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51 Birch Street

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"Block has made a sad, delightful and half-accidental movie about his own parents which was the outstanding personal documentary at this year's (SXSW) festival... Profound and humane."

– Andrew O’Hehir, SALON.COM

Jan Hayward (age 50)

This is a very short version of a long story...perhaps someday I’ll put it in book form.

I only truly understood my mom, Evelyn, and felt a deep empathy with her after she was gone. She died in August, 2000. Before this, she was in a nursing home for ten years having suffered a stroke, and was more like a dependent child than my mother. Since then I have ached with the desire to talk with her, comfort her, and be her female friend the way we were never able to be while she lived.

She and my father had a difficult relationship when I was growing up. They finally divorced after I graduated from high school, after 24 years of marriage. 

As a young girl I worshipped my mostly-absent father and craved his love and attention more than anything in the world. He was a handsome, soft-spoken, gentle man. And very distant.

My mother had wonderful qualities as well but I couldn’t relate to her, nor she with me. She was different than my girlfriends’ moms in ways that made me resent her for years. She raised me and my older brothers practically as a single parent. I remember her trying to pay the bills every month with the remainder of my dad’s paycheck - sent home after he deducted his own expenses, including his bar bill. (The cost of his beer consumption over the years would have been enough to put all his kids through college I have since calculated.) Mom also worked part time as an Registered Nurse. She was tired, stressed out and extremely depressed during my high school years. 

As a young adult my relationship with mom was okay but as we were never emotionally close, I shared very little with her of who I really was. Actually, I didn’t really even know myself. And I was too self-absorbed to ask her about hers. (A common characteristic in young adult children.)

Over the years - I suffered the loss of my first husband (also an alcoholic, surprise, surprise)and thus widowed at 30, was left to raise my three children. I went on to remarry twice more and these relationships ended in disaster. Meantime, I sought therapy and dealt with my father/daughter issues and my grief over his voluntary absence in our lives. By this time he had remarried and had quit drinking, but still chose to be very uninvolved in our lives. He all but forgot about my mother (who remained single until she died).

The long story short is this: With every year that has passed, I’ve felt the things my mother must have felt when so abandoned by my dad, raising us kids and then trying to make a life of her own. I long since forgave all the ways she wasn’t able to be the mom I needed and wanted when growing up. After her stroke, I helped care for her and loved her affectionately. But I’ll always grieve the years that were lost and the sad aloneness of her life. I’ve longed to have chats with her as two women who share in common much more than they ever knew.  I send my heart to her in heaven and tell her all the things I never could. Mostly, that I understand.

Comments

Thanks for sharing this, Jan.  Your relationship with your mom was remarkably close to my wife’s with her mother.  Not far off from her father, too, though he stayed around.  So often we get perspective too late on these relationships, then we look back and go… why???


By: Doug Block, on Sep 21, 2006

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