If you’ve landed here, you might want to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 first.
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.
All I can say is wow. Your mother is a piece of work. I am surprised, curious that you still refer to her as your mother. Just goes to show how wonderful a person you are. Others in your position would perhaps refer to her perhaps the woman who gave birth to me or her, that person etc. She certainly was, nor is your MOTHER under the definition of the word Mother or how the average person defines Mother. I am just in awe of you, you are an amazing Mother yourself a generous, wonderful and very very caring person. Wishing I could hug you in person, bringing tears to my eyes now. So glad we have caught up again after all these years. All my love xxxx
Thanks, Jacinta, for your support. It’s lovely to reconnect with you, too. x
Once again, your story (parts 4 and 5) have brought me to tears. Tears of sadness, tears of empathy. Your patience and resilience is incredible.
Thanks, Monique x
Wow, Louise, your story is extraordinary and so are you for sharing it. How hard it must have been to deal with this abuse for so long. I hope writing it out has helped some way towards healing, it is amazing how cathartic it can be to get things down on paper (digitally!). Wishing you all the best xx
Thank you, Helen. It is nice to write it, and to tell it to others. It’s been hard to keep it in, and try and raise a family, and live as if it’s not happening …
Your journey through the abuse is extraordinary and your reflections on your life still show the care you felt for your Dad. You are truly remarkable and I hope your story is read by all those who have been abused. Your story has healing qualities. I am proud t.Hugs
Betty, all I can say is thank you. xx
Louise, this is a truly amazing series of posts and of course I’m in tears. I’ve seen them coming through on Facebook etc but knew I would wait until I had a quiet house and a cup of tea to read the lot together and I’m glad I did. Beautifully written and also so scary to think that this awful kind of abuse can happen in what appears from the outside to be a respectable family. I’m so proud to know such a strong and talented woman! xx
Thank you for reading it in its entirety, Amanda, and for your comment! You’re right—you never know what goes on behind closed doors in a family, and kids are very good at hiding abuse.
Being your mother’s brother, I have read this series of blogs with more than an idle interest. I have found it very difficult to read at times, but am also thinking that it must be empowering for you to deal with your own haunting experiences. I applaud you for your ability to relay your story in such a sensitive, succinct manner.
As for your mother’s unsolicited rejoinders to your subscribers all I can say is … I never interfere with the enemy while they are destroying themselves …
Keep up the great work.
Thanks Uncle Greg. xx
Louise, it’s taken me a while to be able to comment on this post. I’ve been trying not to write this response, but it’s this or nothing, because this is what fills me when I read your words and look at the precious photos of your dad. I’ve read each part several times; on Saturday I read all 5 parts to my sister. Each time I read part 5 I’m taken back to my dad’s hospital room.
Looking at the photos of your lovely dad, brings my dad’s death back. He had the same illness I have, COPD and congestive heart failure, and was in the local hospital for weeks being treated for what they thought was pneumonia. (This was 23 years ago and and as you’d know medicine has come a long way since then) It wasn’t until his face became a skeletal death mask that they transferred him to a major hospital for further testing. It turned out he was riddled with cancer. I was the only one with my parents when the doctor came in and told dad that he had, at most, 6 weeks to live. All dad wanted was to go home to die. He’d been in hospital for weeks and wanted to go home. The doctor said that could be arranged. My mother said she couldn’t cope with him at home. I told her I’d move in and care for dad, the doctor explained that they’d arrange plenty of help, and I knew my brother and sister would help too, but my mother flat out refused. I’ll never forget the depth of sorrow in my father’s eyes.
Even though visiting hours were over, the doctor told us we could stay as long as we liked. I told mum to think about it and have a chat with dad while I went to phone my sister and brother to let them know dad was dying. When I returned to dad’s room he said “Your mother wants to go home now” I said “but it’s ok for us to stay” he then asked me to take my mother home because she was tired. As I kissed him goodbye I told him I loved him and so did my brother and sister, and between us we’d work this out so he could go home. That was the last time I saw my father conscious. I got a phone call from the hospital early the next morning to say we should all come in as soon as possible. My father was unconscious when we got there and died within half an hour of our arrival.
There’s a little more to this that I can’t share, but I want you to know Louise, that although I can’t imagine what it was like to be denied access to your father’s funeral, I’m so pleased he had you and your family for the last year of his life. That video is so precious. He’s not my dad and yet I weep each time I watch it. Also I think it was wonderful to hold your own memorial service for your dad.
Very often the abusive parent wreaks havoc on their spouse as well as their children. Thank you for sharing a little of your dad. Although I’ve dealt with much of my abuse, I’ve never dealt with the pain my mother caused my father, and me, when she denied him his home when he was dying. I have no more words, just my loving gratitude for your courage and your sharing. xx
Tricia, thanks for telling this story here. I feel so sad for your father, that he didn’t get to die where he wanted. It’s a shame your mother was so selfish that she couldn’t try to give him his dying wish. I feel for you, too, that you wanted to give it to him, but couldn’t.
I loved my father and I had to find a way to pay tribute to him when he died. It wasn’t just for him, but for me, for my husband, and for his grandchildren. My uncle flew over from Tasmania for the memorial—we all needed to say goodbye. There were many people denied the opportunity to pay their respects to my father, and there’s a lot more to this story, but as I said earlier, I can’t include everything or these posts would go on for a year!
Thank you again for your comments and support. xx
PS. I forgot to say, that I’m glad you liked the video. I videoed him so much during that last year, hours of it! I knew how much I’d cherish it after he died. I have footage of him smiling at the kids and clapping as they played their instruments, telling me he loved me, winking at me. All so precious now.