Friday, September 9, 2011

Family Rules and How Kay Went Away

Family Rules

In my family of origin, being right is all. And everyone is right. It is everyone else who is wrong. Unless you agree with who is right. But you can’t, of course, because you are right, not them.

So be right, but also don’t talk about it. Ok, maybe gloat a little. After all, you are right. But otherwise, mum’s the word.

Got all that?  

How Kay Went Away

After several years of failing health and resources, after more than half a dozen consecutive hospitalizations and crises, my brother and sister arranged last year for my mother to reside in a long term care facility. They had invested time and energy and planning in caring for my parents 24/7 and were frantic about their safety. So this was determined to be best for everyone. The home was brand new, absolutely beautiful and the staff was incredibly caring. My mother despised it. From the second she set foot inside its doors, she campaigned to get out, despite the fact she was receiving impeccable care and was healthier, and safer, than she had been in years. So was my father, who visited her there every single day and was even given his meals there.

Suddenly, down swoops two of her Sisters, my aunts, joining the crusade of a mentally and physically ill woman they each lived more than 200 miles away from and saw maybe twice a year. Let her out, they said. There is nothing wrong with her or your father, they said. They deserve to be together after all these years, they said. The Sisters knew nothing. They knew nothing of the ER visits, the confusion, the middle of the night wanderings, my father’s growing dementia. They knew none of this even though they were told, over and over. They knew nothing of this because they refused to believe it. They declined to believe four competent, cognizant adults who saw my parents nearly every day. My parents were fine, The Sisters KNEW it. We didn’t know what we were talking about.

Thus my mother was discharged home, with The Sisters rabid encouragement, to the care of a man with documented Alzheimer’s Disease. And it was all downhill from there, because my parents were failing and ill-equipped to manage on their own. Did my aunts see how bad things were going? La la la, no no no, I can’t hear you. It took nine long nightmarish months, full of more crises and emergencies and close calls, all handled by my siblings, before my father ended up in a long term care facility himself, desperately ill with congestive heart failure. One Sister then packed up my mother and moved her from New Jersey to Delaware, leaving my father behind. My mother moved hundreds of miles away to her younger sister’s, where she was cosseted and catered to. Which certainly was nice to an extent, but effectively eliminated myself, my siblings, my father and their friends from her life. And my mother was ok with that. After decades of her dramas and illnesses, real and imagined, we were weary. So the general consensus was “You want her? You are welcome to her.” She was in her glory. But she would have a price to pay.

Because of The Sisters’ fantasy world, she wasn’t getting the health care she needed. Weeks went by and she did not see a physician. As she got sicker, The Sisters’ denial kept pace. “She’s fine!” declared my aunt. “Doing great!” Until she ended up in the hospital, also with congestive heart failure. They had finally been dragged onto the See I Told You She Was Sick Express and would not be getting off until she died.

Last month, my mother agreed to an ill-advised surgery. It went poorly. Her condition deteriorated. But it apparently did not occur to The Sisters she should be moved back with her husband. According to them, we, The Miserable Wretches, had thrown in the towel. They had put in their weeks of care and now they, The Heroes, were in charge.

There were times when we not only had no idea what my mother’s condition was but even what hospital she was in. She was like a walnut in a shell game. Finally, with this last discharge, she was sent out with hospice. Not home to my father, but rather back to my aunt’s home in Delaware, which is how she came to die far away from her husband and children. And now a new sideshow to the circus begins, with bitter recriminations – Neglectful Children (their version) vs. Hi-jacking Sisters (our version). And, naturally, we all believe we are right. We all KNOW we are right.

In the quest for Rightness, my mother’s funeral became a battlefield. My father asked me to write her obituary – but it turned out they had already submitted one without even consulting him (and it was inaccurate). Relatives and friends wanted to know what the plans were – The Sisters scheduled the funeral for less than 30 hours after she died, leaving little time for people to adjust schedules. We pleaded with them to postpone it by at least one day, but they (along with my brother, who had apparently decided he now wanted to be a Hero too) wouldn’t budge. Many people were subsequently unable to attend. A brief viewing was planned before the hastily arranged Funeral Mass. My mother had stated over and over through her life she abhorred open caskets and wanted ONLY a closed one. Her casket was open, despite telling The Sisters this. My sister ordered food and told The Sisters she would provide a luncheon at her house afterwards, acting as hostess for my father. The Funeral Director announced to the mourners all were invited back to my sister’s house as my father’s guests. But at the cemetery, without a word, my brother and The Sisters turned their back to her, put my father in a car and drove him away to a restaurant. They had planned that from the beginning, but never told my sister, even when she had graciously invited them back to her home.

Can anyone say “Kay who?”, because honoring my mother became lost in the hostilities.  

After the battle.  No one wins.

Back to the Rules

I have broken the most cardinal of Family Rules by stating these things out loud and, worst of all, telling them to strangers. However, I decided a long time ago that I was living by different rules. And very few of them. Rule number one is be fair and kind as indicated and/or deserved. Rule number two is laugh at myself when needed. Rule number three is don’t worry about any other rules.

On the Relationship Balance Sheet where you would determine People Who Cause Me to Feel Great About Myself and People Who Diminish Me and Cause Me Heartache, I am choosing the first group. I am choosing people who model health and serenity and compassion. I am cheerfully eliminating malice, control and pain.

The punishment for breaking our Family Rules is dire. Rejection and judgment are the consequences when we do not conform. Dissenters are exiled.

The ironic thing is, exile suits me just fine. It’s safer here. And it is, mysteriously, filled with decent and dear friends who are good and kind to me. Go figure.

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Patti-Cake said...

Marie, I'll say it again - I love you. I totally "get" you and what you are saying here.

I'm so sorry the end happened in this way. I went through some similar stuff with my mom and other well-meaning but not-close-enough-to-actually KNOW anything relatives. They do what they think is best, based on what they can see and their world view....and all we can do is try to do the same.


It is a hard game to play. The only sane choice, for me, was to opt out of it. Sounds like you are doing the same.....

Protect yourself, take care of yourself, and know you have friends who care about you. That even includes some (mostly)virtual friends who need to get their sorry butt out of NY (and NYC, when I'm there) and into neighboring NJ one of these days.

Judy said...

Wow. Other than that, I am speechless.

Marie said...

Patti - Thanks so much for your love and wisdom.

Judy - Wow is a good word, isn't it? It covers so much. Thanks for stopping by Judy.


I have to say, people who behave badly should be prepared if any of their family members are writers. And they should also realize that unwelcome comments will be deleted. As are e-mails, unread. Done is done.

Anne said...

Brava for deciding to live by your own rules, hard though it is to do so. I remember the time you and your mother didn't speak for so long. You were happier and healthier for it as I remember. I also remember when you were closer to your aunts. I'm so sorry that has changed for the worse. Becoming a Christian martyr is a calling for many passive-aggressive women, and your mother was p-a in spades! My dear, you have been a motherless child for many years, emotionally. Now it is physically manifest. Wish I could give you a good strong hug.

Anne said...

Sometime I'll share with you my father's final days in May 2010. If I can do it without weeping.

Marie said...

Oh Anne, your comment has made me cry with gratitude and with sadness. I am so grateful for your observations, you, a witness of more than thirty years. This is so validating. You saw first hand what I experienced and never failed to support me.

And I am so sad that I finally have to acknowledge I will never fit into this family under their terms. I have to let go of any dream that one day they would accept me as I am. I have to make peace with the whole situation.

So much loss.

Don't even bother trying not to cry when you tell me about your father. Why shouldn't you cry? I'll cry with you. And then we can hug each other.

In the meantime, I will hold onto all the hugs you ever gave me.

I miss you. :(

Anonymous said...

your omissions and imbellishments clearly demonstrate your psycosis!

Shorespinner said...

Another family member heard from!

Marie said...

Anonymous - I presume you mean embellishments and psychosis. If I left anything out, it was details that would make people look even worse. No embellishments here, either, simple facts. And neurotic I am for sure, but not psychotic yet.

Future comments like this will be deleted because they are ugly and mean spirited, much like what went on after my mother's death.

Shorespinner - Sigh. You think?

Anonymous said...

Wonder if that family member was able to attend. HaHaHa. Bet Not!!!