Petaluma Profile: Memoir heals daughter’s broken tie to mother
Your relationship with a parent does not end with his or her death.
That is the central message of “The Cardinal Club: A Daughter’s Journey to Acceptance,” a new memoir by Penngrove writer Suzanne Maggio.
“The book is about my effort after my mother died to reconcile a troubled relationship with her,” the veteran social worker said. “I’ve spent thirty years working with families on similar problems—people trying to connect with each other—but I couldn’t do it in my own family. The effort to do the thing I was trained to do seemed to be too much.”
So she wrote a book.
Maggio’s mother, Beatrice Maggio, was also a writer, penning two columns a week for the local newspaper in Somerset County, New Jersey. The popular columns were humorous and often talked about her own husband and children.
“She was an extraordinary woman, bright, gifted, the center of the universe for me,” Maggio said. “She wanted us to love her and give her lots of attention.” And the children were happy to oblige. “But as we grow, we go from being shadows of our parents to our own true selves. I had always wanted my mother to see me for who I was. The entire effort in writing the book was rooted in my need to be seen.”
In her early sixties, Beatrice Maggio was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She lived with the disease—and steadily declined—for 19 years, until her death in 2016. During these years, Maggio would fly home from the West Coast every three months to visit. Two of Maggio’s siblings lived nearby and did the lion’s share of caregiving, but Maggio remained very involved in the care, having her mother’s medical power of attorney.
“As I saw her disappearing, I realized I wanted to write about her,” she said. “Once I began, I was driven to complete the book.”
While her mother was still alive, Maggio had taken a memoir-writing course offered by Adair Lara in San Francisco. When she expressed the desire to write about her mother, Lara urged her to wait.
“She told me it was not time yet to tell that story.”
But Lara did teach her how to effectively tell such a story.
The book starts with Beatrice Maggio’s death, then goes backward.
“I play with time,” explains Maggio, “going back and forth, tracing my path as I re-examine our relationship and begin to make amends.”
Make amends? Why would the child of a possibly narcissistic parent need to make amends?
“My desire was to remove the wedge between us,” Maggio said. “I gradually realized that I had built a wall between us. I had remained a ‘good daughter’ but I wouldn’t let her see me. As I wrote, I felt tension slipping away.”
By the time she wrote the epilogue—the day before Mother’s Day—Maggio recognized that the tension was gone.
“I finally realized what part of me is her and what part is me,” she says. “The joke on me turned out to be that my book was about me accepting her, not her accepting me. Death is never the end of the relationship.”
Maggio suggests that the book is for families, for people who have lost a loved one, for mothers and daughters, and for people with unfinished business.