Why My Mom’s Not Invited To My Wedding

Photographed by Winnie Au.
This story was originally published on November 13, 2015.

She doesn’t even know I’m getting married. We haven’t spoken for two years now, and for the last 20 years we’ve had a very fraught relationship. I know people will notice her absence; only my friends and family will know why she’s not there, but lots of my fiancé's extended family and even some of my own family members will wonder where she is. Some people will assume that my dad’s girlfriend is my mom, but I will make sure they know she's not. She isn’t as beautiful, as charismatic, or as warm as my mom can be.

I am estranged from my mother, and have been on and off since I was 13, when I moved out of the home I shared with her to live with my dad and sister. Since then, she has resented me for abandoning her.

I am judged often for not having a relationship with my mother. People tend to think me selfish, strange, cold, unemotional, and ungrateful. Little do they know about the times I have seen films with an actress who looks like her, and cried afterwards for an hour; or the time when a letter came through the letterbox and I thought it was a reply from her, only for it to be a bill that my fiancé’s mom had forwarded him. By the time he came up the stairs behind me, I was in pieces.

Some people will assume that my dad’s girlfriend is my mom, but I will make sure they know she's not. She isn’t as beautiful, as charismatic, or as warm as my mom can be.

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Growing up with my mother was different. Don’t get me wrong — she adored us. She dressed my older sister and me in frilly dresses and socks with shiny patent shoes and took us to singing lessons, dance classes, and piano lessons. We would have everything she didn’t have. But slowly, as her marriage began to break down, so did our relationship with her. She set us against each other. Divided and conquered. On my sister's 13th birthday, my mom and I stayed out of the house until 10 p.m. My dad was away working, so my sister spent her birthday alone, sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for us. This was, I imagine, my sister’s punishment for "siding" with my father. As far as I was concerned — at 9, and brainwashed by my mom — my sister deserved it, and I was delighted at the thought of her suffering. It pains me now to remember coming home to find her in the kitchen.

My father and sister were on holiday the summer that my mother sold off the contents of our family house and took me to live in an apartment. I was about 11, and I remember it as a sad time. Memories of one New Year’s Day when I was sick and vomited constantly, ignored by my mom for a reason I can’t recall, and nights when I awoke to find she’d gone next door to drink with the young neighbors, are particularly clear in my mind.

My dad and sister had returned to our house to find it empty, without knowing where we had gone or how to find us. A year went by. Eventually, they got our address from a friend of my mom's, and my sister came to see me. We walked in the park together, getting to know each other again. I promptly decided to move in with her and my father, on the premise that I would live with each parent for six weeks at a time.

And so began the cycle of showdowns, estrangement, and rekindling, which we were to go through constantly every few months or years for the next 15 years. But I always went back. After all, a life without my mother wasn’t a possibility.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
Being together with my fiancé made me get in touch with her once more, following a few years of the estrangement phase. I wanted her to know I had fallen in love and moved in with someone for the first time. I wanted to tell her that I hoped to spend the rest of my life with him, that I was happy. I walked through the park to her house and rang the bell. She opened the door, and I went to her and she wrapped her arms around me. We stood crying on the porch for a long time, me in her arms.

Our catch-up was emotional. I told her about my life, where I had been, where I worked, where I now lived. I told her about my boyfriend and what he was like; that he had brown, curly hair and was a beautiful person. She asked me if he treated me well; I said he did. She told me I had lost weight and was skinny — something I had dreamed of hearing from her my whole life — and then added that I was so skinny all you could see were my teeth.

Our contact was short-lived. So now, here I am, getting married — and she doesn’t know. Again, I find myself wanting to share this milestone event with her. I want her to be a part of it, or at the very least to know it’s happening. But, of course, there’s no point in phoning her up to tell her about it, only to then step right back out of her life again.

She knows the name of my fiancé, at least. But she never got to meet him. When the last "cycle" came to an end, I made the decision not to go back for another.

I choose me. I choose my health and my happiness, even though they come with a cost. The least of it is being judged. Her absence from every step I take in life, along with the knowledge that she is alone, is the real price.

So when people ask if my mom will be at my wedding, the answer is no, she won’t. But she will be in my heart, where she always is and will remain.

*Ellen Burns is the pen name of a writer living in the U.K.
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