Is it possible that the TV icon somehow succeeded where God and psychotherapy had failed?
BY TIPPI STRACHAN — I don’t watch Oprah. I have no real justification for this, but whether it’s her mega-sprayed hair or the adoring throngs of “go-girl” women in her audience, the show brings a lump of bile in my gut.
How do I know? It’s always on whenever I visit my mom. The same mom who raised us to watch minimal TV now quotes Oprah like the Bible, and brings her up in every conversation. But I put up with this because — and I genuinely believe it to be true — Oprah fixed my mom.
Victim to martyr
Mom had an awful, abusive childhood at the hands of sociopathic parents. Amazingly she overcame, but overcompensated, as an adult determined to do things right. She was affectionate and ultra-responsible, pinched pennies as a housewife and kept us well-fed, well-groomed, clothed, sheltered, socialized, educated and safe.
She did her utmost to protect us from darker forces in our home (her three bad marriages) and lost herself in the process. She was isolated and missed out on decades of friendships, fun and popular culture.
During a period of depression she tried therapy, but soon quit because she came to the conclusion that there was no need to work on herself. It was a cry not for help, but sympathy.
Out of habit she prayed, but had little hope of gaining a better life through those intercessory petitions. Unfortunately, when her children grew into independent adults with their own life plans and loves, she totally lost it.
And when Mom no longer felt needed, she turned nasty.
I was off enjoying adulthood, and wanted nothing more than to build memories with her. I wanted us to visit each other often, take weekend trips together. I wanted my husband and I to make wonderful meals for my mom in our new home.
But she rarely made the 15-minute drive to see us. She had no time for fun. When we talked, she wanted to hear that I was struggling and had made the wrong choices. She wanted me to cry in her arms.
And when I didn’t cry, she did. Often. She cried with my brothers, too, and with all three of her siblings. If ever a kind stranger at a party approached her, she took advantage of the listening ear by describing all of her life’s hardships.
When she still felt unloved or neglected, she would spread gossip and sabotage our happiness. Mom was a drag.
Then one day my brother did something I will forever both curse and thank him for. He suggested mom start watching Oprah.
From martyr to mother
Gradually, Mom steeped herself in self-help and spiritual-actualization books. She would spout bits of wisdom she had never wanted to hear from a therapist, or any of us. She was suddenly up on current events and Hollywood celebrities — and felt like she belonged to the world-at-large.
Best of all, Mom stopped scaring everyone away with her sob stories. Maybe hearing so many other sob stories on TV drew her out of her own, and aroused a larger sense of compassion.
She learned to love herself, and to laugh. She made friends. A 60-something woman, she is finally one of the girls. For the first time in my life, she is funny! We visit each other often. We travel together. She feasts with my husband and me.
The transformation has taken years, but I remember seeing the first signs after my brother’s TV tip. I have the mom of my dreams, and I credit Oprah. The hairsprayed TV diva’s mega-hold on my mom may be annoying but I am reluctantly, somewhat queasily, eternally grateful.
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