I'm Glad My Mom Died
by Jennette McCurdy
image of I'm Glad My Mom Died book
Memory is such a funny thing. Traumatic memories stick to our brains in mysterious ways. We remember them with exactness, in flashes, with physical discomfort.

I’m Glad My Mom Died is a burst of energy — witty, tragic, and delectable. Jennette McCurdy confronts the abusive relationship she had with her late mom in flashes — the chapters are short but painful, the way traumatic memory feels.

For those who weren’t reading J-14 and Teen Vogue every week in elementary school and aren’t familiar, Jennette McCurdy is famous for her role as Sam Puckett on iCarly. She began her acting career at age 6, when she was living with her three brothers and parents outside of Los Angeles. The McCurdys were poor and lived in a “hoarder house”; Jennette and her brothers slept on the living room floor because there was too much stuff in their bedrooms — stuff their mother, Deb, refused to part with.

Deb always wanted to be an actress, so she pushed her six year old daughter into acting to absolve herself of her own failure to become one, emotionally abusing and exploiting Jennette in the process. Adding to Jennette’s inability to create an identity for herself during her childhood due to the constant switch from one character to another was her mom’s looming cancer.

Mom reminisces about cancer the way most people reminisce about vacations. She even goes so far as to emcee a weekly rewatch of a home video she made shortly after learning of her diagnosis. Every Sunday after church, she has one of the boys pop in the VHS tape. “All right everyone, shhhhh. Let’s be quiet. Let’s watch and be grateful for where Mommy is now,” Mom says.

Cancer colored the relationship, and Deb would leverage her diagnosis any time she didn’t get what she wanted: “is there any way to make an exception? I’m a cancer survivor, stage four, and sometimes my bones—“ Deb was erratic, manipulative, and emotional. She “yearned to be pitied,” and this defined Jennette’s emotional state.

Between the constant re-enactments of Mom’s first bout of cancer and the frequent follow-up visits with doctors, the unspoken mood in the house is heavy. The fragility of Mom’s life is the center of mine.

Jennette’s first memories of consciousness are feelings of control and power. “The Birthday Wish is the most power I have in my life right now,” she remembers thinking at her sixth birthday. She used her wish that day, after watching the cancer VHS tapes, to wish for her mom to stay alive another year. Deb’s expectations and need for her family to be nothing without her anchored the mental and emotional ecosystem of their household.

Jennette recalls the breath of fresh air she felt the first time she was away from her mom. She had been on iCarly for a few years at this point and her mom was pushing her to start making music, but her cancer had just returned, and she needed to stay in LA for chemo while Jennette went off by herself to Nashville.

I’m realizing for the first time how exhausting it is to constantly curate my natural tendencies, responses, thoughts, and actions into whatever version Mom would like most.

The idea of “whatever version Mom would like most” is Jennette’s North Star throughout her childhood and adolescence, and it‘s a narrative that’s violently enforced: Deb taught Jennette to count calories so she would stay thin and look young for her age so she’d book more jobs (ultimately snowballing into anorexia and bulimia). She discouraged Jennette from pursuing other interests as a kid besides acting, like writing her own screenplays (“writers are fat”). She called Jennette 'conniving' and 'evil', touting how much of a 'slut' and 'ugly monster' she believed her to be (after finding out Jennette went to Hawaii with a boy without telling her). This is not someone who wanted the best for her daughter; this is someone who wanted to see her own image in another individual. And when that reflection was threatened, Deb demonstrated her capacity for manipulation instead of care.

After her mom died (Jennette stood at the edge of her mom's hospital bed at 21 years old to tell her she was down to eighty-nine pounds; she thought it would be the thing she would want to hear most), this idea of “Mom wanted what was best for me” is challenged by a therapist as Jennette navigates her grief. She storms out during the first session.

Tears fall down my cheeks while I drive home, trying desperately to process everything. Laura suggested Mom was abusive. My whole life, my entire existence has been oriented to the narrative that Mom wants what’s best for me, Mom does what’s best for me, Mom knows what’s best for me. Even in the past, when resentments started to creep in or wedges started to come between us, I have checked those resentments and wedges, I have curbed them so that I can move forward with this narrative intact, this narrative that feels essential to my survival.

If Mom really didn’t want what was best for me, or do what was best for me, or know what was best for me, that means my entire life, my entire point of view, and my entire identity have been built on a false foundation.

As she confronts the reality of a childhood defined by the ambiguous loss of eating disorders, a chronically ill parent, and being forced to live someone else’s dream, Jennette is able to step into her own power for the first time and choose a future defined by the truth of who she wants to be. And this time it’s not whatever version Mom would like, it's her own version, one untouched by the flares of an emotionally immature mother. She reclaims The Birthday Wish of her life with this book, and this time she uses it for the sake of herself.