When she was a junior in college, my 20- year-old daughter,
Pamela, suffered a sudden and life-shattering nervous break-down. Her care
over the next three years involved a number of in-patient and out-patient stays
at hospitals and residential facilities in Maryland, New York, Massachusetts
and California. She was being treated for depression and what was eventually
diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder.
Then what we never dreamed could happen to our beloved child did: In April
2001, she died suddenly. An autopsy showed that an interaction of the cheese in
pizza she ate with an MAOI-inhibitor antidepressant she was on caused a spike
in her blood pressure and a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 23.
While going through Pamela's belongings shortly after her death, I
unexpectedly came upon a book, "Mother & Daughter Record Book" (Havoc
Publishing, 2000), stowed in the back of the night table next to her bed. In it
were her handwritten answers to fill-in-the-blank questions about
mother-daughter relationships. Reading it over and over again helped ease the
enormous guilt I felt about so many things that were left unspoken between us.
Four years later, I've summoned the courage to add my own answers to these
questions. Sharing this intimate dialogue with others on Mother's Day will, I
hope, serve as a wake-up call for loved ones to communicate what they cherish
about each other while they are alive. - Bea Tusiani
My first recollection
of you ...
Pam: We were in the supermarket and I was hanging onto some lady's leg and
it wasn't you. I was so happy to find you.
Mom: The nurse brought you into my hospital room and I talked, nonstop,
into your little ear as if I'd known you forever.
My favorite childhood memory ...
Pam: Snuggling in bed with you after Michael and Paula went to school.
Watching you make dinner. Waiting together for Dad to come home. When you
surprised me with a
Mom: Reciting "Hiawatha" together ... "by the shores
of Gitchee Gumee ..."
Watching you pick out your own little puppy. The sight of you and daddy
holding hands, sliding down the side of the pool.
You were surprised
when I ...
Pam: Wanted to shave my legs and you did it for me the first time.
Mom: Got my ears pierced along with you so you wouldn't be frightened.
My favorite memories of
us as adults ...
Pam: Shopping at Bloomingdale's and getting
manicures. Watching TV
beside you while you read.
Mom: Going to see fun movies like "The Lion King," "Austin Powers" and
"Shrek." Window shopping in Soho. Biting into your homemade giant muffins.
Something you did that made me happy ...
Pam: You came to Baltimore when I was sick and needed you.
Mom: You volunteered to work in the office of a breast cancer group after
I'd been stricken with the disease.
The more trying times in the early days were ...
Pam: Seeing you sad and sick.
Mom: Trying to convince you you could do all the things you were unsure of.
The more difficult times in recent years were ...
Pam: Me being sick and watching you suffer.
Mom: Not being able to protect you from the circumstances which caused your
How living through
those times made our
bond stronger ...
Pam: We both understand each other more now, which makes me respect you and
love you even more.
Mom: Our roles reversed - you became my teacher and
I learned a lot about life through your wise and perceptive point of view.
I admired you for that.
What I learned
from you then ...
Pam: What love and family really mean. How much you mean to me.
Mom: To communicate
and listen. Never think your way is the only way. Not to waste worrying
over small things.
My favorite family events ...
Pam: Christmas Eve when the whole family dressed up in exercise clothes in
our new gym.
Mom: Family vacations, when just the five of us set off to explore the
Traditions that we've had through the years ...
Pam: Wednesdays at Burger King - movies on Christmas Day. Reading Dad's
diary on New Year's Day. Mud pies. Christmas pajamas.
Mom: Baking chocolate cakes for each other's birthdays. Dad's Sunday
barbecues on the deck. Playing Trivial Pursuit. Taking time out to de-stress by
The best family reunion we've had so far ...
Pam: Paula and Roger's wedding.
Mom: The last time Dad, me, Paula, Michael and their
spouses visited you in
California and we all went to
The oddest family reunion was ...
Pam: Easter at Austen Riggs [psychiatric hospital] when I
played pingpong with Uncle
Mom: When the five of us visited you for family counseling sessions.
These are the special things we like to do during the spring months ...
Pam: Color Easter eggs.
Mom: Spot the first buds of our favorite flower - the forsythia.
Some special things we have in common ...
Pam: Olive skin, brown eyes, brown hair. We like to write, shop and get
jewelry for presents. We are sensitive and like to be loved. We are caring and
do nice things for others. We like to sleep and laugh. We like to be trendy.
Mom: We like to cook together. Appreciate Flannery O'Connor short stories
and Picasso's ceramic art. We love to act silly and perform "Saturday Night
Live" skits. We are not mean. We cry easily and need the warmth of a human
Because of you, these things have changed
in me ...
Pam: I enjoy life and thank my blessings. I like myself better because I
see you in me.
Mom: You were always way ahead of the fashion scene, wearing Steve Maddens,
Custo shirts and glitter before anyone else. I learned handbags and shoes
don't have to match, mixing stripes with other patterns is okay - nobody is or
should be judging me ... or you, for blazing your own path - or being different.
Because you are such a role model, I have changed in these ways ...
Pam: I accept my faults and see my talents.
Mom: Following your example, you gave me the courage to pump my own gas,
drive in the big city and use public transportation. Patiently, you taught me
how to record on videotape and set up my computer. Acceptance-wise, you made me
realize bringing a cat into the house is not the end of the world but the
beginning of a new and very loving
There are some special things that make us different ...
Pam: You like facts, I like fantasies. You are sociable, I am shy.
Mom: I talk a lot, you are discreet. You think in bold terms, I act out
Some things not even you could make me like ...
Pam: Wearing pins, cleaning, reading biographies, opera.
Mom: Body piercing, blue nail polish, wearing hats, Pink Floyd.
Things I admire
in you ...
Pam: Fashion, taste, elegance, confidence, cooking, writing, living in New
York City. The way you laugh, your smile, the way your eyes twinkle when you
look at Dad. The way you are always thinking about someone else. The way you
shake your head in the mirror after you put your makeup on.
Mom: Emotional strength, sense of humor, artistic flair, funkiness, sweet
nature, the way you dance. How perceptive you are in judging someone's
character. The way you make your own statement with your clothes. Your stunning
looks. That you don't take advantage of other people. How you let your cat,
Angelina, have full run and lots of fun in your apartment.
Things I know about you and your character that still astonish me and fill
me with pride ...
Pam: How you handled your mom's death and taking care of Grandpa. How you
got through your depression and had to deal with mine.
Mom: No matter how depressed you were, you always tried to help others who
suffered the same fate. You shared your belongings with others less fortunate
and always included those who were lonely in your family circle. You
participated in both your sister and brother's weddings - being happy for
them, during the hardest time of your own brief life.
The Borderline Personality Disorder Resource Center at New York Presbyterian
Hospital in White Plains has been
founded in Pamela Ann Tusiani's memory. For information, call toll-free at
888-694-2273, or go to www.bpdresourcecenter.org