Thomas Wictor

The reason my mother died

The reason my mother died

First, a disclaimer.

This post is not an attack on the Catholic church or my maternal grandparents. Nobody intended for my mother to suffer or to be so badly damaged that it killed her eighty years later. There was no malice involved in the decisions made about where Mom would go and how she would be treated there. I don’t “blame” anybody.

However, I must write about this not only to bear witness for my mother but also for myself. Mom was unable to feel emotional connections due to her formative experiences. Though we all paid for that, I paid more than anyone else in my family. I write this post not in anger but to explain that my grandparents and the Catholic church made such poor choices that they caused absolute carnage even after eight decades.

This is a cautionary tale. My mother is entitled to have her story told, and I’m entitled to tell it. Nobody’s privacy will be excessively violated, and no fingers will be pointed. All I will relate are facts.

The reason my mother died

When Mom was five years old, she was sent to a Catholic boarding school. The family was in crisis, and my grandfather George made the decision that CeeCee would be better off away from home. My uncle Michael—Mom’s younger brother—has filled me in on a lot that I didn’t know.

The crisis that caused George to send Mom to the boarding school did not improve with time. In fact it got worse, due to several factors. There were cultural issues, the era itself, and the temperaments and training of the two adults involved. Both George and my grandmother Carolina came from families in which stoicism was praised. Children were told to not cause problems. The British have a saying that both the Lowers and the Rowlands took to heart.

“Least said, soonest mended.”

A good little girl didn’t complain, ask questions, or make trouble. Before Mom went to the boarding school, she smiled in all her photos. Here she is in 1931, at the age of three.

By 1935 Mom had been taught to be a little lady. She sits with her legs crossed and her hands clasped, exposing her teeth in a non-smile.

All her life Mom showed her teeth in photos, the edges of the top and bottom rows carefully aligned. I have no doubt that she learned this at the boarding school.

Mom’s father George had two sisters, Oma and Marian.

None of the three had happy lives. George died of heart disease at sixty-five. Oma lived to be over a hundred, and Marian made it to eighty-eight, but there were severe addictions that took massive tolls. A child was born; in adulthood he was a closeted gay who picked up hustlers in hotel lobbies. He was murdered in his room by one of them.

George, Oma, and Marian’s parents were William and Mary. They had Marian when they were both over fifty. Here she is with her mother and father when she was about fourteen.

I don’t know anything about William, except what I’ll write in a few minutes. Mary was hell on wheels. There’s no other way to put it. Her word was law. One day she informed her son George that they would switch houses. George was married to Carolina and had a small daughter—my mother—but what Mary wanted, she got. A combative alcoholic, she would not be dissuaded.

George packed up his family and belongings and moved into Mary and William’s house, while Mary and William took over George’s house. After a month Mary decided that she didn’t like her new digs, so the two families switched back. All because of a narcissistic woman’s whim.

When Marian was born, Mary said to Oma, “I’m done raising kids. You take her.” So Oma put her life on hold to care for a sister young enough to be her daughter. Mary preferred Great Danes to children. She had several that ate at the kitchen table, off of plates, and they slept with her in her bed.

Though Mary wasn’t close to anybody, I know that Mom was close to William, whom she called Tata. Here’s a photo from 1929. Mom and William pose with one of Mary’s Jack Russell terriers.

William looks like a kind man. When Mom was sent to the boarding school at the age of five, she wrote William this heartbreaking letter.

This tells me quite a lot. Mom loved William more than her own parents, and she was afraid that he didn’t know—or care—where she was. It’s also clear that nobody sat her down and explained why she was removed from her home. I already knew that, because Mom’s family never discussed anything unpleasant.

The biggest lie of our culture is that children are resilient.

Absolutely not. They’re fragile. Putting my mother in a Catholic boarding school killed her eighty years later. The nuns made her stay at the dining-room table until she’d eaten everything on her plate. Sometimes she was there for hours. In her letters to her parents, Mom is careful to concentrate only on trivia and lightness. This was the way my maternal grandparents distracted themselves from their problems.

When Mom was in the hospital and nursing home in 2013, she refused to eat. Absolutely nothing we said to her penetrated. She was too angry. And then, when the inevitable happened, and she developed cachexia, she panicked and died crying, in terror. Yet she turned down all offers to see a priest. Her religion didn’t comfort her; it frightened her. She thought that she was doomed to eternal damnation.

As an aside, I know she wasn’t. The Planner doesn’t send anyone anywhere. We choose our own destinations. Mom went somewhere nice, as she merited.

She said to us that her suffering was her penitence. We told her over and over that we rejected the notion of physical suffering as atonement. There was no need for her to be punished. Yes, even though she and her husband had made terrible choices, killing herself wouldn’t solve anything. It would just cause us more pain. But the lessons of the nuns had taken hold. We couldn’t comfort her, help her, or save her. At five years old, her fate was sealed.

In the name of that five-year-old, I beg you to be merciful. Don’t fill your children’s heads with fear, and don’t do or say things “for their own good.” Without meaning to, you can cause disaster without end. You can create torment that continues to unfold generation after generation. Just treat your children the way you want to be treated yourself.

How would you like it if you were delivered into the hands of giant strangers who made you sit at a table until you ate food you hated? Would you like it if you were forced to obey scary, grim, drunk old ladies who preferred dogs to people?

Do you actually give any real thought to the children? Do you?


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