell me that I need to come right now. I tell her that I can’t take a lot of time off work and that I’m planning to come for the funeral, but she insists that it would be more important for me to be there now than at the funeral and that I was supposed to have been godmother to the baby (“but don’t tell D I told you this!”) and on and on. Thankfully, my co-workers understand, they send me outside for fresh air and some alone-time to collect myself. I check with my partner if he can take time off work and come to our hometown with me for a few days and he agrees. My boss is quite alarmed when I knock on his door and enter with puffy, red eyes, but I explain the situation and without missing a beat, he signs off on my vacation day.
Thursday that week was a holiday, so my partner and I both take Friday off for a long weekend and drive across the country to see our families. Obviously, the mood is pretty somber, we hug and cry and talk all weekend.
Now, I’m not one to pry. I’m the person who listens. If my sister wants to talk in detail about the recent tragedy, I will listen. If she wants to talk about her older boys, I will listen. If she wants to talk about repairs she means to do around the house, I will listen. Whatever she wants to talk about or get off her chest, I listen, occasionally asking additional gentle questions. We take a walk to the grave site they are considering and it’s beautiful. While there, BIL informs me that I was supposed to have been godmother and that they would be honored if at the funeral I would carry the urn together with the other chosen godmother. My heart sinks. I really cannot take more time off work at this time and I cannot drive across the country again in 2 weeks. I tell them I don’t know if I can come to the funeral and that I’m really sorry, inwardly seething at my mother’s meddling. Of course, I would have been honored to participate in the funeral and now, I most likely can’t. Both D and BIL tell me they understand, but I am furious with mom.
Her foot-in-mouth, however, is not yet done for the weekend. Saturday, D turns to me and says “you know, I don’t think I’d fit into your jeans right now.” This comes totally out of the blue for me. I had lost a lot of weight over the past year or so and I had mentioned that I had just bought new jeans, still, I really don’t know how to respond, because usually D is the slim one and she just carried a baby for 41 weeks and lost him just 7 days ago. While I’m still trying to figure out what I should say to that, my mom says “well, D, *you* have a feminine figure”. (Yes, my butt was a bit smaller than before and my bellyfat was a lot less, but seriously, mom, you’ve been after me to lose weight for as long as I can remember and now that I did, you deny me femininity? Broad hips? Check. Boobs? Check. Okay, she was possibly trying to make D feel better, but shouldn’t she be able to do that without putting me down?)
Saturday evening comes and since my partner and I have to leave early on Sunday, we say our goodbyes to my family. Mom takes me aside and tells me off for not talking to/comforting D enough. I’m not sure how she wants me to rectify this in the next 5 minutes, but I give D an extra hug and tell her I’ll call her when I get home on Sunday. She thanks us for coming and we leave.
When I call D the next evening, I tell her I’m sorry if we didn’t talk about everything in enough detail and that mom had said I should have made more effort, but that I just didn’t want to pry and that she can come to me with anything she wants to talk about. She said it was okay and not to worry and that she understands that people are different, even if mom doesn’t.
A few days later, she lets me know the details of the funeral and the only way I would have been able to go there would have been by plane and I was fully prepared to do that, but connections between the next airport from here (1 hour drive) and there (1 more hour drive) are few and far between and with the time and date of the funeral it’s just impossible without days off which I can’t take. I tell D and BIL that unfortunately, I cannot be at the funeral and how very sorry I am (so far, I have not mentioned my mom’s meddling to anyone, not even my partner, because he already doesn’t like her much for how she’s been treating me ever since we met).
The next thing that happens: dad calls me. Now, he never calls me. I’m pretty certain that mom asked him to call and to tell me to come to the funeral. I tell him that it’s really impossible for me to get more time off work and that I already explained this to mom when she called to tell me to come *right now* and insisted that it was more important to be there now than later at the funeral. I think that conversation between mom and me was news to him. He sputtered something along the lines of “but what are the people going to say?” which “argument” deserves nothing but an eye-roll. Then he told me that all the relatives from all over the country were going to be there, which I kind of doubted. Parents and siblings of the bereaved parents, yes, maybe a close aunt or uncle, plus some very close friends, but none of those had to make a roundtrip of 1400 km twice in 2 weeks.
I felt emotionally manipulated, but as I don’t have the best reference points concerning mother-daughter relationships, I called K to talk about what had happened and she could not believe my mom had manipulated me into coming immediately so I’d have to miss the funeral and then make dad call me and try to manipulate me into coming to the funeral anyway. Well, sadly, she could believe that mom was trying to pull this off. Guilt-tripping people into doing things is one of mom’s preferred methods of communication. To this day, I’m not sure if mom really thought she was doing any of her daughters a favor or if that was a weird attempt to have me there on her birthday which happened to fall on that long weekend and I hate that I cannot even tell if she had good intentions or selfish ones… K called me after the funeral and said our parents had said something about my absence and she told them off. Thanks, sis 🙂
I called D a few hours before the ceremony to let her know I was thinking of her. She understandably wasn’t in a very receptive frame of mind in that moment, but when we talked the next time she let me know that she appreciated that call. 0402-18