Heartbreaking in its simplicity, Pieces of my Mother is Melissa Cistaro’s attempt to shed some much needed light on her dark past. Her mother—the woman who left her three children and her then-husband when Cistaro was a very small child—is dying, and Cistaro finds herself holding vigil at her bedside, desperate to connect with the elusive parent who fled her responsibilities so long ago.
Needless to say, the relationship between a mother and a child is a very important one. A mother is the primary caregiver of a child, who, for the first months of his or her life, depends on her for so much, be it physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It can be very easy to blame a woman who, like Cistaro’s mother, abandons her children, labelling her as selfish and lacking emotion. But as Pieces of my Mother shows, things are not always that simple; there are forces that are so powerful that they can negatively influence even such a strong, natural bond as that between mother and child.
It could have been easy for Cistaro to spend all 200 pages of the book ranting at her mother and everything she didn’t get because of her decision. It is admirable and a testament to her character that instead, Cistaro acknowledges the pain and trauma caused by her mother’s decision, while also acknowledging that there had to be a good, logical reason for her mother’s decision. This is no “point and blame Mom for everything” book; rather, it is a tentative, poignant, painful exploration that welcomes complexity, forgiveness, and empathy. I feel that this book represents the kind of conversation that those who have been profoundly hurt need to have; a conversation that does not romanticise or gloss over what happened, but also a conversation that is not aimed at throwing cruel epitaphs, hurling blame, or making the other feel guilty; a conversation that is not based on anger, but one intent on untangling a mess.
It would be great for a book club guide of sorts to be developed in which such questions would be explored. After all, Cistaro’s book isn’t powerful because of her personal story but rather because of the journey she chose to embark on, one in which she worked—and perhaps still is—on forgiving her mother, growing from the experience, and stopping the intergenerational pattern of mothers abandoning their children. Each generation should be better than the next, and already Cistaro has taken a step forward by working hard on facing the demons of her family’s past and being a better mother. No doubt it took a lot of courage to open up her most vulnerable side and share such a personal story; no doubt this will come to help many going through the same or similar experiences.
More information about the author is available on her website.