Category Archives: compassion

Mourning the Living

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Mourning the Living

Grief isn’t just for the recently deceased. Sometimes it’s for those we must purposely leave behind. We’ve all experienced it at some point….a bad break up, a friendship that can’t weather a bad storm, or a relative that is doing more harm than good. Grief paints with a broad brush.

Anger is my emotion of choice when dealing with the hard stuff. Some would call it a crutch, a better description is a shield. It protects me from the deeper, darker emotions that come from grieving the still living. My shield is past it’s expiration and the wear and tear is breaking it down, leaving me with profound sorrow.

Perhaps you have been there. Maybe you’ve experienced a relationship so broken or toxic that it is beyond repair. That’s the spot I’m in right now. The fact that it involves a parent, makes it especially harsh. So many missed opportunities for myself and my children, displaced by someone who is either incapable or unwilling to care. It’s sad and I need to allow myself a moment to acknowledge that.

Grieving the living is tricky business because it is ultimately a choice. It may be the most healthy, sane choice you can make for yourself. Self preservation doesn’t come cheap. I have spent years trying to fight the undertow of my mother’s mental illness. The constant tug to take me under while I continue to tread water is causing my head to bob up and down. It’s at my chin now and I refuse to go under any further. That leaves me with one option, to pluck myself out of the water and walk away.

Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

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Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

I’m trying to balance compassion and self-preservation and it’s a bitch. My mother has certifiable mental illness. She has a long history of mental illness issues including hospital stays for suicide attempts and alcoholism. She is generally miserable and unable to maintain long-term relationships. She has seen doctors and specialists by the dozens, she’s had inpatient stays in psych wards, has more than 3 decades into 12 step recovery and has tried every pill known to big pharma to treat depression. She has been on disability for at least 25 years for her depression so it’s well documented. Sometimes though, the lines blur between her mental illness and her just being a shitty human. Other times she is amazingly thoughtful and generous, mostly to strangers or acquaintances. She saves the gnarly stuff for my brother and me, we are the only relatives that have stuck it out.

I’m not sure when her mental health issues began. She has told me a lot about her life (too much if I’m honest) and I know she always had a terrible relationship with her brother. In fact she had a rough go of it with both of her parents as well. Was that due to their treatment of her, her mental illness or some other sad combination….I don’t know. I do know this, misery is her most frequent companion. If there isn’t something to lament about, her razor-sharp mind will find something obscure and mold it into a formidable monster.

She’s smart, so very smart that it makes pitying her as a sick person near impossible at times. Master manipulator and rationalizer extraordinaire, check and check. She can twist the most innocuous situation and turn it into filth and wretchedness. She has left a wake of destruction behind her. When she goes, she goes big, in a huff…..a cloud of confusion, hurt and anger swirling around her like her own personal tornado. It’s sad, infuriating and exhausting.

I have to mentally remind myself that she is sick. Like cancer, diabetes, MS, lupus, fill in the blank…..except it isn’t like that at all. If your mom has cancer she doesn’t typically say “I wish you were never born” repeatedly to you as a young child. Diabetes doesn’t abandon you in the state of Florida to go to New Jersey when you are 9. MS doesn’t call you a “whore” because you over did the eye shadow and lip stick at 14. Cancer won’t leave you and your brother homeless at 15  because mom doesn’t have it together. Lupus doesn’t tell you that you’re a bad person because your husband bought his dream house, the one he worked his ass off for, but it’s too big so you’re all horrible people. Mental illness and alcoholism does that, not the other diseases. So I’m a bit tired of the mental illness is just like any other disease line, no it fucking isn’t.

So now I have a 72-year-old broken down mentally ill mother who has basically treated me like shit most of my life. And as much as I want to let go of past bad experiences, they keep reinserting themselves into present day. Every time she makes an unreasonable demand or is inconsiderate I am haunted by the ghost of reason that says – “seriously, why are you doing this for her?”

Why indeed. I’m a good person and I don’t want her to haunt me when she dies and she would. I have had my share of obstacles that I have overcome and I basically cheer for the underdog. At this point I’m not sure which one of us is the underdog. I think it’s me today. Yesterday I told my mother to “fucking move then”.  What got me to this point beyond the cumulative effect of 49 years of insanity?

I bought a house at the beach in New Jersey in 1999. It was a struggle to purchase it and I did it on my own before I got married. That house was a testament to my financial and emotional independence. It was one of the most empowering things I ever did as a young woman. Fast forward 14 years and I no longer needed the house. We hadn’t lived there in years. My brother and his family lived there for 5 years and they moved away. My husband and I have a beautiful home in a neighboring state. After Hurricane Sandy, we began to worry that at some point it would get destroyed in a storm and we would lose the financial appreciation. I sold the house a few years ago and tripled my investment. As someone who had been a reluctant, accidental SAHM for a decade it felt great to make a financial contribution to my family. I also used a portion of that money to buy a small house in a nearby adult community. I bought a place for my mother because she was so unhappy where she lived. For nearly 10 years she complained about her living situation.I also thought it would be more practical to have her closer to me as she aged. My brother moved to Maine so he can’t help with medical or other issues that require hands on assistance.

Fast forward another 3 years and there isn’t a week that goes by that she doesn’t complain to me about something. Some of it is normal life stuff, a few ants, a nosy neighbor, the air filters. The air filters get to me. My mom smokes about a pack a day but INSISTS that the air filters in her house get changed on a monthly basis. She complains a lot about her financial situation which has always been awful. I bought the house so there is no mortgage but there is an association fee that she pays. She also has utilities and other bills. It is a stretch for her and I help with some of it.

The other day she called to tell me that I “had to pay” her Comcast bill so she could pay out-of-pocket to see an eye doctor that isn’t in her plan. If she said “can you help me” or “I want to go to….” that isn’t how it was presented at all. It was a command given with a bitchy tone and she went on and on about how horrible Pennsylvania Medicaid is compared to New Jersey and……..I just snapped and said “fucking move then”. Granted I could have delivered the message in a calm tone minus the expletive but she wouldn’t have heard me then. I’ve tried that approach for two years, no luck. She heard me this time.

Later I got an email from her telling me how she doesn’t expect me to pay ALL her bills. She then went on to describe how she is the victim of a corrupt government of evil ne’er-do-wells. Blah blah blah I’ve been reading and hearing this crap for years. I’m worn out I tell you, worn out. She has never taken financial responsibility for herself and she is seemingly incapable of any consistent emotional stability. This life long inability or disregard (not sure which some days) has left her facing her “golden years” pretty much broke and alone.

The biggest barrier for me though is her complete lack of interest in me or my family. She has two kind, funny, smart, beautiful grandchildren 10 minutes from her home and she could not care less. Soccer games, shows, Sunday dinners she is frequently invited and rarely shows. When she does attend a dinner she is consistently late. She shows absolutely no regard for how her actions or lack there of could have an impact on others. Again, I don’t know if this is part of the mental illness or just someone so self-absorbed that they are incapable of basic consideration. Either way the end result is the same.

So here I am again trying to balance compassion for her with my own self preservation. This isn’t new territory I know what I need to do. Take a break, don’t call her for a few days or minimize interaction until I can fortify myself enough for the next round. Once again I remind myself that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.

 

 

 

The Raging Spinning Globe

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The Raging Spinning Globe

People are still freaking out over the election and Christmas is around the corner. The energy in the air is a mix of enraged mob and desperately trying to be cheerful. I have a theory about all this anger.

Anger has been my emotion of choice since I was a kid although I wasn’t aware of this preference before the age of 15. You see for me anger is a replacement for fear and despair. When your choices are anger, fear and despair, then anger is the best of the bunch. Anger gives you energy and can dismantle the sobbing tears that lead to headaches and snot face. Anger gives you wings and a bullhorn when the other options leave you in the fetal position or crying into your pillow in the deepest corner of your darkest closet. Of course anger is appealing, we can feel self righteous and get loud. It’s not our fault. Anger almost always comes with a big middle finger pointing at someone else, perhaps a situation beyond our control. Maybe it’s a president elect, the PTA, your boss, your spouse, the @sshole in car line that won’t move up 3 feet like a rational human being – the list is endless.

I’m not saying there aren’t valid reasons for being angry. Of course there are millions of reasons to be pissed off but is that the only emotion? I don’t think so. Even the schmuck that cuts you off on the way to work may deserve more than a flash of anger perhaps there was some fear there as well? How about forgiveness or the benefit of the doubt? Maybe that person just flaked out because they have a lot going on – sick kid, pending divorce, dickish boss?  The point is you can make up an excuse for them and chose a different reaction something other than crude hand gestures and an angry horn.

Recently a School Board member in my town posted a sarcastic Facebook Post on his personal page. In case you haven’t figured this out yet – there is no such thing as a “personal” Facebook Page – categorize that with unicorns and the Tooth Fairy, does not exist. Anyhow, the post was calling out the people wearing safety pins….basically the post ripped on that kind of activism the term “slactivist jack ass” was used. People here are losing their shit over that post. I suspect many of them wear safety pins as a sign of solidarity to perceived minorities or people that may be in danger of racism, sexism and discrimination of some sort. This guy had a different opinion about the usefulness of the safety pin and people are pissed.

It’s interesting to me how the peace loving, safety pin wearing sensitive types are taking their rage out on this individual (and his family). The last school board meeting had the markings of a Salem Witch Trial. The man in question opened the meeting with an apology for the post and clearly stated what he did and did not mean. That was not enough. People were chanting for him to resign, at least one attendee had a sign with “resign”on it, some wanted him disbarred, one lady was tossed from the meeting for being disruptive. It made the local news, sigh.  Many in the crowd wanted this man to suffer on some level. Apparently enduring the public outrage and humiliation were not enough to satiate the majority.

So here we are at the point where a person can not make a stupid, snarky comment without having the wrath of an angry mob on him. It’s sad to me. I don’t know this individual personally but he has volunteered hundreds if not thousands of hours to our community. His voting record on the school board matches what most parents want for our district and here we are with angry chants, no tolerance and no forgiveness.

Here is  another problem…. Many of the people that are angry with this man that they don’t personally know….. well they don’t actually know how the School Board works. Some commented they resented paying his salary (um, he’s a volunteer so no salary). Others blasted the Superintendent for not forcing a resignation. Pssst…..lean in a little….the SI reports to the School Board, not the other way around…..so the SI can not actually make a School Board Director resign. Facts shmacts burn him at the stake!

For the love of GAWD people tuck in your ignorance before you go off on a rant. Check the facts, know the circumstances, hesitate before posting that comment and forming a lynch mob. Can we look at the whole person and not just the 37 words that pissed you off? It just seems that people want or need to be angry at someone or something so they gravitate towards what’s close. Maybe they pick the battles they think they can win? Something that feels personal? I don’t know what the answer is, maybe awareness is a start? Just seems like we are all on one raging spinning globe of hate right now.

I want to take a break from anger. Fighting anger with anger is like pinning two poisons against each other….no one wins and we all feel a little sick after. I want to fight it with cheer and kindness. Random acts of good that surprise even the crumpiest among us. Sprinkle that shit like pixie dust all around so people are lost in a glittery fog of good intentions. It feels good, better than anger, fear or despair, I promise.

My Mother Made Me…

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My Mother Made Me…

Why do we demonize mothers? OK you may be thinking I have gotten off at the wrong bus stop, she’s come off the rails, PMS…? All valid things to ponder but stay with me a bit…it’s a thought that has occurred to me on more than one occasion, maybe you have noticed it too?

We expect so much from mothers. Thank you Captain Obvious for stating that…..I know (insert eye roll) but think about it in your own life. OK, I’ll start since I’m the first one reading this…and perhaps the only one.

I had a fairly crappy childhood with divorced parents. As kids we lived with our mother (for the most part) and our father paid child support (except when he didn’t,  which was often). He pretty much abandoned us except for the bi-annual court ordered payments when he would be forced to write a check. My mother kept a roof over our heads (with some lapses) until my twin brother and I turned 15 and the shit storm went nuclear. Fast forward 30+ years later and which parent aggravates me the most…..mom.

I see myself in her and her in me. Usually the parts I don’t like, have her fingerprints all over them. The negativity, the feeling of being easily overwhelmed, the victim mentality, the flakiness. Sometimes I see these flaws in discreet slivers….sometimes they are wrapped in neon signs holding a bullhorn announcing themselves to the world at high volume. I don’t ever think of my father when a character defect pops up and I am just itching to identify the source so I can destroy it so it never comes back again. PS – they always come back again, like garden weeds and stray cats that you accidentally fed on purpose.

So why do I do this? Why blame my mother when my father was not even around. Maybe that’s it….perhaps his absence gives him a free pass? Well damn that seems woefully unfair. But I have to be honest at this age, I’m too tired to build a relationship with the guy just so I can hate him. Meh, I don’t have the energy and he’s kind of a jerk.

Or is that society has brain washed me and you and all the woodland creatures into thinking that moms must be perfect and if they are not they must be hated? What the hell – why would anyone want that job asked the mom of two?

So here’s my suggestion…let’s be nicer to our moms. Let’s try to remember that they are mere mortals that make mistakes. Some mistakes may have been bigger and more catastrophic but would you let your dad off the hook for a similar issue? Would you forgive a friend if they stumbled along a similar broken path sometimes grabbing at the wrong branch for balance? And let’s be real honest, I don’t want my kids to hate me so maybe I’m just hoping for some good karma. Good luck to all the moms out there.

 

 

My Other Mother

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My Other Mother

I recently had an experience where I caught a glimpse of my mother from an outsider’s perspective. It happens sometimes and it reminds me that my mother is a multi-dimensional person. Just like the rest of us…she isn’t all bad or all good, she’s a complicated mix. I have written quite a bit about the bad stuff – the drunk, raging, dysfunctional mother and now I want to share another side.

A few days ago, I had lunch with my “other mother” at a student dinning hall at the University of Pennsylvania. When she 40 she decided that she wanted to go to college and prove to everyone that she wasn’t stupid. She started local at a community college where she aced her way through two years and graduated with induction into Phi Theta Kappa.

Her grades and her personal narrative were so compelling that she got a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Her initial thought was that she would complete her B.A. with a law degree as the ultimate goal and somewhere she switched to history and psychology. She did graduate from University of Pennsylvania and attended one year of graduate school at Bryn Mawr College.

We found ourselves in Philadelphia for one of her doctor appointments. I insisted on driving her because she is not a great driver and I thought public transportation would overwhelm her. So we were walking from the medical facility toward campus and she mentioned that she wished she could give “them” more money. I turned toward her and said “what” rather forcibly……WTF was strongly implied. In my mind the coffers of the ivies is always so damn full and my mother is broke. She lives in a house I bought but she still has utility bills. She is on Medicaid and has no discretionary income, zero. Then she went on to say how she learned so much about women and other cultures around the world during her education. How her time there was a bit Dickens….”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Clearly she just wanted to pay it forward to another woman that she will never meet and my tone softened.

I admit it, I am a hard ass around my mother. Impatient, suspicious, not trusting on any level, my armor is always up around her and I can be an obstinate jerk. I know this and I willed myself to be patient and oblige her wish for lunch on campus despite the growing list of sh*t I had to do that day. After all, I don’t know if she will get another chance to stroll down this particular neighborhood of memory lane and I didn’t want to begrudge her that request.

I could feel the pride of her accomplishment that hour. She went on about how this changed and that was the same. She wanted to eat in the hall of flags and peeked in on an event taking place in that room. That lunch she was reflecting on happy times and people that sadly have passed that helped her with that part of her journey.

During lunch I noticed that she was wearing her university ring. I got that ring for her as a graduation gift. I was in my early twenties, going to college and working two jobs to support myself. The money I used to pay for that ring was based on serious sweat equity and sacrifice. She told me that day it was the nicest gift anyone had every given her. I guess we both had something to be proud of that day.

Sometimes I Suck at Parenting……

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Sometimes I Suck at Parenting……

Deep breathe…..sometimes I suck at parenting. It’s a fact. I’m human, flawed, impatient and just plain don’t have my shit together every minute of the day. I would love to blame my own parents for this because 1) they sucked as parents (WAY more than me) and 2) introspection is hard.

My latest bout of mediocrity (OK failure) happened last night. It happened late at night when patience reservoirs were low or perhaps empty. My daughter wanted a special breakfast out this weekend just the two of us. Son got wind of this and wanted in. At 11:17pm I wasn’t able to negotiate this emotional minefield without casualties. I tried to postpone the decision knowing that some decisions are best made when well rested. Daughter couldn’t do that pushed and pushed for an answer. So I asked her….”what would you have me do – hurt your feelings by not going or hurt his feelings by excluding him”. I described it as the lose-lose situation that it was and determined that no one would go out to breakfast. This resulted in many tears on her part….impatience on my part and eventually a heart felt conversation. It was emotionally exhausting and I felt like a bad mom. I did promise to spend one on one time with my daughter but at a different venue. That seemed like the best compromise. You know compromise – no one is really happy but it seems somewhat fair, ugh.

My girl is going through a phase right now where she wants to spend a lot of one on one time with me. Of course that shifts immediately if a better offer comes along  and I am fine with getting placed on hold so she can spend time with friends. My issue is I have two children and I need to be mindful of how so much time spent with one child impacts the other. So I just keep talking to them individually and encourage open communication (preferable before 10pm). It’s a juggling act and did I mention I’m not good at juggling. Multitasking emotional situations, it’s difficult.

I am aware that these children that I adore with my entire being will be gone within the next decade. Off to their own lives to parts yet to be determined. I will not have these late night soul searching conversations. They won’t always show me their raw emotions….these hiccuped conversations are a gift. I probably won’t always be able to conjure up an image when they mention the name of a friend, classmate or colleague. They won’t always have room for me in their lives and that is the nature of the parenting beast. It makes me equal parts sad and grateful. Somebody please slow this train.