Epitaph For Mean

This is the last post of a series which begins here.
Life was mean to Bernadine.

Bernadine on Lake Michigan

Bernadine’s mom did not understand children, nor, I think, like them.

Bernadines Mom

When she left for work each day, she locked little Bernadine into a room with the maid.

Happily, the maid had a skeleton key. Bernie and she would head for the shore of Lake Michigan and spend contented days there, returning before my grandmother.

At the age of nine, Bernadine was given the maid’s duties: She had to come home from school, dust every surface–including over doorframes–and then start dinner. When Grandma came home, she would run one white-gloved finger over a doorframe chosen at random.

Bernadine’s father hit my grandmother while she was pregnant with Bernie. My grandmother divorced him immediately and would never speak of him again. Bernie was frustrated ever afterward that she could learn no more about her father.

I liked Grandma’s second husband because he allowed me to pick out “boys” toys (a fun toy car and boat instead of stupid toy high heels), but Bernie said about him once “He was a real bastard.” She wouldn’t answer any questions about that comment.

I got the feeling something had happened with my grandfather that Bernie couldn’t talk about–or not talk about to her daughter. This may have been at least partly why, when Bernie turned fourteen years old, she secretly applied for, and studied hard for, a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in a different state. When she won it, she moved away from house with no regrets.

Up through college, Bernadine had good and close girlfriends. She married a man she was crazy about.

Bernadine Marriage Photo

They seemed to be very happy, wed six years before having children.

Her old friendships dropped away, somehow.

And she, an only child, wound up with four children under the age of eight and a husband who was gone sunup to sundown, or months overseas.

She moved from a single-culture neighborhood where everyone shared the same values (and raised each other’s children) to a multi-culture one where everyone got along–but HER family’s culture was seen as different.

Yet on her first day, all her new neighbors did come to welcome her:

“What kind of mother DOES that?! We’re going to call the POLICE!”

While busy unpacking, Bernie had put her toddler in the shaded front yard wearing a safety harness. It was looped to a clothesline run, like a dog’s.

That’s what moms did in her old neighborhood.


Bernie’s husband was an expert in the bully’s trick of chip-chip-chipping away at every sensitive issue repeatedly until it reaches the point that the victim snaps–for no reason, to anyone not in the know.

Bernie grew defensive and paranoid and full of temper at him and the world. She became an expert chipper in her own right.

Warren also interrupted Bernie constantly, and jumped to correct her in front of family and guests.

This is accepted (or not noticed) by listeners more when men do it to women than the reverse. Over the years, Bernie became frustrated by her lack of voice.

She sought an audience and temporary society among strangers, striking up conversations while out shopping. With Bernadine so reluctant to give up the floor she so rarely had, these brief exchanges evolved over time to monologues. Until her eyesight went, and Bernie gave up pleasure-trips, one could locate her in stores by looking in corners for her trapped, glazed-eyed prey.

Poor Bernadine had lupus, and an undiagnosed parathyroid problem that made her bad temper worse. I also believe that in the worst years of her yelling, menopause was a major contributor.

So, basically, the woman was working against a stacked deck.

Does that entirely excuse the abuse she inflicted? No.


This past week, Bernie was admitted to the E/R due to high potassium levels–an indicator of kidney failure–and died less than 12 hours later.

She was very good at Scrabble. When I was a child, I enjoyed playing with her.
She taught me the basic back-stitch in embroidery. We made a little teddy bear.
She told me once a new dress didn’t look bad on me like I thought it did. She said “I think it looks nice.”
She was an excellent cook. She made cookies for us.

You would not do that for children you only hated. Would you?

I have always been an orphan. If I cry at some point, it will be because my life and Bernadine’s life intersected in such a sad way. I do feel love for her–because the anger is gone about this: That she didn’t move past her hurt child to take adequate care of the children she was hurting. I hope she is healed at long last.

Now I Lay Me Embroidery SectionIf I Should Die Before I Wake

Epitaph For Mean

Life was mean to Bernadine,
So she began to pout;
And when she grew,
Although she knew,
She should not take it out,

By doing unto others,
What had been done to her,
She didn’t care;
It wasn’t fair;
(So few things in life were).

To her own children, Bernadine,
Herself became the child;
She falsely blamed;
She often shamed;
She yelled like someone wild.

Her own four tried to kill her;
(They thought they would be freed);
And yet at times,
Despite her crimes,
She’d give you what you’d need:

You’d be surprised by kindness,
She’d shock you with a smile,
(It shouldn’t be:
We all agree:
That these were rare was vile.)

No point; no point in poems;
For no more Bernadine;
She had we four,
To love… Adore–
Instead, she chose the mean.
Mommy Jekyll and Babe
Part 7 of a 7-part series that was posted daily. Following this, the focus will shift away from my mommy issues.

I think my mom’s yelling was caused by the ‘pause because it happened to me. Once I got a hormone patch, my yelling ended. My own was never constant, and it lasted only a couple of years, but the harm had already been done. If you find yourself post-40 and screaming: 1. check hormones; 2. take drugs.
Begin here:
Hateful Mommy Hyde–Part 1
Or read ’em backwards:
Joyful Mommy Jekyll–Part 6

Leave a comment


  1. Condolences on her passing and kudos on your honesty. So many people whitewash the recently deceased, and you didn’t. You told it the way it probably was from everyone’s viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul

     /  2014/08/22

    A very balanced and thoughtful post OB. Bernadine was definitely seriously affected by her past and likely had no chance of being a kind and loving Mom.


    • Thank you for the first comment, Paul. I must disagree with you about the second, however. I was a product of a pretty terrible childhood, and I was an extremely kind and loving mom. My mom could have done better. She made choices.


  3. Yemie

     /  2014/08/23

    I’m so sorry ’bout your mum’s passing, may the Good Lord rest her soul and give y’all the fortitude to bear her loss in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

    This a quite a revealing post, very profoundly so! I just wish she’d tried hard enough to make better choices as far as parenting’s concerned.That a person’s had it rough all of their lives does not mean they can’t make concerted efforts to rise above their adversities. Its pretty difficult but not utterly impossible! You O.B are a living example and there are a gazillion more folks out there too! A lot of life lessons I’ve picked up from this insightful piece! Thanks again for sharing and God bless your heart!


    • Thank you so very much, Yemie. I hope she was accepted by God and is at peace.

      In her final years, most of her faulty behavior was due to weakness and ignorance more than evil, and she grew adult enough to apologize if she was called out when vicious words escaped her.

      I am grateful that she and I had several warm conversations during this period. I could never rise to the heights of Macy Girl in her eyes, but if I stuck to positive topics only, Bernie gave me all the affection she had available for a child considered far the lesser.


  4. RR

     /  2014/08/24

    My sincerest condolences.

    This is a most fair ending to a series of posts that too have been most fair. I am glad for you that you were able to snatch up a few moments of niceties in her final years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rebecca: For your condolences, for judging that I was fair-minded, and for being glad for me. All very much appreciated.

      (I swear I replied first thing this morning–twice, after I saw that WP had eaten the first reply. Now I see that BOTH were eaten. That is all right: Let’s make it three replies to match three gifts and three thank you’s 🙂 )


      • RR

         /  2014/08/24

        You are most welcome. Thank you for your efforts to reply (thrice!). 😉


  5. Wow. This was incredible. It’s interesting to think of our parents as actual people… it doesn’t take away the damage they may inflict on us, but it makes it slightly easier to understand when viewed in the context of a life.


    • Thank you, Aussa. I agree that the understanding helps.

      It is perhaps easier for me objectively view my parents as people than it is for others. I couldn’t be blinded by love for them once I realized they never loved me. It took far longer to let go of the hate.

      I stopped hating them when I finally realized there was nowhere for my hate to go: My father didn’t care, because I was less than a person to him, except that the lack of my devotion frustrated and embarrassed him. My mother didn’t understand, because she simply didn’t think my hate was deserved by her.

      I had never believed the advice to let hate go because you’re hurting only yourself, but in this case, it turned out true.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, OB, I did not see this coming. My sympathies to you and your family. Clearly, “mixed emotions” is an understatement.

    You wrote:
    “So, basically, the woman was working against a stacked deck. Does that entirely excuse the abuse she inflicted? No.”

    I agree completely. From a safe distance, you can understand that she’d be abusive, given her experience. I’m glad that you were able to break the cycle when rearing your boys.

    Please accept my appreciation for this series. I am grateful that you shared and allowed me to bear witness.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This was beautiful. It’s left me speechless (which is a rare condition for me!). I’m sorry for your loss.


    • Thank you for that “beautiful”. That really touched me. It is what I was striving for.

      The loss is not too hard to bear, for me. For my sister Meg, it is terrible. My mother, in her last years, tried to gift me with silver and china–but refused my entreaties to give anything to Meg, and would not explain why.

      Meg and I think it is possible that either she was not my father’s daughter, or that my mother and father feared she was not (she looks nothing like anyone else in the family and her blood type done in high school science class was…off.)

      The feeling of being, not merely orphaned, but utterly hated, is coming back around on Meg again.


  8. I’ve appreciated your series of posts about your mommy issues, and what an unexpected ending. All the comments and your responses are heartwarming to a degree. You have been more than fair in dealing out your words. Poor Meg, but she has you, O.Babe. Take care. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Christine, thank you so much for reading ALL of the posts, and accompanying comments (you are quite a rapid reader!). What a lovely extra welcome back to the online world for me after being away for two months, having someone appreciate the effort I tried to take to describe a challenging person and circumstance. You take care as well, Bungee Queen.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I still want to wrap my arms around you, Babe. My heart breaks for you and Paul and Meg. And to a very small degree, for Bernadine too.
    My husband was raised by two raging alcoholics. Emphasis on raging. He often came between the beatings inflicted on his mother by his father by doing so literally -using his body as buffer. That would stop his father who was the worst sort of bully. And my husband is the kindest, gentlest, most decent man imaginable. The sins of the father (or mother) don’t have to be visited upon the child. He often says his father taught him to be a good father and husband by a very simple technique: just do the opposite. Still, whatever the reasons for your mother’s behavior, there is no excuse. You deserved so much better, you special child, thrown to the wolves so callously.


    • Thank you, Barbara. All children of such parents deserve better, and there are more and more of such parents, I suspect–selfish, childish ones.

      My father was (is) special in his own way: A sociopath and bully. The two made a lovely couple. I feel for your husband. It is interesting that he had the inner resources to do what he did. Was he born that way? (Some are, I believe.) Or was there another resource outside his famiy that gave him positive reinforcement–a friend’s parent? An aunt or uncle?

      Or is it that his parents directed the bulk of their abuse at each other rather than at him? In any event, it had to have been awful. How wonderul you have each other now. And Max : )


  11. OMG I am weeping.
    I can’t rationalize what you’ve experienced from your own mother. I can’t. I don’t care how sick or how poorly treated she was.
    I desperately want to hug you. I don’t much care if she found peace. Have YOU found peace?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, Joey. You have a loving heart. I have found peace about my mom. Writing this series helped me do that. I will have to do the same about my abusive father.

      Finding peace does not heal the damage. I have come to terms with the reality that the damage is permanent. I will forever be more suspicious of males than females due to the great cruelty of my father (and it’s not like most men are any great shakes, I’ve found), while still being unconsciously drawn to men like him. I will still defer to others too quickly in many situations, or snap at others when they touch triggers. There is nothing I can do, except stop beating myself up about this, and do the best I can to be the best person I can be despite the damage.

      At least, I no longer lack self-confidence due to their belittling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean about triggers, and have been told it’s part of PTSD, and that few adult women don’t have them. Still, your upbringing was bleak, absent it seems from protection and affection. I assume you are loving and doting to your own children, for having known what could have been.
        I can tell you’ve come a long way.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Joyful Mommy Jekyll–Part 6 | The Last Half

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