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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

The time I was almost neglected to death.

I have “mommy issues.” Saying that I have mommy issues is a huge understatement, a short-hand for saying that I am fully aware that the relationship with my mother is causing problems in my current life. And saying this, is an overly wordy way of saying that I am allowing her to have power over me from beyond the grave, and it makes me angry, not only with her, but with myself. I am angry that I just cannot seem to let go of what I know I need to let go of, the anger, the resentment, and the absolute disdain.

And, this is what my therapist considered to be progress. The truth was that before this, I had shut off all emotions and connections to her, if any had developed in the first place. My therapist worked hard to get me to the point that I felt any emotions towards my mother. When I finally got to the place where I realized that I had all these negative emotions about my mother, that is about where my progression stopped. I just could not get to the point of compassion and forgiveness, my idea of healing. So, I decided that I am just going to have to write it all, the good the bad and the ugly, but also the light and the beauty, and at least try to land in the grey.

My childhood was that of absolute neglect. Not only was there serious emotional neglect, but there was a serious amount of physical neglect as well. I was so malnourished that my bones were brittle and my teeth regularly chipped and broke. A simple fall would break an arm. I once broke my left wrist falling off my bike, and 3 weeks later, I broke my right falling while roller skating. For a while I had casts on both arms. And there were times that I was seriously sick, and would not get medical attention. I apparently got strep throat, which could have been easily treated with an antibiotic, but instead it developed into full blown scarlet fever, something my old country doctor said had not been an issue for decades. Or the time that I was sick for so long, and no one had brushed my hair, that my hair was so snarled and matted that my mother had to cut it all off. Sometimes it is hard to see neglect and it goes unnoticed, but unfortunately, it can also be deadly.

One time I was almost neglected to death by my mother. There is the memory I have of being very, very sick. I was young, probably between 4 to 6 years old. In my family, for some reason, when someone was seriously ill, they would put them in my parents’ bed in my parents’ room. It was a dark room with only a small window for light, that was usually covered by a heavy curtain. And, I have to admit, it was peaceful in a way, being dark and quiet. It felt like being in a cave to me. I do not know if this idea of being moved into their bedroom was some sort of tradition, or if it was to quarantine you from the other children, as we all shared one big bedroom, or if it was so that the sick person could get better rest without all the comings and goings that would be happening in the shared bedroom. Whatever the reason, I remember being in my parents’ bed for days and days on end. I would see the little crack of light, and I could tell day from night. Even morning sunlight from evening sunlight. Because, honestly, that is all there was to do. I have no memory of anyone coming to check on me or care for me, except for once. The twins, 3 years older than me, came in and one of them said, “Mom wanted me to ask you if you needed anything.” I don’t know if I responded or not, but I do remember that they shrugged, made a comment, and left.

So, this is where things get a little weird, so buckle up. Something during the long stretch of sickness, high fever, lack of food and water, or being stuck in dark and isolation caused this - each one of them have been scientifically proven to do so. I will leave it up to you and your own personal belief system to decide what actually happened to me, but I had a full up, hallucination, spirit quest, Near Death Experience, whatever you want to call it, this is what I experienced.

There is a Pink Floyd song, Comfortably Numb. As a professional I recognized the song as being about an opiate overdose. It is a really good description of the high, and description of the withdrawal that he goes though when he is injected with an opiate blocker. There is a line in which he sings about having a fever as a child, and how that fever caused some of the same feelings as being “high.” It is not uncommon for children to have hallucinations when they get a very high fever, but this is usually considered the point to panic medically, it means the fever is getting too high, and some intervention is needed. At the very least, some children's Tylenol. But typically, this is the point in the movie in which the mother is frantically dumping the kid in a cold bath while she is dialing 911, and the EMTs are on their way.

Pink Floyd sings, “When I was a child, I had a fever. My hands felt like two balloons.” But instead of my hands feeling like balloons, my hands felt like lead weights. My hands felt thick and heavy and I could not lift them. After noticing this sensation, I began to realizing that I could not move at all. I remember I was on the verge on starting to worry, as several attempts to move had failed, when I started to becoming very light, and sort of floating up towards the ceiling. I was feeling both the weight of my body, and myself floating at the same time. Some part of me knew something was not right, but a part of me thought that floating was kind of fun.

Then as I was contemplating the situation, a beautiful young woman with long blonde hair came into my room and sat down by my bed. We talked for a while. She spoke gently, but confidently. She bluntly asked me if I wanted to go on living, or if I wanted to come with her. I understood, that to go with her meant I would die. I remember thinking about it, then deciding that I wanted to stay. I remember her telling me that something was not going as planned, and the conversion was about whether to scrap this life and try again, or to continue on.

After our introductory conversation, I told her that I wanted to live, so she called what I can only describe as "The Council." The room became full of people as one by one they kind of “popped” into the room. They did not stand on the floor as the young blonde woman did, they hovered about a foot or two off the floor. They were all dressed very differently, some seemed to be in costumes or uniforms of different kinds. Finally, when they had all arrived, they started a calm but passionate debate about the situation. I remember a kindly brown-haired woman who seemed to be on my side for letting things play out. "I think she could do it," I remember her saying. "We should let her try." There were several men. One, a young man appearing as a soldier in some uniform, argued passionately to scrap the plan and start over, and actually became increasingly frustrated that the older “statesman,” for lack of a better word, was leaning toward the side of the dark-haired woman. I remember them asking questions, and me answering them. It is kind of hard to describe, but I was a child lying in bed, watching myself talk to this council of, maybe, “angels.” The council finally decided that it was up to me if I wanted to continue with the plan or not, and one by one they disappeared.

I was back in my child body. The young woman with the long blonde hair, came and sat with me again and we talking to me for a long time. She told me that this choice to stay would be hard, that I would have to endure much pain. Was I sure that that is what I wanted to do? Then after a while, she stood up, said good-bye, walked through the wall, and was gone.

When I was able to move again, I got out of bed and went to tell my mother about what had happened. I remember that my story really rattled my mother. It shook her so deeply, that she actually started taking care of me. She took me out of the dark bedroom where I had been isolated for so long. She took me outside put down a blanket in the grass and had me lay in the sun for a while. She went to the store and bought me juice, to try and encourage fluid intake. I know that this is going to sound weird to most people, but my mother had never given me juice before, that I can remember, so this really stood out to me. This is the first time I have a memory of my mother taking care of me in any way. I remember realizing that this is what “people were talking about,” and it really felt nice.

It was not until much later in life when I was studying the phenomena of the Near Death Experience (NDE) that I was able to see that my experience was typical, and similar to the descriptions of people who have been declared legally dead and revived. But if it was an NDE, or a fever hallucination, or dehydration…it does not matter. The point is that things should never have gone that far. I was in the danger zone, no matter how you slice it. I have no memory of my mother ever coming to check on me, take my temperature, encourage me to drink some water. She knew I was sick, that is why I was in their room. Okay, maybe she did send in an older sibling in to check on me, and ask me if I needed anything. But because they were also children, they did not know that I needed to drink fluids. I don't remember ever taking a drink for several days and nights. That is some serious neglect. This is the darkness that I lived with. I almost died because my mother could not be bothered to bring me a glass of water when I was sick. She just did not care enough to be bothered. Do you see where I have such a hard time getting to the point of forgiveness. People tell me, “She did the best that she could.” But did she? Was that really the best that she could do?

And this was not an isolated thing, it was habitual. The time I got so sick that my mother cut off all my hair, this is that story. It was summer time and we were up in the mountains building fences for the government. I got sick, so I had to be left in camp. Instead of leaving me in the camper trailer, she put me in the car, with the windows rolled up. I don’t know why, I think it was electric, but I could not open the windows, and I could not get out. The next day she went to put me in the car. I told her I did not want to, that it was hot and I could not breath. She insisted, and literally cracked the windows, like I was a dog. I was too weak; I accepted my fate. But a miracle happened. One of my older sisters showed up. She was livid! I remember my sister yelling at my mother when my mother came back to get lunch. My sister forced her to take me out of the car and set me up in the shade. She berated her about my hair, she told her she had to brush my hair out, wash me. But my hair was so matted up, that there was no hope. My mother became frustrated, and so she took a pair of scissors and cut off all my hair. This hurt my sister, she went from mad to sad. She took me away to go get my hair cut by a professional. She got me a curling iron, and showed me how to curl my hair, “to make it look cute.” My “real mother” had arrived to save me from my biological mother once again. She did the things that mothers are supposed to do. She took care of me, physically, mentally, emotionally.

So now we go dark. This is the darkness that I lived with. I believe that I almost died because my mother could not be bothered to bring me a glass of water when I was sick. But some part of me believes that she knew what she was doing. My mother’s mother was a nurse. She was one of the first woman to ever graduate from the University of Wyoming. My grandmother was known for caring for the sick in her community, even taking people into her home, for extended periods of time. My mother would have grown up knowing how to care for sick people. My mother also went on to become a nurse. She used to tell people that that was always her dream, and she did go back to school and get her nursing degree. Her life’s dream was to take care of people who were sick, but she would not take care of me. Almost refused to do what she claimed was in her nature. She wanted to take care of sick people, but she just did not want to take care of me. Why? What did I ever do to her, to anyone, that made me of less value than everyone else in the world, that she would have happily care for?

She just did not care enough to be bothered. Do you see were I have such a hard time getting to the point of forgiveness. People tell me, “She did the best that she could.” But did she? Was that the best that she could do? To let me lay in that bed and slowly die of thirst and starvation? How many days can a small child go without water? An adult is 3 days before your body starts to shut down. It was at least that long, I feel like it was longer. If only nothing was the best that she could do. It seemed to me, that she repeatedly went beyond nothing, to actively try to kill me, and making it look like an accident, or an illness. Now that is dark.

Okay, now let us try to pull back from the dark. The truth almost always lives in the grey zone. Some part of me does believe that while she was not “trying her best,” maybe she was not able to try her best with me. For some people, for many of my siblings, even my nieces and nephews, she was a wonderful mother and grandmother. She was loving and supportive, she showered them with gifts and praise. I do not want to take anything from them, their reality was true as well. I saw it, witnessed it. But she also had a dark side. For some people, some of my siblings, even some of my nieces and nephews, she was not that person. She was mean and nasty and hateful. She blamed everything on those people, even things they had no control over. And this is true as well. I watched it, I witnessed it. I personally never let my children be alone with her, so she never had the opportunity to make either of my girls feel like she was less than. And they watched it too. Even the golden children hate the unequal treatment that they receive.

The grey is that there was something wrong with my mother. She clearly had mental health issues. It was clearly heightened because of my father’s abuse. Whatever fucked up thing was happening in her head at any given time, she clearly was not able to be her highest and best self with me. Maybe she was not able to bond with me as a baby. Maybe she carried guilt and shame that shut down that part of her that reminded her that she was my mother and that her job was to take care of me. Maybe I was conceived out of rape, and looking at me reminded her of that trauma. Maybe some of the dark is true, maybe some part of her just wanted to be free of me on some subconscious level that she does not even understand. Maybe I do not know “the whole picture.” Maybe there was more going on that I just was not aware of, after all, I was just a child. And, I suppose when it boils down to it. Does it matter? She has been dead for years. I am a grown woman who makes my own choices. I am choosing not to let go of the anger, the pain.

Yet, here I am. For some reason I just can’t let go of it. So, I put on my trail runners, I strap on my pack, and I keep walking. I keep telling my story, and I rely on pure guts, and desperation to propel me forward. I walk, and I talk. I pour my pain, and anger, and resentment into these words. I walk, and I talk, and I cry, and I grieve. I grieve not having the mother I wanted. I grieve the little girl who felt so unloved, uncared for, unwanted. Because sometimes, there is nothing else you can do. As a mother myself, it is hard to imagine how she could have been so disinterested in my health and well-being. I know motherhood is hard. I know she had mental health issues. I know that she was abused. But I there is something inside of me that just can't understand, I just can't understand how bad you would have to be to neglect your child almost to death.

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