Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hello Again

Thank you everyone for so many kind wishes, prayers and listening ears.
I got home very late Monday evening from three weeks of mostly dealing with the Aftermath. Sorting, giving, tossing, organizing; reading tiny bits of paper to my father; eating & sleeping; absorbing.

It's good to be home. I have a lot more absorbing to do.

This is not so much about Mom being gone. She began to leave, emotionally and mentally, when she fell in late May & was in such rotten shape that to regret her dying when she did would be an act of cruelty. She would have been 88 years old this month & she was ready. When the social worker at the nursing home asked her three days running (she couldn't remember much by September) if she knew what hospice care meant, she replied it meant end of life. Then asked how she felt about that, she replied, "Shit happens." I'm more OK with her death than I imagined I would be.

But it was an intense time of family & looking at family. Much of this began earlier in the summer & circumstances conspired in various weird ways to keep me looking back in time. Conversations with cousins, with people I knew in grade school, being a unit with my father & brother, making calls & receiving visits, figuring well, we're talking living wills and family trusts -- is there a better time to ask about my birth mother? Much was revealed, much has been forgotten, only a little of it all is something some of us can address.

My brother & I were pretty united over the summer in our efforts to help & plan but death, even a benign one, is a wall one hits, I suspect, with the kind of impact that brings out undercurrents. I collapsed one day soon after Mom died, binge-reading, napping & finally sobbing hoarsely. Jim did not collapse. He soldiered on, reading mail to Dad, sorting business papers, making business phone calls, wrapping up my mother's official life. I have lived alone my entire adult life & I'm not only used to having a lot of private time, I need it. I wasn't surly through that day but I was not communicative nor was I a team-player. Around five I began to stir & Jim walked into my room & said, sarcastically, "Are you going to connect today at all???"

I snapped back in equal sarcasm, "I'm going to take a shower." Which I did & then came out & made crab quiche for dinner.

When we drove to the airport for his flight home, I got a lecture between his taking cell phone calls. Dad was hurt by my moodiness. Dad didn't know if we could all spend time together in the future. Et cetera.

I listened & was mortified. I'm used to being as much in my own world when I'm with my father as he is -- I thought -- used to being in his own world of talking books, science lecture series, football & the Discovery Network. I didn't mean to hurt my father but my "mood" was exhaustion, escapism, grief & a response to how accustomed I am to Dad being literally plugged in to anything but live human beings in his home.

And, dammit, I listened & accepted without retort. I began to see an old pattern re-emerging in that week with my brother. He kept answering for me or cutting me out. People would ask when I was planning to leave & despite my having an open ticket & no set plans, he would give them a day that for some reason he thought was best. We had a small remembrance party with my parents' Arizona friends & the hostess said Jim would say a few words & then Francie would say a few words -- except that Jim thanked everyone for coming for me.

Years ago, he took me to see his shrink to see if I had any memories of childhood that would shed some light. I'm a pro at shrinks & after a while the man broke in & said, "You're great. You know, I met your parents & I've been seeing Jim for a while but nobody ever talks about you. It's like you don't exist or something."

Yes, well, that's a pattern. & rather than turn things narky, I said nothing of my own hurt feelings & ability to speak for myself & let him codify me into whatever story of me he's comfortable with.

I'm "sorer" about that than I am about my mom's death. Once again I feel as though I have no brother, both because the man who calls me "Sis" (Sis? When the fuck did I become SIS? I HATE that name; it's as bad as being called "Fran". Sis makes me feel like a 16-year-old snake & Fran is a nasally whiny version of "fat". Sis infuckingdeed) doesn't get that I am a grown-up (& he could have spoken to me at 2 in the afternoon instead of letting his resentment fester until 5) person on my own, and because I eventually came to feel resentment & disgust rather than anything more fond for him.

I laugh that he is my mother's child -- uber-organized & organizing, dogmatic according to his own lights, a little belittling of my father for Oedipal reasons of his own. I'm my father's child -- happy in my own world, relaxed about certain kinds of things. He needs to DO in order to justify his days & I need to BE in order to survive mine. He's far to the right socially, politically, theologically & I wonder if this gives him some sort of patriarchy complex, a need to be the Man.

I'm sighing here & thinking, whatever. The full story turned out not to be all about Dad being hurt. I felt more manipulated yet. I wonder what other childhood attitudes will blossom in the next few years & I wonder if I'll have a brother after them.

All of this was particularly odd because a week or so after he left, two cousins came to visit. They were eager to hug & catch up & I had to warn them that I am the Antichrist to their similarly conservative headroom. It worries me a little -- I am glad-handy with everything they find reprehensible. It worried me more when I jokingly said that Catholicism is as heathen a religion as anyone could wish & they nodded solemnly. It's a paradox that I'm sure the Old Testament, somewhere, warns against: how can one love someone whose advocacies in life are anathema -- possibly, in their gestalt, sinful?

All of which makes "love" feel a little fragile.

I've always known death brought out the worst in people but I thought it was material rather than whatever this is. I went on to spend two nice weeks with my father & if Jim's competency with legal papers made me feel pointless, I did a lot of heavy lifting & cuticle-ruining going through closets, drawers, desks, under beds. Dad & I drove up to the Grand Canyon, which in nearly 20 years of spending half or more of the year in Arizona I've never seen. We had a nice time & we experienced that wonderful rare thing of synchronicity when we stopped at an Indian market outside the Park as we drove toward the Painted Desert. I don't know why that was so but we enjoyed it the same way, inhabited that 15 minutes so happily that our rhythm the rest of the day was set. It was a two-day excursion we'd never done because in those nearly 20 years my mother simply hasn't been well enough for it.

There are second acts to come even as, once again, I wonder why I can't open my mouth to stake my boundaries and my self, & why I'm not right -- as in, stable & OK -- the way I am.


Unknown said...

A family is a photo booth. Everybody crowds in there and then the little strips of memory come sliding out. The camera lens is deeply flawed. There is no one picture where everyone looks good. One reason I could be more supportive of you during the past month is that I my own "natal" family is so turbulent for me that my brain crawls away when rather than deal with it.

Unknown said...

I think this happens with family, probably especially when you don't see each other enough to develop a sense of each other's adult selves.

I'm glad you got to share the Grand Canyon with your dad. Maybe once things settle down a bit you can talk to your brother -- it seems to me you were smart to leave things as they were in the middle of all the grief.

April said...

Frances, maybe you are OK just the way you are.Hmmm...
I am reading a book right now ~ The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness ~ and it basically says that what often spirals depression is how we think about how we feel, not our actual feelings. Its more complicated than that, but as I read it, it is slowly making sense. I am beginning to see how I make myself miserable working so hard to feel better and get it "right." I have only just started the book, but it is making sense to me in ways I hadn't expected.

Families are complicated. Don't judge yourself or your brother too harshly. Neither of you could be expected to be at your best through such an ordeal and old patterns of operating are bound to emerge when we are not paying attention.

You are in my thoughts.

Unknown said...

This blog post has so much in it, so much substance and richness and emotion, that is, I can't begin to comment on it. Except to say: You are wise and perceptive and strong. I am simply in awe!

(Note that after my parents died, my brother and I also had several huge falling-outs. The deaths were catalysts for all kinds of familial shitstorms. We are still mending to this day, an ongoing process but one that obviously is important enough that we keep at it.)

Quilting Martha said...

Hi Frances. Good to see you back. I'm sorry for your loss. I wonder if your father was concerned that maybe you and your brother will not keep in touch really after he passes. Once the parents are gone, the siblings have to choose to be together, since they are no longer forced to.

Did you go to Prague, or did you have to cancel your trip? If you went, I hope you had fun.

Anonymous said...

Dear Frances --

I was sorry to read about your mom. You wrote so honestly about what, for most people, is a harrowing time of submersion.

Your friend,

Gallis said...

"I wonder why I can't open my mouth to stake my boundaries and my self, & why I'm not right -- as in, stable & OK -- the way I am." It's finding the answer to the above that answers the question of weight I think. You can't go through life being a shock absorber.

Thank you for your honesty and bravery. I'm so sorry about your Mum Francis. Take care of yourself.

Marian said...

First of all, I love your mom's attitude towards hospice!

As for the birth mother thing, they really may not know very much. Have you gotten your non-identifying info yet? Of course you may want to wait a while to process what you have just gone through. ~Hugs~

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