Guest columnist Mariel E. Addis: On mothers and daughters

Mariel E. Addis with a painting of her mom in the background.

Mariel E. Addis with a painting of her mom in the background. CONTRIBUTED

By MARIEL E. ADDIS

Published: 01-04-2024 5:19 PM

My mom passed in 2008 at the age of 70. She had suffered for a number of years with early-onset Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and had been in nursing home care the last years of her life.

I had come out as transgender to my wife a year and a half before in 2006, and within my side of the family, I don’t believe the news was shared in full detail. It wouldn’t be until eight years after my mom’s passing that I would begin my transition to female, so my mom never knew she had a daughter — or, on some level, had she?

My mom and I were always very close, and frankly, very much alike. When I look at the painting of my mom, circa 1972, with me standing beside it, I see the resemblance, particularly in our eyes. Still, it was far more than just a family resemblance; my ex even keyed into this long before I came out to her, telling me once that I was just like my mother.

The difference in our gender, at least considering the one I had been living as up to that point, had absolutely nothing to do with it; it was just the way we were wired. I agreed fully with my ex’s assessment.

My mom had a great sense of humor and seemed to like my frequently quirky jokes and offbeat humor. Based on my experience working in the medical field, I suspect it had something to do with her training and work as a nurse. Many of the nurses I’ve worked with share a similar, sometimes dark sense of humor, which in no way means they don’t care about their patients.

Given this appreciation for offbeat humor, it is probably not surprising that my mom loved actress/comedienne Carol Burnett; we would watch her variety show together every Saturday night. Another thing undisputed thing I shared with my mom was a great love of animals, particularly the cats who shared our home.

When my mom passed, shockingly, I could not cry. I was actually relieved for her, relieved to be free of a body and mind that had betrayed her and stole the woman from me that I knew so well. In reality, I had been losing her, a little bit at a time, over a course of years. Now, however, I do frequently cry when I think of her, usually in the wee hours of the morning when I should be catching some valuable sleep before I have to head off to work.

Now, admittedly, there is no knowing how my mom would have reacted to my coming out as female; just the same, I think she would be immensely proud of the woman I’ve become and unleashed onto the world. As an engineer, I spent many years working in a field focused on “things,” like my dad, but since I’ve transitioned, I’ve worked in areas focusing on people, like my mom did. I feel quite sure she would be thrilled that I was working in behavioral health, helping others find their own path to good mental health and, hopefully, full lives.

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Were she here, I can imagine that my mom and I might have some very interesting conversations about spirituality and religion, about gender and my experience on both sides of the gender divide. Sexual orientation might be another interesting topic of discussion. The one thing about my mom I remember is although she may not have been exposed to a lot of more challenging social topics, she was very ready to learn about them and was accepting of types of people she may not have had much previous exposure to, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

My father, who is now in his 90s, struggled greatly in the beginning with my coming out, which given the world he grew up in is hardly surprising. That said, I know he loves me even though it has been tough having a “new” daughter thrust on him rather late in life, especially when he never had a daughter before.

I have to think that if my mom had been here when I came out to my dad, she might have hastened my dad’s acceptance of the female me. Just the same, I cannot fully anticipate what my mom’s reaction would be to my coming out and subsequent transition to female, but I strongly suspect that when she saw how the experience changed me from the proverbial caterpillar to a butterfly, she’d understand.

Even though she’s gone, I feel my mom is very much alive in me, quietly guiding me through my life as I make my way down roads I have never traveled before, or if I have, perhaps not as a woman before. I firmly believe, wherever she is, my mom is thrilled for me.

Mariel Addis is a native of Florence. She left the area for 16 years but returned in 2013.