In Western Australia
My mother packed up their house in Tasmania, and in February 2011, my husband flew over and brought both of my parents back with him. At the airport, my mother waved everyone off and told them she’d be returning in eighteen months to two years, depending on how things went.
In Perth, we settled my father into care and my mother started her chemotherapy. She stayed with us for seven weeks before we bought a duplex and she moved in there. We charged her a minimal rent so she could survive on her pension. My husband worked out how many extra patients he needed to see each day, and began working longer hours so we could cover the mortgage.
Back in Tasmania, my uncles packed up the rest of my parents’ house so it could be sold. They cleared out the two huge sheds at the back—toilets, washing machines, hot water cylinders; hundreds of boxes containing over forty years of accumulated stuff; a truckload-and-a-half of legal documents; and five skips of rubbish.
The house sold and my mother was finally rid of that financial burden. After paying the mortgage, there was some money left over, which my uncle gave to my mother. She then gave it to us, to help cover some of the costs. ‘As you’ve helped me so much,’ she said.
I took the money—it helped offset some of the cost of the mortgage—but I told her it was hers and we’d give it back to her when she returned to Tasmania. There were other reasons why I took it—I knew she had creditors (see below) from whom she had to hide it, and I thought, too, that if it sat in our bank, it would make it harder for her to spend. It was the last of her money, and I wanted her to hold on to it.
Trying to make the most of it
Although I tried, there was no way I could forget what my mother had done to us—I couldn’t forgive her, not that she was apologising, and I couldn’t trust her.
We had a huge argument a week-and-a-half after she arrived. I let her know how angry we were about what she’d done—the walking out on us in 2004; what she’d done to us over the house; the threat to report me to the Medical Board. I let it rip—it was the first time my kids ever heard me use the F-word, and I gave it a good workout.
As I spoke, my mother pulled out a notebook, and began writing down what I was saying so she could tell the counsellor at the breast clinic how I was abusing her. At one stage I called her a pathological liar.
‘Path-o-log-i-cal liar,’ she repeated as she wrote.
She was leaving, she said, packing Dad up and returning to Tasmania, she hadn’t come over to be abused.
‘Right,’ I said when I’d finished saying all that I’d bottled up for the past seven years. ‘I’ve said all that I have to say and I won’t mention it again. You’re here now. Stay and get your treatment. You’re the only mother I’m gonna get, so let’s make this work.’
Yet I hoped
Naïve as it sounds, I still hoped that she’d changed. I kept thinking surely she can see how much we’re helping, how much everyone is helping. Surely she can see the mess she’s created by the decisions she’s made, and surely, this time she’s learned her lesson.
I hoped, too, that she’d see what she’d missed out on for the past seven years, and realise how nice it was to have her family back. I hoped she’d see she had another chance and that she’d want to keep us now she had us in her life again.
All I wanted was a ‘normal’ mother, one who did normal mother things, not suing-the-government-seeking-justice-and-running-out-of-money things. One who didn’t lie and who wasn’t nasty.
While my mind might have hoped, my body knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Of a night, I lay in bed pumping my husband’s hand as the old feelings of fear and panic and losing control of my life returned. My abdominal pains started again, and by May, I was back on antidepressants.
My mother and I had another argument after I discovered the $56,000 credit card bill about which she hadn’t told me. I was even more annoyed when she tried to tell me it was the bank’s fault for continuing to increase her credit card limit. She was leaving again, taking Dad and going back to Tasmania …
Once again, I said, ‘You’re here. Stay for the rest of your treatment. You’re the only mother I’ll ever have …’ And I kept trying to make it work.
For a while, she was appreciative, writing things like:
‘I may forget to tell you at times, but I really, really appreciate what you (and your family b/c they are involved also) have done and are doing for Dad and I. I think I may not have coped without your help. Thank-you again and so much, you are a wonderful caring daughter, along with your merry band of helpers.’
Dad grew frailer as the year went on, but it was so nice to spend that year with him, to celebrate a birthday with him, and to be able to help care for him.
Then it all came crashing down …
My mother finished her treatment, started to feel better, and began to get out more. And spend more money. I noticed, and I worried, but I could say very little.
Until the day she phoned me in February 2012. She was in tears because she had five dollars in the bank and couldn’t pay Dad’s nursing home fees due the next week. She’d spent his pension because she’d had to pay $4,000 to my uncle, she said, the remainder of the capital gains tax on the property. (This wasn’t true, I learned later—the capital gains tax had been paid months earlier, and she hadn’t paid any money to my uncle at all.) She wanted $4,000 of her money to pay the nursing home and go to Tassie at the end of the month as she’d planned.
I didn’t say much on the phone—I wanted to think before I spoke. Plus I wanted to put it in writing, so I couldn’t be misquoted. I wrote to her that we needed to sort something out because, clearly, she couldn’t manage money.
And that was the end of the peace. The abusive emails started, and despite the fact that Dad was nearing the end of his life, she was taking him back to Tasmania. Meanwhile, she told people that I’d taken her money and wouldn’t give it back to her. It was ‘elder abuse’, apparently.
I applied to the State Administrative Tribunal for guardianship of Dad so I could set up a bank account in his name to keep his pension safe, and also prevent my mother moving him when he was so near the end of his life. A date for the hearing was set, but Dad died three days beforehand, on March 25th, 2012.
My mother, as next-of-kin, kept Dad’s funeral private and the details secret from me. I wasn’t allowed to attend my father’s funeral. None of Dad’s children, nor any of his grandchildren, were there. Once again, I felt sorry for him and for what he deserved but didn’t get.
We decided that we didn’t need Dad’s body to say goodbye and we held our own memorial for him. The kids read, played their instruments, and sang. I spoke about him and told everyone what a gentle person he was, and we paid tribute to his life.
I knew how much we’d done to help my mother, to help both of my parents. I knew how much it had cost us, not just financially but also in terms of putting our own lives on hold. Yet, it wasn’t enough for my mother.
This time, I didn’t take it silently. Just after Dad’s funeral, my husband and I wrote to uncles and a handful of close family friends, and told them the story. We told them what we’d done for my parents, that we hadn’t taken my mother’s money, that we weren’t committing ‘elder abuse’, that we’d actually stepped in and tried to look after her. That we’d probably saved her life, in fact.
I told them all about my childhood, too. About the abuse and the gambling, and all the things that my mother had tried to hide behind the mural of lies she’d painted around her. I wrote it all—I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer.
Around the same time, my husband wrote to my mother and told her that we were no longer prepared to support her financially and she had to leave our property. She was sent a ‘Notice to Vacate’, to which she responded by claiming that we had granted her a verbal lifetime tenancy and requested we compensate her for her relocation costs, as well as compensation for her losses in moving to Perth.
We were rather surprised by this turn of events. Firstly, we’d never heard of a verbal lifetime tenancy, probably because there is no such thing. Also, because every time we’d argued with her, she’d said she was packing up and going back to Tassie.
We had to go to court, again, and evict her, again.
Just before she finally returned to Tasmania, she wrote to my husband, saying,
‘I am looking forward to being out of this faeces-ridden hole of a place to which my husband and I were dragged under what I now know to be indeed spurious reasons.’
And told him he had ‘his head up his backside’ if he truly believed we’d helped her out.
We gave her the remainder of her money, sent her a letter which we labelled the ‘F-off Letter’, and blocked her from everything we could. We’d had more than enough.
Sometimes, I think we should have turned our backs and left her in Tasmania with her untreated, 15-month-old breast cancer, and none of this would be happening. But then we would have left Dad, too, and I would have missed out on this:
And my kids would have missed out on this:
And to be able to care for my father in the last year of his life was priceless, and worth every ounce of the crap we’ve had to deal with since.
So, that’s about it: ‘Why I Chose to be Motherless’ in five (long) blog posts. Since then, my mother has filed the defamation writ, which, of course, is still going …
There’s only Part 6 to come, and that’s more of a reflection. I actually wrote it first, but as I said earlier, I didn’t think I could post the ending without writing the journey.
I think we’re easy to spot, we adults who have been abused as children—there’s a vulnerability, a lack of confidence, a sadness about us. You can hear it in the words we say, see the pain in our eyes. And we have a few cracks. Maybe we just spot each other easily because of the bond we share—we understand something normal people don’t understand, and can’t possibly ever understand, because normal people have no idea what it’s like to grow up with a mother who didn’t love you.