Estrangement: What Kind of Daughter Doesn’t Speak to Her Mother?

The room is quiet now. The lights are low.

You are asleep; a white blanket pulled up close, your hands limp at your sides.

A few hours earlier, the doctor ticked off all the betrayals of your body while a machine pumped air through your lungs.

Advanced COPD. Pulmonary embolism. Heart failure.

Now, the air is still. The breath machine has been removed. The tube is gone from your throat.

Beneath the covers, you are small. Diminutive, even. It is a stark contrast to your presence throughout my childhood. Although petite in stature, you always loomed large.

You are gone, but the memories remain (Photo courtesy of the author).

Memories compete for space in my mind — a slideshow of color and light.

Jumping through waves on the beach at Cape Cod.

Rollercoaster rides at the county fair, the Cosby Show on Thursday nights, your face in the audience as I played the flute.

Sharing a brownie sundae at TGI Fridays during one of our last meals together.

Yet each slide is punctuated with chaos, like too many exclamation points in a paragraph. 

A full-size aquarium smashed in pieces.

Screaming matches on the front lawn.

Long periods of silence following destruction.

For as long as I can remember, proverbial eggshells littered the carpet in our house. We tread carefully.

Estranged. That is what we are — a word with a bad consonant-to-vowel ratio. 

It’s not something I talk about often.

After all, what kind of daughter doesn’t speak to her mother?

How bad, how strained, how tense could it be that you can’t find a shred of goodness between one another?

We couldn’t.

Now, here in this room, I consider the word carefully.


If you are prone to numbers, which I am not, I’d say we’ve seen each other a dozen times in as many years. 

 Still, now and again, you surface into the periphery of my mind.

A book we both enjoyed, sitting still and dusty on the shelf. 

A song by your beloved Rick Astley on the radio.

The smell of cigarettes mingled with strong coffee.

Your green eyes reflected in my oldest son.

Do I wish I could change it?

Not necessarily.

I wish I had savored the softer moments between us, perhaps. I wish I held on more tightly to the smiles over chocolate and whipped cream — the salty waves beneath a cloudless sky.

I wish mental health was more than a concealed whisper amongst your generation. I wish medication and therapy had been a part of the conversation. 

Who am I without you, my invisible, perpetual antagonist?

I swim against your emotional tide, hoping I didn’t inherit the same capacity for rip tides.

When my maternal ghosts haunt me, and I hear a familiar shrillness in my voice, I remind myself. 

I have built something new.

I have built something different.

Always, you wanted me to choose.



Eventually, husband. 

To love another was to shortchange you. Attachment was a limited resource. I guess you could say I wasn’t always good with choices.

It’s not as though you had it easy. Divorce. Three children under eight. Two jobs. Night school.

External forces combined with your inner turmoil to create a force field of rage, paranoia, and deep-seated anxiety. You waged your private war upon everyone you encountered. 

Still, I cling to the idea that all is not gone. All is not lost. 

A love of books, fearlessness, and an appreciation for a good joke. 

This is what you give me. This is your legacy. In turn, I will pass it on to my children: the books, the courage, the laughter. 

The doctor says it could be a week. Schedules are made for coverage in the hospital because, like anything else, death is prosaic. It is practical. It demands organization. 

Now, visiting hours are over. I make my way through the labyrinth of hallways and elevators. Outside, the summer sun is an orange ball of fire over my head. As I pull out of the lot, I turn six words around in my mind.

Over and over, we said them, a mother-daughter circle of apology, forgiveness, and redemption.

We did the best we could.

Rest now. May your heart know peace at last. 

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About Carrie Cariello

Carrie Cariello is the author of  What Color is Monday?: How Autism Changed One Family for the Better and Someone I'm with has AutismShe lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, Joe, and their five children. Carrie is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, the TODAY She has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and also has a TEDx talk. She speaks regularly about autism, marriage, and motherhood, and writes a weekly blog at

One of her essays, “I Know What Causes Autism,” was featured as one of the Huffington Post’s best of 2015, and her piece, “I Know Why He Has Autism,” was named one of the top blog posts of 2017 by the TODAY Show.

Read more posts by Carrie

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