Once again, I tried to write a comment on Prairie Girl’s blog, under her excellent post entitled The Scapegoat’s Narrow Role, when I realized that my comment was longer than her post. So I decided to turn my comment into a blog post, since that is apparently what it wants to be. 🙂
My comment-turned-post was inspired by something Katie said in response to Prairie Girl’s scapegoat article, about a cousin who validated the way Katie was treated by her mother. As Prairie Girl said in reply to Katie: “It means the world for someone who had witnessed the abuse to acknowledge the cruelty and to share that they weren’t in agreement with it.”
I was also blessed with a cousin who saw, and acknowledged, my painful relationship with my mother. But I suffered through two years and two days of intense sorrow, before I was able to see how blessed I really am.
My sweet cousin, the only daughter of my mother’s only sibling, seemed to have the perfect life. She worked in a hospital as a registered nurse. She had a BA in psychology. She was buying a very nice house, all on her own. She appeared to be very strong and confident, at least from the outside.
I felt like a big mucky mess in comparison. To my way of thinking, my cousin was the perfect daughter to my aunt and uncle, and the perfect granddaughter to our maternal grandparents. In short, she seemed to be everything that I had tried, and mostly failed, to be.
She was my only blood relative living in this state, so we did family things together from time to time, birthdays and Thanksgiving, things like that. Although our visits were congenial on the surface, I always felt embarrassed when I was in her presence. I felt that way, because I assumed that she had been told all the horrible scapegoating lies about me, that my narcissistic mother has told to the rest of the family.
For this reason, I also assumed that whenever my cousin made time for me in her life, she did it out of pity or a sense of duty, and not because she really enjoyed my company. Because I felt this way, I tried not to encroach on her life too much. I did not want to be an imposition! But even so, I appreciated those times when we did get together.
A little over five years ago, my cousin and I were talking on the phone, making plans for her upcoming birthday. During the conversation the talk veered to my mother. My cousin said: “It would explain everything if your mother has narcissistic personality disorder.”
Wow oh wow oh WOW!! I had never felt so validated in my life, by someone in my family. I felt as though the heavens had just opened up and a choir of angels were singing the Hallelujah chorus. My soul was like a dry, lifeless desert, and suddenly a warm, gentle, life-giving rain was falling!
A Terrible Tragedy
What I am going to write next is very hard. It is hard to write and I know it will be hard to read. I am sorry.
Four days after my cousin told me that she believed my mother had NPD, she drowned. Less than a month away from her 39th birthday, my wonderful, sweet, brilliant, young cousin was forever gone from this world.
My grief was unbearable. I was inconsolable. My cousin and I had only just connected, for the first time ever, on a deep, mutually validating level, and then…. she was GONE.
I went into the deepest, darkest depression of my life. I was so devastated that I went to bed and basically stayed there for two whole years. I was prescribed an antidepressant drug but it did not help, it only made me feel dead inside. Life seemed utterly hopeless and horrible to me, so I stayed in bed and almost never got up, except when I had to go to the bathroom. I stopped doing everything else. I even stopped brushing my teeth, and I have always hated the feeling of scummy teeth. I lost two of my teeth because of this.
More than anything, I wanted to be the one who had died. My cousin was nineteen years younger than me. Most of my life is already behind me. I have been living on disability since the age of fifty-five. I am no longer working as a nurse. If one of us had to die, it should have been me.
I began to doubt my belief in God, again. How could a good, loving, all-knowing, all powerful God allow this tragedy to happen?
And Then… A Miracle?
TWO YEARS AND TWO DAYS after my sweet cousin’s death, a dust storm hit our area. I happened to see it coming, a solid wall of dark brown, almost black, bearing down from the northern horizon. The screaming wind that battered our small house sounded like it was going to obliterate everything in its path.
Some time after the storm had stopped, I went outside and looked around. Glancing down, I saw something shiny lying on the ground beside the single step that leads up to our front porch. It was a battered and worn metal tag, about the size and shape of a dog tag, with a hole in one end for hanging on a chain.
I picked up the tag. Engraved on one side was the original version of the poem my cousin had put in every one of her emails, for years. As long as we had been sending emails back and forth, her messages had all ended with a version of this poem:
Dance as though no one is watching
Love as though you have never been hurt
Sing as though no one can hear you
Live as though heaven is on earth.
As I stood there in shock, holding the small tag with my cousin’s signature poem in my hands, running my fingers along the engraved words, I knew God was telling me that my cousin is OK, and we will be reunited someday.
I also knew that I needed to let go of my angry depression, hold fast to my Christian faith, get up out of bed, and LIVE. So, that is what I did.
The Creator God is my strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from His great love. His only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, has conquered the grave. Yes, Lord, I believe. Please help my unbelief. Amen!
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